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The Five Stages of Having a Disability

The Five Stages of Having a Disability

Pat Hensley

When I read The doormat, the jerk and the lizard brain from Seth’s Blog by Seth Godin, his words jumped out at me. He states,

“The best reason to be a jerk at work is that of course no one will listen to you or support you or embrace your ideas—you’re a jerk.

The best reason to be a doormat at work is that in your effort to get along, to be nice, and to go with the flow, of course you won’t be expected to stand up and shout, “follow me” when your ideas might take you in a different direction.

Both extremes are the refuge of the lizard brain, the voice of the resistance. They reward the desire to fit in, not to stand out.”

Last week I went to see the movie “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” and really enjoyed it. I confess that I haven’t read the books yet but they are on my list of things to do. As a special education teacher, I was thrilled to see Percy’s learning disability was recognized. When I read Seth’s Blog, it made me think about how Percy stands out among his peers. I really liked the way Percy’s disability was portrayed as a gift instead of a disability. In the movie, Percy ends up being a hero. Without his gift, he would have been unable to notice the clues. What a thrill I felt for all of my students who have a disability and now they can be viewed in a different light. Suddenly they can feel that it is alright to stand out and not fit in.

So, how do I fight the “lizard brain?” During the year, I watch my students go through the stages of grief (as defined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross) that they haven’t been allowed to go through. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I try to help my students go through these stages and be their support as they move along.

First, I acknowledge the “elephant in the room.” Many of my students have a disability that they really don’t understand. They know there is something wrong because there are all these meetings that surround them but no one has actually talked to them about the specifics in words that they can understand. This whispering in the background or talking above their heads can be a very scary thing and it leads to fear, confusion, and embarrassment. These students think they have a problem that they should be embarrassed about and that it is something they should feel guilty about. When I talk about their disability, many times they are in denial that they have one. They tell me that the reason they are in special education is because they were bad or the teacher was mad at them. I show them testing done and explain the results. Then I explain how it was determined that they needed special education services.

Next, my students are filled with anger. They don’t want this disability and they think the tests lie. Teachers lie. The system lies. Everyone lies according to the student. Yes, it is unfair that they have this disability and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but until they get over this anger, the students can’t move on. It is important to let them get this anger out so that it doesn’t fester like a sore and make matters worse.

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