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The Five Stages of Having a Disability

The Five Stages of Having a Disability

Pat Hensley

Bargaining, involves the student’s behavior. Sometimes the students think if they study harder, behave better, or follow directions better, their disability will go away and they will not need special education services any more. That is not the way it works.

Many of my students are followers. When there is trouble around, they are usually the ones to blame and when asked, they usually say they did it because their friends told them to. They wanted to fit in. They wanted to be liked. This was their way of fitting in. I think that is why so many of my students end up with drug and alcohol problems because they think that makes them more like their peers.

I had a student with Down’s syndrome who pulled the fire alarm at school because he hoped that it would get him the attention of the other students. He wanted to stand out and be seen. He wanted to be noticed. Sometimes my students with disabilities feel like they are invisible. No one talks about their disability (I’m sure to protect their feelings), or they are embarrassed about their friend’s disability. Yet, everyone knows there is a problem because it is fact that is hard to hide. So my students act out as a defense mechanism.

We talk about the different behaviors that students exhibit such as following and acting out. I have them identify with the behavior that they exhibit the most. Now that they understand it and why they act this way, we can move on to change.

For awhile I see my students get depressed about having a disability. They want to give up. They feel that if they have this disability, why bother. If they have failed up to this point, why keep setting yourself up for failure? Understanding this depression is important. I try to tell my students that it is understandable but it shouldn’t be what shapes their life. That is when I pull out my best motivational speeches and videos and anything else I can drum up. My favorite is always the idea that if a basket ball player never tries to shoot for the basket, he will never score a point. Sometimes we just have to keep trying and never give up. The ones who become rich and famous are the ones who are persistent. I look for literature about kids with disabilities and how they overcome them. Looking at real life personalities who have achieved success also is encouraging. I drag out every possible tool that I can find to help move away from this depression.

Finally, if I’m lucky, before long I will see my students reach the stage of acceptance. At this point, they can talk about their disability and explain it. I have even had some offer to talk to other classes about it in order to make more students aware. Many times bullying and teasing happen because of ignorance. This is one way to fight back. Once the students reach acceptance, they are more open minded to learning. Their minds and energies aren’t fighting against the concept of their disability. Rather than wasting time trying to point a finger of blame, they are able to look forward to the future and what they need to be successful.

As a teacher, it is important to recognize my student’s disability and identify what stage they may be going through. If a student is in the bargaining stage, it is useless to waste time acting as if he is in the acceptance stage. By following this process, I think it will help the student and the teacher have a successful classroom experience.

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