Tuesday, Julie Lang visited.
To provide context to you, the outside reader, Julie is an endearing human, a close friend, and a former colleague of mine. She currently teaches all the high school history - yes, all of it - at a small, private school in Fort Mill, SC. She also has cerebral palsy and is passionate about speaking and sharing her experience as a person living with a disability. On Friday, I asked the sixth grade what they thought of having a visitor for the whole day. Mainly, I asked for two bits of info:
Did they enjoy having someone come spend the day with us?
What takeaways did they learn from Miss Julie?
Their answer to number one was a unanimously positive one, with them agreeing that Miss Julie is "really cool!" Her day with us made them ask for more visitors in the future.
In regard to question two, they immediately responded, "We don't answer hate with hate."
Julie's willingness to be with us in community and to talk openly about her experiences as a person with cerebral palsy had an incredible impact on our middle school students. She gave them a window into the strength and humanity of our disabled population, and she allowed them to ask the questions. The awkward or curious or vulnerable questions.
How do you see people with disabilities? Do you see disabilities as a hindrance or an advantage?
What do you like to do for fun? Do you have hobbies (besides history!)?
When did you find out you had cerebral palsy?
What are some struggles you went through as a child? (Having to learn to walk multiple times.)
What are struggles in your day to day life?
Have you ever been harassed by someone "trying to help" in a public environment?
What is your favorite dessert?
Is walking hard? If so...does it get harder the longer you go? (She walked six miles the day before she visited with us.)
Is cerebral palsy painful?
What's the worst thing someone has said to you? (FYI: None of your grandchildren will be named Burt. It's been ruined forever. Also, middle school can be rough!)
What's the biggest struggle you've had?
Does cerebral palsy disrupt your daily life?
Does it make anything in your life scary?
Julie answered all of them and more. She spoke with candor and compassion and humor. While I cannot possibly summarize our whole day in a blog post, I will share the takeaways from Julie for your reflection:
1. Definition of a disability: A condition that limits or impacts a person's ability to navigate daily life. People with disabilities are excellent problem solvers because something that impacts them daily requires a solution for coping. (Julie does a lot of creative coping.)
2. Community is the key to overcoming fears.
3. Sensory overload = Fear simulation / Even when it isn't fear, it may feel like fear.
4. A new environment requires navigating unknown terrain.
5. Davidson (the actual town) is SO HARD to navigate because there are no handrails anywhere!
6. Physical therapy is for a lifetime because when a person moves from childhood to adulthood, the muscles continue to tighten.
7. Doing college or work is initially hard because new things are hard. They are still rewarding.
8. Food buffets are just a general NO; Julie never carries anything made of glass.
9. Julie's daily frustrations or challenges = writing on the board, standing for long periods, and not being able to drive herself places.
10. You don't answer hate with hate. (Not even when dealing with Burt.)