Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Triumphs and Challenges of My Teenage Years

The Triumphs and Challenges of My Teenage Years

By Crystal McClure
Writing for the CP Family Network
In my last blog, I wrote about what it was like growing up with cerebral palsy. That story primarily concentrated on my elementary school years. As any adult knows, the middle school and high school years can often be the toughest, especially for children with disabilities. I decided I wanted to share my experiences and the lessons I’ve learned in order to encourage others to persevere through the hurdles they face as a teenager.

Middle School

The transition from elementary to middle school was not as difficult as I had expected it to be. I was going to a brand new school just like everyone else. I reconnected with a few people from my pre-school days at Spring Creek who also have disabilities and use wheelchairs, walkers etc. It was a comfort knowing I “wasn’t the only one.” I became really good friends with Alex Kanavos in the sixth grade. He also has Cerebral Palsy and uses a wheelchair. We still talk to this day.

Near the end of my sixth grade year, I went back to Shriners Hospital in Kentucky, where I had 2 weeks of physical and occupational therapy. I learned how to dress myself, transfer to and from bed, and also how to go to the restroom on my own with someone just there to spot me. This was a big accomplishment in my life and still remains so. It was freeing knowing that I did not have to ask for help to get dressed and that I could do things on my own like any other 12 year old.

However, bathroom breaks proved to be one of my troubling times in middle school. It seemed as though I always had to go at the wrong time. The aides were eating lunch and would ask that I return at a later time, or my teacher didn’t like the time I chose because it was near the end of class. I was allowed to leave class 5 minutes before the bell rang for class change. Sometimes, this still wasn’t enough time to go to the bathroom and get to class in time to get settled. Why? I was not able to use the bathrooms in our wings (each grade had their own hallway). I had to go to the Multi-Handicap room, which was in the middle of the school, to use the restroom. Going into class late was not only an embarrassment for me, but also a disruption to the class as a whole.
Overall, my middle school experience was great with the exception of the bathroom issues. I am grateful that I was able to take those two weeks at Shriners to become more independent. Not only did I learn to do a lot on my own, but it helped shape me into a strong-willed person and gave me high confidence and self-esteem.

High School

High school, on the other hand, proved to be a bit more challenging. I still attended school with many of the same people from both elementary and middle school, but my freshman year we also combined with a school from Chattanooga. I still had the same friends and made many acquaintances along the way. I didn’t have the bathroom issues like I did in middle school, thank goodness.
My main issue in high school was other people. I was bullied. Nothing severe but nonetheless, it is still what I consider bullying. I was trying to go through the cafeteria one day to get to the lunch line and there were students in my way. I said, “Excuse me” three times and no one moved. I then proceeded and blew the horn on my power chair to let students know I needed through. When I did this, a girl got in my face and said some profane words along with telling me I did not have the right to use my horn. There were a couple other instances my Freshman and Sophomore years, but they were addressed by teachers and staff.
One of the most sobering moments of my high school years was not being able to attend my Junior Prom. It was set on a local riverboat which was not handicap accessible. My mother and several teachers I had grown to know well made sure that my Senior Prom was accessible for me. I had my own kind of Cinderella story that night, as in I was home when the clock chimed 12!
My Senior year in itself was probably the one I enjoyed most, but not without some flaws. During the last half of my Senior year I had enough credits to be able to only attend school for half the day. I had no way home in the middle of the day so I chose to attend half-day vocational school. I chose to be in the Graphic Design class there, which ended up being somewhat of a nightmare. I was not able to use the machines to learn anything. Because of this, the teacher just sat me in front of a computer and asked that I write a book about myself. I did this for a while, then quickly realized it wasn’t what I went there for and in essence I was being discriminated against. I addressed this issue with the staff of the school and  they placed me in Cosmetology where I finished the rest of the year.
Graduation day, May 17, 2002, was one of my proudest moments. I am the first person in my family on my Father’s side to receive a high school diploma.

Lessons Learned

Even though there were some rough patches during those seven years, given the opportunity I wouldn’t change them. I learned how to become my own person, and how to persevere and push on through tough times. For this, I am forever grateful.

About the Author

Crystal McClure lives in Tennessee. She owns her own home and holds an Associates Degree in Office Administration. She is pictured with her boyfriend, Mike.

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