School life is tough for someone like me, so one thing that I like to do to help me cope is to sort the teens at school into different categories based on how they react to me and my disability. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not judging any of them: I’m a rather shy person who can be scared by social situations. I’m pretty sure that everyone at school would see me differently if I was a more out-going and confident person. But when you get as lonely as I do, it can help to sometimes play little games with yourself like the sorting of these categories. So here are the six types of reactions I get to my disability at school:
1. The Angelic Bad Boys
One of the first things that I learned when I started at Secondary School was that I was never going to be a very good judge of character because people don’t act like their real selves in front of me. It’s always the case that the most mischievous boys, the ones that almost everyone says is trouble or generally not very nice to people, are extremely nice to me – nicer than most in fact. They go out of their way to open doors for me, pull out chairs for me, treat me nicely, and in general clap me on. They also tend to act interested in my technology: asking to ride on the back of my electric wheelchair or saying that my wheelchair’s trumpet is cool.
I often don’t notice their reputation as ‘rude boys’ until my friends tell me that that’s not how they actually are with other people. I’ve never understood why this happens so often: maybe they wouldn’t dare to be their usual teasing selves around me, or maybe they just don’t feel the need to put on their tough, bad boy façade around someone like me – who knows? I’m never that close with them and only truly meet them in passing, but I still find it intriguing that most of the so-called ‘bad boys’ feel the need to be nice to me. I’ve only ever come across one ‘bad boy’ who wasn’t afraid to insult me and act a little mean to me like he did with everyone else. It sounds silly, but I liked and respected him for that.
2. The Avoiders
The Avoiders are the kids at school who spend most of their time avoiding me. It’s clear that they don’t know how to approach someone like me and are therefore made slightly uncomfortable by my presence. They often avoid eye contact and in general tend to stay clear of me.
The saddest Avoiders are ones who I used to be best friends with before my disease progressed and I lost the ability to walk. We used to be so close, but because I now have to use an electric wheelchair, they see me differently and no longer seem comfortable being around me. It can be almost painful passing them in the halls and seeing people who I used to be friends with now preferring to pretend that I don’t exist. But it’s okay – most of the children at school are Avoiders so I’m used to it. The best thing about Avoiders is that sometimes all it takes for them to stop being one is if we share a conversation and they see that I’m not that scary in real life. Then, they tend to relax around me and stop feeling the need to avoid me when they see me.
Avoiders can make me feel sad so I like having fun with it: you’ve got to make the best out of a bad situation, right? I LOVE testing how far the denial of my presence goes:
- Couples sometimes go to the empty hallway where I eat my lunch and discuss personal issues and relationship drama. This always amuses me because I’m literally right there, noisily chewing on a sandwich while they pour their hearts out. They must see me and my giant electric wheelchair, but for some reason, it’s as if my metaphorical invisibleness causes them to not be aware of my presence. They still turn away and stop talking when other teens pass them, but they seem fine with simply ignoring me while I eat in front of them. So I like to just sit there listening to their soap opera drama and enjoying my lunch – maybe they think the shy kid in the wheelchair is no threat, maybe they’re so used to ignoring me that they really don’t see me.
- I secretly love pranking my classmates because no one ever suspects that it’s me; and you’d be surprised just how far the denial goes. I was once sitting at a table in class with a boy who was avoiding me – it was just me and him at the table. When he got up to go to the toilet, I ripped a piece of paper out of my book, wrote something rude on it (nothing mean) and put it on his desk. He laughed when he saw it, obviously amused, and then looked around the entire classroom with a confused look on his face. He ended up asking every single person in that room if they were the one who put it there – everyone but me, even though I was the only one on his table and was sitting right next to him.
- I like sending people anonymous letters and notes and just sitting back and laughing as they point the finger at literally everyone but me. The denial of my existence goes so far that I was once able to prank my entire year group and never got caught! I’ve discovered that doing these pranks is better than spending all day crying in the bathroom about not being seen. If I’m already invisible – I might as well have some fun with it.
3. The Abusers
At first, I found it difficult to identify which of my friends were Abusers and was therefore friends with a lot of people who weren’t really friends with me. Abusers are fake friends who stay with me to reap the benefits of having a disabled friend. I’m allowed to be late to my classes because there are only a few lifts at the school so I have to travel much further than the other students to reach my classes, and my classmates are allowed to be late too if they’re travelling with me.
Abusers often intercept me right before I enter a classroom and tell the teacher that they were late because they were travelling with me the entire way so that they won’t get in trouble. Abusers are especially nice when they get to ride in lifts with me or when I am unable to participate in an activity that they don’t want to do so that they can sit with me and miss out on it too – but they may not be so friendly in other circumstances.
I honestly don’t mind Abusers that much and struggle to say no to them. At least they’re better than Avoiders: I’d take temporary friendliness over no friendliness any day. Besides, they’re not causing any harm and some Abusers don’t realise that they’re only being nice to use me: they can spend an entire week with me, fascinated by my electric wheelchair and in love with all of the different lifts they get to take with me. Then they get bored and quickly realise that we actually have nothing in common and drop me. I don’t come across Abusers that often anymore, it was more an issue that I faced as a preteen. Teens my age aren’t really (intentionally) that shallow anymore.
4. The Refusers
I’ve had my share of issues with Refusers back in the day. Refusers are teens who refuse to help me if I ask. Thankfully, I’ve only come across four during my time at school, but the damage that they inflicted still impacts me today: I used to need help to press the buttons on the lift to get upstairs at school otherwise I’d be trapped downstairs. I asked a girl to help me with the buttons and she refused, even though it wouldn’t have taken more than a few seconds for her to do so and she wasn’t doing anything at the time. I ended up being late to my class and had to explain what had happened to my teacher. My teacher asked the girl why she hadn’t helped me and the girl responded: “Because my parents didn’t pay for me to go to this school so that I could spend my time helping the disabled student.” And the sad part was that she was quoting her parents.
That girl’s parents were like the parents of the bully in the film Wonder – they obviously disliked the fact that I was going to the same school as their child. They asked the teachers in primary school for their daughter not to be asked to help me if I needed it and took every opportunity to show that I was clearly not welcome there. It wasn’t just them though: one of my best friends became a Refuser. We spent all of our time together, so I would often ask him for help. I guess that he grew tired of helping me though because all of a sudden he started saying no when I asked him and refused to help me – and I understood why.
I already found it challenging to ask for help, but after spending time with these Refusers, it’s become much more difficult. My close friends can’t understand why I don’t just ask them for something if I need help, but it’s because I don’t want to bore them and become a burden like I clearly did to my past friends who became Refusers – I’d rather just struggle on my own.
5. The Nannies
Nannies are the opposites of Refusers – they love to help me out, but see me more as someone to look after rather than someone that they are equal to. I have no problem with Nannies because they’re often extremely nice to me and will go out of their way to help me and take care of me. They also give great advice and are always there if I need a loving shoulder to cry on. The thing is, we rarely talk about anything outside of them helping me or complimenting me. Nannies are also older students who treat me like a pet or a cute mascot, which sounds bad, but their honestly just really nice people, and they tend to do the same with the other younger students that they think are cute too.
I do appreciate Nannies, I just wish that they could see that they don’t always have to treat me nicely and take care of me. And that they can just talk to me as they would do with any other friend.
6. The Equals
The Equals are usually my closest and best friends because they are the only ones who truly see me as equals. They see past my wheelchair to the person on the inside and are so used to me that they don’t even see my disability anymore. They encourage me to ask for help if they see me silently struggling and trying not to be a burden, tell me not to be afraid to be myself, and sometimes ask me to join them at their table if they see me eating alone.
I treasure the few Equals that I get to be friends with, so I can often mess up relationships with them by trying too hard or by stressing when I’m with them. Spending time with them can sometimes be scary or stressful because they mean so much to me, and I’ve had numerous negative past experiences with Refusers and Abusers that make me hesitant to truly open up and be myself around them. It sounds weird, but having conversations with people who treat me equally can sometimes be so intimidating that I choose to spend time alone instead because I’m so familiar with loneliness that it has become my comfort zone – It’s a bad habit that I’m trying to break. Even though I may not show it as much as I should, I’m always happy to have Equals around me and are thankful for the friendship they provide.
That’s it for the list of categories! I dream of a day where everyone at school can be an Equal and see me for who I truly am despite my disability. But I know that unless major changes are made, both on my part, and in the society at school – it likely never will. That’s why I’m preparing to give a presentation to the younger children at our school about disabilities. I have given numerous presentations to my classmates before in hopes that it might make a difference in how they see me (to no avail), but this time will be different because I’ll be talking to a younger audience. Hopefully, I’ll be able to help prevent them from becoming future Avoiders. Have you ever encountered any of these types of kids at school?
I might do this same style of blog post in the future about different types of reactions from my teachers. And for those that are wondering what happened to the ‘My Journey’ posts, I decided to post them once every month instead of once every two weeks. See you next Sunday!