This morning on Facebook I came across a video that a celebrity, Ashton Kutcher, shared about a man explaining what his son’s Down Syndrome was and how he responded about it. He felt he failed his son and pulled over on the side of the road to share his meaningful and heartfelt thoughts about it. One of the things he said was that “disabilities” are perception. We all have different things to teach. He is right!
I am going to share with you a small taste of something that is acutely hard for me to talk about and to be honest about for many reasons. When I was a young child in school, I had what the education system called, “A learning disability.” In my speech and how I processed things or lack of I should say. I struggled with comprehension and my speech affected my relationships with other children at school and often times at church. Needless to say, I had a negative experience to say the least. My mother continuously fought for me and tried her best for the schools to help. The school system failed me but once. When we lived in Clearwater Florida, the elementary school I went to had a speech class and I loved it. The only thing that was hard was that the other children in my regular class knew why I was being pulled out of class and I was bullied horribly. I did have a tutor for years that helped me learn reading comprehension and to help me in other subjects and as I still struggled, I never gave up no matter how hard it was for me. Though I did keep much of my deep fascinations for stories, art, life, history, and how things worked inside me because I couldn’t express them outwardly for much of my life-except with my family. I was completely vulnerable and I admit, that creeps up from time to time even today.
In Clearwater at a church my father was on staff, we had a library filled with so many wonderful books. I would sneak in there sometimes when it was empty and pick a Nancy Drew book off the shelf and find a corner to read in. I struggled and often times soon forgot what I read. Even though no one was in the library, I would sheepishly look up to make sure no one saw me in case they asked me what I was reading. Then I started to make up my own stories in my head because that was easier for me. I needed that escape.
There was also a special education ministry that my mother ran at that church and I often went in the class to volunteer. Those were some of the best memories I have at that church. I still think about the people in that ministry and how they made me feel. I wasn’t judged. That was my happy place.
Middle school was a living hell for me and I would come home crying and plead with my mother so much, she pulled me out of school to home school me and that was the best thing for me. Even my “so-called” friends bullied me and called me horrible names and would opening laugh at me right in my face. Imagine being called, “Stupid and worthless everyday of your childhood?” Imagine what that does to a person. I stood there and took it, then afterwards I would shut my-self up anywhere I could and cried and anguished over life. For a while before I told my mother what was going on, I was so embarrassed to say anything, I would tell her everything was fine. I think I even told her I had several boyfriends. The saddest part is that I started to believe those kids. I felt stupid, ugly and worthless. It has taken over half my life to overcome that. The school would even put me in these, “special classes to get extra help” and the classes were really for behavior problem children. It was not to help with “learning disabilities.” I felt degraded even further. High school didn’t get better but that is another story. To this day, there are moments I struggle with speech and articulate my words verbally. I hear it in my mind but it doesn’t come out properly at times.
What is heartbreaking to me is often times I find myself using the words, disability and stupid or even idiot for that matter. Life is so precious and it is unfortunate that so many make lite of it and the cruelty of our actions is destructive in so many ways. Not only to ourselves but to others. Think about all the brilliant minds shut out of society because of their differences. Think about all the missed opportunities we could have had and have from those precious and gifted people society thinks stupid, or different. They don’t fit the mold so society must shun them. That is utterly unacceptable and cruel.
All those years I longed to express my creative ideas and thoughts and I didn’t know how. I was locked away for so long inside me and I only dreamed of one day that I might have the opportunity to shine and overcome. With hard work, determination, family and trust in God, I have overcome much and have the honor and privilege to work in the book industry and converse with some of the most brilliant and caring minds and souls. Who would have even thought possible?
Love life/Understand/Show compassion/Think before speaking and acting/Give meaning to your life. We all can learn from this.
**Please excuse the typos and grammatical errors. This is a first draft and is not meant to be written on a professional level but a personal one. Thank you.
Stephanie M. Hopkins