Anything but normal
Middle school isn’t easy for anyone, but for limb different kids, the challenges can be more pronounced. While it isn’t fun, I want to pull back the curtain a bit and talk about some of what I faced in middle school – from students, teachers AND administrators – to help shed some light on how sustained bullying can impact confidence.
After enduring over a dozen surgeries, I was cleared to live a "normal" life at age 12. Physically, I found a way to function independently, but my adolescence was anything but normal.
I was singled out and bullied throughout middle school for my appearance, my name, my gait, etc. One girl would spit water down my back before every P.E. class. She'd stand next to the water fountain by the girls' locker room, and when I'd walk by, she'd take a big gulp, spray it down my back, and laugh. Plenty of my classmates saw what was happening but did nothing for fear of being next.
In my computer keyboarding class, we had to put a cloth over our hands during tests to prove we were typing properly. My keyboarding teacher, on his own accord, decided to make an exception for me, so I wasn't required to use the cloth. I can't even begin to describe how relieved I was. Two girls sitting next to me thought I was somehow getting special treatment for being a "kiss ass". They proceeded to roll their eyes and make comments about my slow typing. At one point, the teacher pulled them aside to reprimand their behavior. A school counselor approached me multiple times to try to help, but it only intensified the torment.
This went on for almost 2 years. I never confessed to anyone how those experiences decimated my confidence, or that it felt like daily torture. I thought that the relentless teasing was my weight to carry. It was just something I'd have to endure, like my casts, braces, and surgeries. I wasn't going to magically look different, so there was no other solution than to press on. Telling my parents would just make them feel guilty about something that was out of their control.
My bullies didn't stop me from reaching my goals, they just made me more insecure about myself while working toward them.
For the parents, teachers, and administrators:
There’s one thing you should know about limb-different people: we’re zebras among horses. You see, zebras function similarly to horses. They have a comparable diet, their gallups sound alike, and they share a lot of the same activities and behaviors. But, zebras look much different than horses. They have these beautiful stripes, and those stripes have been earned. Most of the time, limb-different people can fit into everyday society and blend in. Sometimes, our stripes require accommodations, and we’ll be clear with you about those. Please do not assume that we’re unable just because our anatomy isn’t typical. We want the same treatment as the able-bodied. However, the stripes that make us unique may require time and patience on your part. You will likely encounter many horses in your lifetime, but have you ever ridden a zebra?