Special Educator

I don’t write much about my job, but there is something I want to address briefly. That is the question of teachers with disabilities that would qualify them for special education services if they were still K-12 students. Many teachers that I have met seem to believe, even though they may be special education teachers trained in the diversity and complexity of disability, that there are no such teachers, except perhaps for those disabled by injury or age. This means that the phenomenon of being talked about as though you are not there (because you’re not visible to the conversing group as part of the target group) happens a lot. I hear a good deal about autism, much of which is incorrect, offensive or oversimplified. I had a teacher tell me once that she would never want to take autism home with her or have it in her house. I also hear a lot of scaremongering, fear and cruelty about mental illness. And a lot of dismissiveness about the capabilities of students with intellectual disabilities, or who are non-verbal. It’s really frustrating and disheartening.

A lot of days I go to work and leave thinking, “Nothing about us without us.” Although this statement is usually applied to media representation, I think it is very appropriate in education! Educators (of all categories) are often unaware of what actual disabled people think about their disabilities, what we want or need. Our voices are discounted or simply not even thought of.

I went through school as a gifted student and an unidentified autistic. I heard a lot about how smart I was, and now I hear a lot about how frustrating I apparently was. I hear a lot about how gifted kids are a pain in the ass because they’re knowitalls or underachievers. I hear a lot of gross, blanket statements about autistics. It hurts to know that this is how educators see students like I was and adults who are like me! I don’t keep my disabilities or exceptionality a secret, per se, but I don’t talk about them much (aside from answering questions about my physical disability, since I sometimes miss work or show up with new mobility aids) because I don’t talk that much about my personal life. No one at work really knows much of significance about me, except that I am engaged and I have dogs. Also that I’m kind of a nerd, since I am easily able to keep pace with student conversations about various Marvel and DC characters and events. I’m not keen on that changing, since I think perceptions of me (and thus treatment of me) would change if people knew. That’s not surprising, necessarily, but it is really disappointing.

It’s not just the people I work with now, either. I have encountered this bias and ignorance in a lot of schools. I don’t know if people aren’t trained very well regarding disability, if they’re genuinely ill-willed or if they’re just indifferent toward how their language and behavior are interpreted. I’m not sure if it matters why people act this way, only that they do. I wish that it would change, and I hope to be a force to change it as I enter a new role in the field.

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Fall Cleaning

This has been quite a week. I’m back at work, for one thing. I used my wheelchair the first four days, but by Friday my crap shoulder was separating with every movement so I had to rely on my cane. The wheelchair is really helpful for my heart Thing, but it’s really difficult to use it all day. My back felt better, but it seems that sitting down most of the day is eventually also painful. I have an MRI scheduled for Halloween, so hopefully that’ll yield some answers about what can be done. I have suspicions about what is going on, but without imaging there’s no way to know. Anyway, work has been stressful as usual, but I’m doing the best I can. I also started trying to take Diclofenac regularly to give it a chance to work. At first, I could only take it at bedtime because it was so sedating, but my body seems to be adjusting to that. I can’t tell yet if it’s making much of a difference, but I think it might be?

Lastly, it looks like I’m not going to be able to pursue the college plan. It’s just not feasible right now. Instead, I’m looking into options for a new credential. As bad as conditions for teachers are here, I’d rather be a teacher than do what I do right now, for a number of reasons. We’ll see how this pans out–I have to wait to hear from a few people about my ideas.

My brain has been really static-y the last few days. I’ve had a lot on my mind that I don’t want to write about on this blog, but this weekend I felt like I really needed to start doing things to get me out of my thoughts, to stop me from perseverating on these things. Yesterday, I cleaned the house. Most of it is looking pretty good now, though the laundry room and the storage room are a mess. Today, I decided to tackle some yard work. I attacked the front yard for a good hour and a half, trying to get as much in as possible before the sun came up. It was really cathartic and allowed me to clear my head. There’s still more to do (not to mention our post-apocalyptic backyard), but I feel good about what I’ve done. I thought I’d be in agony, but honestly, the pain is manageable. My joints and back are aching/burning, but not that much more than usual. I think that activity actually helps my back. It hurts most when I’m laying down or slouching in a seat. Standing and walking around for a long time is very painful, but it’s really never as bad as it is when I’m laying down, which seems odd. Anyway.

I also think I need to break myself out of my head more often. Lately, as I’ve written before, I’ve kind of lost sight of the stuff I really like to do. I like reading and writing, and I have been reading a lot. I decided to do a pants-er NaNoWriMo effort, so I’ll be starting that on Wednesday. I think it’ll be good, free therapy. I also want to find a hobby that gets me out of the house occasionally. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive, just something that I can look forward to and think about. My life has been work, health problems and household issues for months now, and I need to bring other elements back into my orbit. I do better with organized activities. I’ve always wanted to do SCA, so I’m thinking about trying that. I’m looking into what kind of events and activities my region (Barony of Sun Dragon) holds.

One reason therapy has never been very successful for me is that it’s very internal. I go to sessions and talk about things, and then I go home and think about them. A lot. Self-reflection is a good thing, an important thing, but I think it’s becoming a fortress of solitude type thing for me. I spend so much time thinking about myself, my life, my decisions, etc. that I don’t really participate in the real world. I’m very introverted, so it’s easy to say that I don’t want to Get Out There, but at the same time I think I have to acknowledge that some degree of presence in the outside world is important and healthy. I don’t have to be a social butterfly with a full calendar, but being completely isolated in my own little echo chamber isn’t good for me. It fuels my anxiety and the more detached I become, the harder it is to engage. I’ve vowed to contact the Seneschal by the end of today, knowing that I’m scared to do so but need to reach out! (I have been participating more in online communities, but that feels more support-group-like, less social.)

Semi Demi Hemi

I want to write down some thoughts about being semi-verbal. I’m sure that many people close to me would balk to hear that, but SURPRISE! I’m naturally a semi-verbal person. I hate talking to most people. I prefer not to do it. I’m not usually bad at it–in fact, people tell me all the time that I’m well-spoken or eloquent. The effort it takes, however, is tremendous. This is why:

When I talk to most people, I have to go through several burdensome processes to participate in conversation. I have to process what they’re saying which is often very difficult. Then, I have to formulate a response and modulate it to be appropriate to the context. Everyone does that! you say. Yes, of course they do, to some extent. But my natural mode of speaking, as Mr. V and the few other people with whom I talk without these filters will attest, is very different from how I talk out in the world. I’m excitable, logorrheic and often abrasive. I repeat myself a lot and I will go on and on about something without noticing the interest level of the other party or, sometimes, letting them get a word in. Stereotypically speaking, the way I naturally talk is pretty autistic.

OK, so if you’re so talkative, how can you say you’re semi-verbal? Because I’m only like that with people very close to me. People I trust implicitly and who are fairly tolerant of my quirks. What it comes down to is that talking to most people is anxious, tiring business and I simply prefer not to do it. Under the best circumstances, I can do it convincingly well. (I can seem totally NT.) In others, it takes me forever to respond to things, I can’t get words out, I get worked up and frustrated or I say bizarre things that I may not mean. When I’m very emotional, I sometimes can’t do it at all.

In education, I obviously have to talk a lot to people I don’t know very well. I have to respond to very random questions and comments. I have to endure all manner of small talk and decipher a lot of weird neurotypical mannerisms and speech patterns. It’s exhausting. Part of me can’t wait to get out of K-12 just to be able to spend less time navigating verbal communication. Most fields involve some degree of speech, but there are definitely more opportunities to be freely semi-verbal in some than in others.

Outside of work, I’m trying to allow myself to be less verbal. To not engage in social or speech-related endeavours when I don’t feel up to (or interested in) them. It’s one of a few of my autistic things that I’m trying to let into my life. That’s all making a big dent in my anxiety and emotional fatigue, so yay for that!

Code Switching Stress

At my job, I go by my legal name (which is definitively masculine) and masculine pronouns. I use the men’s restroom and no one knows that there might be anything more to my gender identity than that. I don’t talk about gender at work because it’s not usually relevant to what I do, and I don’t talk much about my personal life besides the surface stuff like “we went to the movies” or “my sister likes that thing you like.” Today, though, there were a few jarring moments of gendered stuff that I think affected me more than I realized at the time.

One was that someone was talking about menstruation, and offhandedly said that I was lucky to be a guy because periods are the WORST! I don’t take hormones and haven’t had a hysterectomy, so I…have a period. I have had a period almost every month for twentysomething years. When I was a teenager, my period was a total horrorshow. Like, Nightmare on Elm Street levels of blood loss. That kind of thing runs in my family, so I am very familiar with the worst-ness of menstruation. I am not one of those people who equate menstruation with the moon or the ocean or the universe or anything. That’s all well and good for those folks, but my period has been the bane of my existence since it first flooded into my life and it will probably remain that way until it goes away. So that was awkward. I just kind of laughed noncommittally.

Then, my car had a flat tire. I don’t have a jack and I thought I didn’t have a spare, so I had to get a tow. I called Triple A, because I have that. My member name, however, is my birth name. This is the second time recently that I’ve run aground of my birth name in the last week. On Friday, they put my x-rays under that name and then asked me if I had a twin! Nope. Had to get that straightened out. Anyway, when I called, I just used that name and “was” that person when the truck arrived. I took off my binder in the bathroom. I had a five o’clock shadow, though, and my credit card has my current name on it. A very odd situation to be in.

I don’t really have any problem slipping in and out of gender roles when I want to. I don’t identify with any, so all of them feel like performances. The anxiety I feel is about how other people respond to it. I hate having to worry about “passing” or about being outed or anything along those lines. I strongly feel that my gender and sex identities are no one’s business but mine, and I resent having to think about it so much on others’ behalf! I don’t spend much time thinking about how I present. The only exception to this is my voice, and then only at work. My voice dropped on testosterone, so I try to keep it in a lower register at work, just for the sake of simplicity. The rest of the time, though, I don’t worry about it. I did not lose much of my upper range, so my voice can be quite high (without being squeaky or falsetto) at times and I don’t pay it any mind. But today, I felt like I was constantly monitoring and tempering my presentation one way or the other and it was exhausting and stressful!

Fortunately, in my job, my neurodivergence is usually overlooked. I work with students in special education and most of them accept eccentricity as part of human existence. My co-workers are almost all NT, but we all kind of accept that you have to be at least a bit  eccentric to do the work that we do, so no one thinks too much of it. I did almost have a meltdown today because someone almost completely overturned a plan I had for a student and would have therefore introduced chaos and behavior issues into an already disrupted system. I was visibly distressed, which doesn’t happen often. That, too, felt like a time when I needed to quickly and decisively “pass” as something I am not.

I guess I hadn’t given much thought to the issue of passing recently. In my private life, I’m very openly genderqueer/agender and neurodivergent, so I make no attempt to coax my presentation into anything other than that. When I started at this job, as I wrote, I was worried about having to restrict myself (literally!) to one presentation. As it turns out,beyond binding there was very little I needed to do. Today just had more demands than usual (and in the opposite direction, later). I wish I could be openly non-binary at work, but I feel like “transitioning” would be a big headache, especially right now with all the Unpleasantness going on. Hopefully, tomorrow will see things return more to normal and I’ll be able to coast along as I normally do.

Simmering

I am so close to meltdown right now. I’m sleep-deprived because my neighbors and their loose dogs have been keeping my dogs up all night, which means my dogs have been keeping ME up all night barking and whining. I’m a light sleeper, so it doesn’t take much for them to wake me, and it’s really difficult for me to get back to sleep once I’m awake. On top of that, my worst finger joints (left thumb and pinkie at the MCP) have been abducting themselves all day and they hurt sooo bad. This is my makeshift solution:

 

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Image Description: A brown hand in a black thumb-stabilizing wrist brace, with the 4th and 5th fingers taped together.

It’s definitely not ideal, since the tape is garbage and barely even sticks to itself. I’m going to order some buddy loops off Amazon and see if that helps, since I definitely can’t afford ring splints.

Finally, there’s a situation at work that is kind of stressing me out simply because it has introduced uncertainty into our staffing setup. Not knowing how it’s going to resolve out is very upsetting to me.

The house is hot, the dogs are barking constantly, the lights are too bright but I can’t do anything with them off. There are people wandering around outside, which makes me anxious and angry. It’s just too much. I don’t know how to handle it.

On the plus side, the burning feeling I’d had in my elbows, knees, ankles, feet, wrists and hips for months (especially at night) has diminished greatly on the prednisone. It still asserts itself at bedtime a bit, but not as badly and it’s mostly absent during the day. The side effects have been pretty minimal. Insomnia is the worst one, especially given the environmental problems that are making sleep elusive in the first place. I’m dreading finishing the course, since I worry that the pain will come back quickly. My back is just as bad as it’s been, and I didn’t hear back from my doctor about what I can do. I don’t want to pay for another office visit so he can order an MRI, which is really what I probably need at this point. Sigh. Two steps forward…

And How Does That Make You Feel?

I’ve never had much in the way of alexithymia. I can pretty easily identify and describe how I feel, especially if I have time to focus on it. In the heat of the moment, so to speak, I may not be very good at those things, but I usually nail it in reflection. So it hasn’t been a huge challenge for me to explain how I feel about either the autism theory or the CTD theory. For both, it’s a mixture of relief (that it’s not imaginary or “just me”); anger (that no one listened/listens to me when I tried to articulate these issues in the past); grief (that it’s probably not possible for me to have the “normal” sort of life that I’d always thought I would eventually grow into) and fear (because now I don’t know what to expect in my future). It’s the fear that I want to write about.

As I mentioned before, I hate uncertainty. I’m anxious-bordering-on-panicked when I don’t have a plan. This goes for simple, everyday plans as well as huge, life path plans. I become markedly calmer when I develop one, even if I know that it’s probably going to change dramatically at some point. Also, uncertainty makes me hyperfocused, sometimes on things that don’t really matter. If there is something in my life that I’m unsure of how it will develop, or how I will handle it, I obsess over it until I hammer something out, ignoring or forgetting other things. That’s happening now, because the thought of not knowing how my body will function a month, a year from now is terrifying. The thought of not knowing how my doctor will respond on Wednesday is terrifying!

I’ve always wanted to be a more Type B person. Someone who “goes with the flow” and adapts as things come up. Someone who doesn’t need to have everything in place before the curtain goes up, and can shake it off when life catches them unprepared. I do adapt, but I adapt frenetically. I am not a relaxed person at all, though I’ve been told I seem that way. I go from rigid, complex plan to rigid, complex plan and the transition is always harrowing.

I am afraid. It’s as though the lighted path I had into tomorrow and ten years from now has suddenly gone very dark. All I can see is right now. I can fumble around on my hands and knees, trying to feel my way, or I can go slowly, stepping where I can see, trusting that I’ll get where I’m supposed to go. I have been struggling to figure out how I’m going to handle this if I go back to school to get another teaching credential. If I move to California. If I have to go to the grocery store by myself. If I can’t stand up on my wedding day. If, if, if, if, if. It’s exhausting to try to stave off uncertainty this way, especially since I know that I can no longer predict my body’s condition or functioning at all.

So maybe this is the universe giving me a chance to try out the Type B way. There are things I can prepare for. For example, I can have notes for my doctor’s appointment, but since I’ve never met him, I can’t actually prepare for his response. Instead of planning out everything, stuffing contingency plans in all of my pockets, I can have my resources ready and then act according to what the day brings. I feel like spending less time writing and rewriting my strategies, especially for insignificant things, will allow me to approach my body’s obvious decline with more gentleness and, dare I say, grace. Having fewer expectations means making fewer frantic, emotional adjustments. It means not having to play catch-up with my day. This won’t be an easy paradigm shift, but I think it will be good for me.

That’s Not Autism

I really had to rein it in today. I heard a lot of stuff about what was and wasn’t autism, most of which was based on really old information or reliant upon big time stereotyping. Like, autism doesn’t JUST mean obsessive, socially awkward and rigid. Sure, some autistics have those characteristics. But it’s a spectrum. That means it doesn’t look the same for everyone. It was really hard for me not to rant about this. It wasn’t the time or the place to do so, but I was really frustrated and offended.

The fact that I was hearing this from people who recommend children for evaluation and upon whose reporting diagnosis can be partially based made me even more frustrated and offended. It made me even more certain of my decision not to seek official diagnosis. Like, it might help change their minds if someone like me was able to say, “Hey, I’m autistic,” because it might force them to rethink their assumptions. More likely than not, though, they’d just challenge it or deny it.

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Img: Young Gideon Grey from Zootopia, growling.

I don’t want allistic people who don’t keep up with research, don’t listen to autistics–I don’t want those people coming near my brain again. I don’t want them to tell me what I know. I don’t want to hear “I don’t think you think the way you say you do because it doesn’t look like what I expect that to look like based on outdated, biased information gathered from white cis hetero guys in the 90s or children. I refuse to recognize that you’re not part of either of these groups and that the same core issues may present differently with you, preferring to saddle you with (another) incorrect diagnosis and prescribe you medication that will do you more harm than good.” These are the people who label black kids as behavior problems rather than recognizing that their behavior is a) not worse than that of white kids with ADHD or autism labels and b) not rooted in stubbornness, defiance, stupidity or cruelty. There is a reason why white boys get services and black boys get suspensions. These people are the reason. And I’m not interested in paying them to do the same to me. Especially if they’re going to use that money to perpetuate abusive practices like ABA or to support hate organizations like Autism $peaks.

I have a pretty strict moral code, and I’m pretty unwilling to support people or practices that I think are unethical. I think that ABA is unethical. I think Autism $peaks is unethical. I think that the unwillingness of related professionals to respond to the voices of actual autistic people (and the absence of autistic people in these professions) is unethical. I’m not interested in supporting any of that.

What I want to do is change how autistic kids are treated at school. I want kids who need services/accommodations/answers to stop being shunted off into behavior programs and detention centers, to stop being scapegoated and abused by teachers who don’t know or care what they’re seeing in their classrooms. I’m thinking about going back to school for a credential in autism teaching or in moderate/severe disability teaching. I love working in schools, and there is work to be done in schools. Hmm.