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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA FILE / JOHN DART | Youth Opinion

'I Wish You Could See Me for Who I Am'

Why do disabilities set us apart so? A teenager longs for the acceptance of her peers.

May 03, 1997|LINDSAY SPANN | Lindsay Spann attends New Roads middle school in Santa Monica. This article was excerpted from L.A. Youth, a citywide newspaper for and by teenagers. . My pets 'don't know I'm disabled. They treat me the same as they treat everyone else.'

I am the kid you think is a loner. Not quite a geek, but definitely not popular. Sometimes, I actually feel invisible when you talk about the sleepover parties you had that I wasn't invited to or when you talk about the movies you saw. Sometimes, I wonder if you are laughing at me when I see you giggling. I just look away like I don't see you or I don't care. But inside I wish for that easy way of being it looks like you have. I wonder what it would be like to have someone spend time with me because they are interested in my opinions, my humor, my caring. I see movies and read books about teenagers who are nothing like me. I feel alien or that I was born at the wrong time, or at times that maybe I shouldn't be born at all.

I'm a special-needs kid, a disabled kid. I have hemaplegia, a paralysis or inability to move certain muscles--my right side in my case. This paralysis makes it hard for me to speak above a loud whisper. I also have cataracts, so I can't see very well. I'm not cramped up like a pretzel and I don't drool out the side of my mouth or have seizures like the other kids who have the same label.

But I have difficulties on the inside that you can't see. I'm slower because I have to figure out a way to get things done that are usually easy. I work real hard every day at things that come easy to you: walking up and down the stairs, running, seeing my school work or speaking up for myself. What takes you one step, takes me six.

I wish that you could just see me for who I am. I wish you could include me in your conversations. I wish I could tell you about my cats or my dog and rabbit.

My first two pets were cats: Sunny and Rosco. They were great cats. Sunny loved to jump up on a high bar in the living room and view everything below. Rosco was the dignified queen who often sat outside "guarding" our house. One year, Rosco ran away. After putting up signs, walking the neighborhood and putting ads in the local newspapers, I thought she was gone forever. Then a week later, though we had scoured every hiding place in the house at least 20 times, she came walking down our white carpet stairs, acting like a debutante at her coming-out party. Both cats died when they were 13. Sunny had to be put to sleep because she had seizures and Rosco died of an illness. It was a difficult year for me, losing my two best friends. Before they died, a stray cat showed up at my family's garage sale one Saturday. She was the dirtiest cat I had ever met, with the loudest meows. We named her Feather. She was blue-eyed, deaf and a bit stupid, but her loving nature made up for everything. Feather also got sick and had to be put to sleep on the day after my 13th birthday

My Dad tried to soften the loss by getting me a gray rabbit named Thumper. He didn't like her because she bit and scratched him and chewed on his carpet and telephone wires. However, she was always gentle and sweet to me. She also died when I was 13.

With the passing away of my pets, I ached inside. I hadn't made any human best friends at my new school, New Roads. My aunt took me to the animal shelter and I picked out a new orange-and-white cat. In honor of my previous cat, her name is Feather also. She is still alive and gives me lots of pleasure and love. My aunt also gave me her German Shepherd, Angel. He stays at her house, but I get to train him, wash and walk him and most important, love him. He is sweet and docile until a stranger passes by. Then he barks loudly and places himself between others and me to protect me.

I also have a dog-walking business called PAWS. I have walked four dogs: Timmy, Beau, Luna and Bo. All these animals are my best friends. When I talk to them, they listen and keep my conversations private. They don't know I'm disabled. They treat me the same as they treat everyone else.

Since I was seven, I have done a sport called "horse vaulting." I have learned to do amazing things: I can stand, do somersaults and perform other tricks on the horse. It's given me a lot of confidence. Every year I participate in a solo performance on "Fun Day." One year, Nancy and President Ronald Reagan gave me my medal. What a thrill!

But, I am lonely for a human friend, a best friend. My sister has friends; at the dinner table, she talks about them. My mother has friends too. Is it my disabilities that people just don't know how to deal with? Or is it my shyness or how I look or how I act?

If I had a best friend, we could do so much together--laugh at jokes, talk about dogs, write notes to each other, share secrets, listen to each other and cheer each other on when we accomplished something great. She would never worry what people thought of her. She'd be adventuresome, strong and honest--she wouldn't be afraid to tell me what I might not like to hear.

I would like to have a best friend but if I could not, I would like to be included more often. Would you include me if I were any different? If you knew my accomplishments would you include me? If I ran for student council would you include me? What would it take for a special needs kid to be liked? Does anyone know how lonely it is or how much work it is for me to belong to a "normal" world? I wish there was some large print instruction manual to tell me how I can belong, too.

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