This is a big week for Schuyler. She will have her debut as a cheerleader at her middle school, at the eighth grade football game on Wednesday night. For any thirteen year-old girl in her position, this is obviously a significant event. For a girl with a disability and a history of trying to fit in and almost succeeding, it’s a very big deal indeed.
It’s a big deal, both for Schuyler and for her squad. But this week, I found out something that I didn’t know, and never suspected in watching these girls at work. It’s a good thing, this fact that I discovered. It’s a very good thing, and I’m both happy that I would never have figured it out observationally, and I’m embarrassed that, even for a moment, I believed that I should have been able to tell just by watching.
Of the eleven girls on Schuyler’s cheerleading squad, four are special education students.
Parents of special needs kids with less visible disabilities spend a lot of time trying to moderate the effects of curiosity and casual observation. We worry that our kids will be judged unfairly by the outward manifestations of their disabilities. When our kids manage to pass unnoticed through the world, we find ourselves admitting, with varying degrees of shame, that we are proud of them for avoiding the judgment and scorn of a cold society. But it’s safe to say that we do the same things ourselves. It’s different for us, of course. When we identify a kid having a meltdown in public as something besides an entitled brat, we do so with empathy. But we still do it. We still play our own version of “What’s going on here, exactly?”
This week, I’m reminded by Schuyler and her friends with invisible disabilities that for them, sometimes “passing” simply means living. I had no idea that Schuyler wasn’t alone in her squad, and that three of her friends carry little monsters of their own. And more to the point, I still have no idea who the other special education squad members are.
Just this once, I’m not going to try to figure it out.
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