The first disabled person that I knew was my father. Except I didn’t know he was disabled. He’d had polio as a toddler ,and as an adult, walked with a limp. He also grasped things rather stiffly with his left hand. Since Dad was right handed, it didn’t hinder him from what I could see. He could do anything he wanted to do. He could rewire a house. He could fix plumbing. He worked on his cars himself. He was incredibly strong.
Dad was loved by some, hated by others. Years after his death, when he was discussed, nobody mentioned his limp. It was just the way he walked. It didn’t define him. It would have never occurred to any of us to discuss it.
When i was in first grade, my parents found out that I couldn’t hear well at all.
The school district wanted me to have special education. My parents refused. They were afraid that if I was around other children like me, that I would lose the speech that I had, however impaired it was. So I went to the neighborhood elementary school and had speech therapy four days a week.
It was recommended that I be fitted with a hearing aid. Dad didn’t like the idea, but gave in. When I was 8, I got my first hearing aid. Two years later i got my second, paid for by the Lions Club, as had been the first one.
I wanted music lessons when they offered them in elementary school, but refused because I “would fail”. Dad, I’m guessing here, because he never talked about it may have had memories of being taunted as a child for because of the way he walked and didn’t want me to endure ridicule and taunting by other children when inevitably as he saw it, I failed because I could not hear what I was supposed to be playing. When I was older I wore them down and was able to take guitar lessons. I gave it up, but even years later retained the ability to read music and tune.
In junior high we were required to take Spanish and my parents refused because once again, as they put it, I “would fail.” They may have had a point here. I couldn’t even speak English plainly enough for everyone to understand me. How was I going to learn Spanish if I couldn’t hear well enough to speak English?
By high school I insisted on taking German and they didn’t fight me. I took it in college with minor accommodation- no language lab because I could not hear the recordings. But I did well. I used my German the three years my husband and I lived in Germany where he was stationed with the Army. We were both glad that we had taken German!
My husband and I moved often and one thing was consistent: Everywhere I lived, not giving any thought as to how it was I could sing, I sang in church choirs, which I had done since I was 13. Honestly, I don’t know how I did it back then. My hearing aids we found out later, were worthless. My hearing unaided is not good. I have nothing in the high frequencies. My loss cuts halfway through the speech range. I do have decent hearing in the low frequencies but that is all.
Several years after the Army, my husband made a switch to the active duty Navy and was sent to Iraq. During that time I started seeing a new doctor to treat my PTSD. He’d casually had me tune his guitar after I had told him that I was going to start teaching basic guitar to a friend’s son. I tuned it and unwittingly passed his test. I got told that I was going to play the guitar again to relax. So, I got the guitar. While experimenting, I realized that I didn’t need to see music for anything I wanted to play…because I could play any melody by ear! I had gotten frustrated and tossed my music aside because I didn’t want to adapt music written for the piano to the guitar. So I just started playing. I was shocked! My brain had retained the knowledge of where the notes are on the guitar, and I didn’t even have to think about where my finger would go next. It was also at this time that I discovered that I could sightread music well enough to tell if someone was playing exactly what I was looking at, or not. I was at choir practice one night, and our choir the directorplayed a song. Suddenly I realized that while she was indeed playing the tune, she was not in fact playing what I was reading. What I was reading was within my voice range, and I knew it. What she was playing was an octave higher. I couldn’t sing that. it was too high!
So here I was, near 50, and discovering music ability I didn’t know I had. A cousin confirmed that it was a talent that ran in the family, and I was no different. She was not in the least bit surprised! At least one of us wasn’t. I sure was!
By this time, my parents were long gone. I began to mourn for what could have been. I decided that I had to move on, and enjoy what I could do now.
My parents meant well. They tried to shield me, to keep me from enduring pain, which they couldn’t anyway, and their over-protection impacts me to this day.
Not long after I had made my music discovery, I was lost in thought. It was a saturday, and I was thinking about my parents, and all parents who face the challenge of having a child with a disability. I decided to write a letter, and this is what I wrote. If you have a “special” or “challenged” child, I hope you will consider my plea. Here goes:
I am your “special” child.
I may not see the world you see, nor hear the words you hear.
I may be slow to learn to speak, if I ever speak at all.
My legs may never hold me up to climb a single stair.
My fingers may not ever know the nimbleness yours do.
My mind may more simple.
I may be slow to learn.
The world I live in may not be the world my sister knows.
I may not pick up subtleties that social skills require.
I may never grasp the humor in my brother’s many jokes.
Don’t see me as ‘disabled’, ‘impaired’, or even ‘challenged.’
The loss you see and hurt for me is pain that’s all your own.
How can I mourn the loss of what I never knew as mine?
Why can’t you see that what I am is normalcy for me?
I beg you not to shelter me.
I beg you to let me fail.
If I don’t try, how can I learn
What strengths that can be mine?
You may think you know my limits.
You may think you know my strengths.
But what you may not know is that, I may be the exception.
I’ll paint an awesome masterpiece of what I shouldn’t see.
I’ll write a ringing symphony of sounds I shouldn’t hear.
I’ll sing the melody of words you think
My lips can’t ever form.
I’ll dance with joy the steps you’re sure my legs will never take,
I’ll touch and sculpt with skill beyond the limits of my fingers.
I’ll show you how I sidestep places damaged in my brain,
I’ll teach you knowledge that I’ve gained, despite slowness in my learning.
My identity will be far, far more than to be your “special “child.
Copyright 2012 by Judy Dundas