At the age of 3, I was diagnosed with with a language disorder. When I was just learning to talk, my parents noticed there was a huge problem. They could not understand me and when spoken to I would answer them back with something completely off the wall and make up my own words. They thought maybe I was partially deaf, so they took me into see a physician only to learn it was much more complex than a hearing issue. Upon observation, my ability take in language was fine, but my output was at a level of an infant. The doctors conducted a CT Scan and found damage to the area of the brain anterior to the central fissure (Broca’s area).
The doctors referred my parents to a speech pathologist who I saw on a weekly basis. Major progress was made. It was nowhere near perfect but enough to get make me a functional child. I was able to at least speak simple sentences and gain a broad understanding of words compared to my infant speech the year before. I was ready for the real world, but not so fast.
I was always quite different from my siblings. When I was a toddler, my mom would try her damnedest to get be to smile without any results. When the other kids were out playing I would sit in a box and fixate on a ball for hours. When I put my shoes on, it would take me no less than a half hour to carefully fold my socks as they were never perfect and I would obsess about it for the rest of the day that my sock were uneven. When asked questions, sometimes I had a problem with what was real or fake. Once my mom asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I replied “a firetruck”. When she told me I couldn’t be a firetruck I changed my reply to “a kitty cat”. I truly believed I could just morph into whatever I wanted to be when I grew up. My poor mom, one daughter is overly imaginative and the other wants to be a pretty girl in a pink Cadillac. What was she to do with us?
I spent the first few years of school in special education. I remember my first day in kindergarten like it was yesterday. Actually, I remember just about everyday as a child since I was three years old. I could probably remember the jeans my speech pathologist was wearing and the plaid flannel she wore so often. My favorite part of the sessions is when she taught me how to skip. I was a hopping and skipping fool after that. So back to kindergarten – I was placed in a different school than my siblings as they did not offer special education programs in that district. I was placed in a class where the children all had some form of language disorder from autism to dyslexia to severe mental disabilities. I don’t recall the class being fun. It was a place to more catch up to the normal functioning children. There goal was to place me in a normal classroom setting once I was fit to. We learned cursive, weren’t allowed to use erasers and the teacher was very impatient with my lack of ability to differentiate pink from green and the issues I had generating a sentence on paper that was not backwards. At recess, the kindergarten class was confined to a small area. I really didn’t have any friends at school, so I asked the teacher everyday if I could go to the big kid playground and she finally gave in and said yes. This way, I would not have to confront anyone and be alone. I would hang out on the monkey bars and just stare out into the clouds until I was called back to class.
After kindergarten, I remained in special education until 2nd grade. We had moved, so I was going to school with my siblings now, but had to take an entirely different bus to school than they did. I was placed on the short bus as they called it and my siblings got to ride in the regular bus. This school was quite different than the last school I attended. The mentally handicapped kids were thrown into the same general population as the other kids during recess. Kids can be super mean and we were picked on often for being different. One kid used to run up to me, punch me and call me a retard while his posse would sit around us and chant “retards take the short bus”. This was the beginning of what was to come of school for me. The only thing that kept me captivated was the teacher I had. She was very kind and often taught us things about world geography and brought in things she collected from parts of the world. We even took a field trip to a grassy part of the school grounds so she could teach us how to use chopsticks and proper eating etiquette in Japan. She would let us draw on the chalkboard during breaks when I discovered I could draw a perfect duck and so that is all I talked about and drew ducks allover my school work for the rest of the year. Spite the kids making fun of me, I really enjoyed going to class.
During 2nd grade, I was placed in a regular classroom. This did not fair so well for me as I was now sitting with the kids that had been so cruel to me and they were even more aggressive now that they had more face time with me. At the time, I was able to construct sentences at a more normal level, but my social skills were none too great. I was super shy and being around people was a very intimidating experience. I was so scared to talk to the other kids that the words that spewed out of my mouth were so jumbled; they were not comprehensible and just put more fuel into them to torment me further. Going to class started to become torture for me and I started to develop anxiety right before entering the classroom. In my mind, I was not learning but being relentlessly harassed by my peers. I hated school so much at this point, it was making me physically ill. I had a bad headache just about every single day I was in school and stayed home sick a lot. I did not have the desire to learn anymore and I felt alone. I was so timid and ashamed for feeling the way I felt that I kept it inside and never told my parents how I felt. So I imagine in their mind, I was fine. I kept a lot of things in and it just made it worse.
The teasing and tormenting did not change when we moved and went to new schools. I was the new kid, the weird one, who didn’t know how to dress and was so freaked out by human interaction and when I was compelled to speak, I would just make a complete ass out of myself. I was not performing well in school and was terrible at taking tests. I was failing miserably becoming quite defiant. I refused homework as I didn’t understand the point in going to school all day and then going home where I felt the most secure doing something that reminded me of being in hell (class). I went from depressed and crying for many years to really angry. I started talking back at my aggressors. By the time I was in High School, I wanted to fight all the time and honestly obsessed about beating the living hell out of the kids who teased me. I teased other kids who were a little more weird than I was and threatened to kick their asses.
Then it hit me – Was I turning into a bully? Oh no, what have I become? I don’t want to be like the other kids, it was torture for me and I must apologize immediately to these poor kids. So I did something brave and turned myself in to the principal for participating in making fun of a girl in class everyday. I told her I wanted to apologize to her publicly in class with her there and give a talk about bullying to the class. Her eyes lit up and she smiled and told me. “Out of all the years of being and teacher and then a principal, this has been the first time I had a student came to me with this. I think this will set a good example for the rest of the students.” So, as I am walking into 5th period class, the principal and teacher were standing in front of the classroom. The principal explained to the students that Kristi has a very important message to make to a class and an apology. I stood up, went to the front of the class and gulp, spoke. I not only apologized to this poor girl, but something I said during my talk to the class about bullying turned the room temperature from cold to hot. After that, the girl was no longer teased and everyone was extremely friendly towards each other. I could not believe it took only one student to stop so many others from hating. What would be the affects on this if students made more speeches like this? Would I still have been put through the constant beating by an entire class from first grade and up? Well, most likely not, but it did make a huge impact in this case.
Even though the teasing had mostly stopped in High School I was still under-performing in school for other reasons. My parents sent me to secondary school and it was the nightmare all over again. The bullying had begun again and I was alone once again. I found myself not being able to sit in the quad during lunch and spent everyday eating lunch in a classroom. It got so bad to the point of violence. A group of students were plotting to destroy me at the trolley station after school. I mean physically cause damage to me or even possibly kill me. The school found out and informed my mom and that day I was taken out of school and placed on home-study to finish out my credits. The bullies were not reprimanded and no criminal charges were filed. I was the one who was punished by getting kicked out of school because the school didn’t know how to deal with it.
As an adult now, I would never take back my childhood. I went through what I did and it made me a far better person. And I know you can’t change people, but you can change their perspective of other people with a little guidance. We need to set a good example for the children in our lives and be less judgmental and more communicative on these tough matters.