Rosdom Kaligian

Different Not Less

I have been thinking about “To Kill a Mockingbird” and the sage words Atticus said to Scout, “You never understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” These words have rung true to me recently since attending my first Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting this month. I am a junior but I am also autistic and severely dyslexic.

At this IEP meeting, “my community” became this circle of twelve people sitting around a table deciding my fate for the year. An IEP is a program that is developed by my team to ensure that I get what I need when I need it to help me succeed.

Before this, I never really thought about what it took to get to junior year and be as successful as I am. Even writing this essay, I need a scribe or voice recognition technology to write it and text reading software to be able to hear what was written and edit it accordingly. Even to read “To Kill a Mockingbird”, I had to use a service that provided the book in a digital format so I could access it.

There I sat staring at an agenda, hearing “expert” reports, and listening to updates on my progress. The community that will help me graduate and go on to college convened in this small, basement room. My aide, Scott, was there as was my former aide, now my tech consultant, Mike. I listened to two teachers talk about my challenges and what I need to be successful going forward. The social worker wanted me to be more “mindful." My reading specialist, Carol, gave her opinion and reported on my progress. My home community was there in full force - my parents and the advocate who helps my parents get what I need. As I sat there I wondered how my team would feel If they had to climb into my skin and “walk around in it” -- Would all these experts be able to overcome all these obstacles to get an education?

Despite how well I am doing now, it was not always this way. I did not read at 11 and was undiagnosed and people thought that I could not distill information for my grade level. I was trapped in my disability and no one could hear me. Little did they know that during the summer I was “reading” books on Greek mythology and discussing the content with my older brother. It was only when my aide, Denise, convinced the reading group teacher to find books on tape for me and let me sit in and discuss the books, only then did they realize I could handle information if I could access it.

Everyone has obstacles they need to surmount. Words like autistic, different, dyslexic do not define me. I define me and my life is like a lump of clay and I shape it.

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