Embracing those with disabilities

Breaking down misconceptions over students living with special needs


Gazette/GBT.org iIllustration/ABBIE GOULD

Many students across the world suffer from conditions that may create obstacles in the classroom.

  Distinguishing the difference between assumptions and truth can be difficult sometimes, especially in regards to the misconceptions over those with disabilities.

  Due to fear, a lack of understanding, and often times ignorance, establishing misconceptions over the lives of disabled people has become common. It has become rare for one to acknowledge these people as individuals first before their disability.  As a result, the need to break down these social barriers has become even more necessary.

  Amongst the most dominant misconceptions about those with disabilities is the underestimation of their potential for success. Due to their inability to process or function as well in school, people often assume low standards for any academic success.  

   However, Jillian Conklin, a senior at Granite Bay High School, has already decided to diminish the ongoing stigma.

   Conklin has a brother with high functioning autism.  Jonathan Conklin is also a student at GBHS. Through the new experiences she and her family have shared with him, she argues that disabilities don’t determine fate, and those with special needs have the potential to reach success in their own way.

I know that special-ed students get treated differently because they don’t function as well in school

— Jonathan Conklin

   “I know that special-ed students get treated differently because they don’t function as well in school,” Conklin said. “But it is important to understand that everybody has their challenges. Somebody with a disability just has a greater challenge, but that doesn’t mean they are not going to be as successful in life.”

   Other misconceptions include that those with special needs prefer being ignored or treated as if they are below everybody else.

   GBHS seniors Tanvi Yadlapalli and Danny Greene strongly oppose such accusations.

   Tanvi Yadlapalli started the Eye to Eye club on campus her junior year.  Having a brother with low functioning autism, she found it crucial to raise awareness about those with special needs and give students the opportunity to interact with them.

  She also hopes to break down the false accusations about the nature of these people.

  “Some people think that those with special needs should be treated like children,” Yadlapalli said, “or they like to be ignored.  That’s absolutely not true. Those with special needs want to be treated just like everyone else!”

   Daniel Greene is president of the A Touch of Understanding club.  He also stresses the importance of embracing all differences between people, disabled or not.

  “Some common misconceptions around students and kids with disabilities is that they are different, or ‘not normal,’” Greene said.  “We are all different and diverse. We should all embrace and celebrate our differences rather than label people as ‘not normal.’”

  Through experiences with special ed students and newfound understanding, these students were able to develop key mindsets for life in general.

  Jillian Conklin says that with her brother, she has learned the prominence of open-mindedness and being respectful towards everybody.

  “With Jonathan, we have learned how to be respectful towards everyone and to know that even though he is different, there is always a good in every situation because of him,” Conklin said. “He is one of everybody’s favorite people because of how genuinely nice he is, and that’s hard to find in a lot of people.”

  Students are not the only ones to have learned from their experience with those with special needs.  Jeffrey Evans, a special ed teacher on campus, admits to having misunderstood these people initially. But by providing them the support to overcome difficulties along their journey, his perceptions were able to evolve in the right way.

  “I have learned that it is not my job ‘to save’ anyone. I am just as guilty of underestimating people with special needs throughout my life,” Evans said. “What I have learned from my experience is that these individuals do not want that special treatment. They crave normality, just like me.  I have learned to treat people with kindness and respect because even the smallest gesture can go a long way.”

  With the numerous incorrect assumptions about those with special needs comes the need to address and overcome them.  In order to bridge the gap, students like Greene emphasize the importance of acceptance for one another.

  “People must gain a broader understanding and perspective before making judgments,” Greene said. “Nobody is better than anyone else, no matter wealth, status, or stature. Inclusivity is the key to breaking down barriers and diminishing hurtful judgments.”

  Evans also promotes inclusiveness amongst everyone.

  “Mistreatment does not always come from a place of hatred. But there are often underlying tones of sympathy and inequality that are prevalent,”  Evans said. “…Often times we clump students with special needs into their own category, which separates them from what we all crave the most – to feel as though we matter and that we fit in.”