In thinking through a self-reflection assignment we were given at last week’s meditation workshop with Lana Lontos, I remembered a blog post I had done a number of years ago: “Confessions of a Special Needs Person.” In the post, written for educators, I was trying to reconcile labels I was given in elementary school where I was a non-reader, considered slow, and a behavior problem; what was more commonly referred to then, as dumb, stupid… a retard..
For our assignment, we have to identify what we have “disowned” about ourselves. In the post below, I look at the efforts of today’s progressive, child centered educators to change labels and create a deeper understanding of how to manage “differences:”
Confessions of a Special Needs Person
Okay, we all have “special needs,” and I guess that is my point. “Special needs” sounds so neutral, like I need a glass of warm milk and cookies at night, and someone else needs to knock down a few vodkas.
We all have different learning styles. I learn by doing, you learn by reading books, magazines and manuals. You research, and I use intuition, trial, and error.
It all sounds innocent enough until you dig a little deeper. Lurking below the surface are learning disabilities, deficiencies, deficits and handicaps. It’s important to catch up with the new lingo. I wasn't slow or stupid in elementary school; I had “special needs.” My racing mind, restless body, and mouth that were constantly in motion were not disruptive. I had an “attention deficit disorder.” I wasn't illiterate in the 5th grade. I had dyslexia, a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin; bad body chemistry and a bad brain, or just different??
There is a mean, standards that are considered normal. If you don't fit that model, you are not a different model; you are a broken model and need to be "fixed." You are punished, not rewarded, marginalized and stigmatized. You are labeled stupid, slow, inattentive, and most teachers' nightmare…. (excerpt)
My assignment from the meditation workshop was to identify that part of myself that I have tried to disown. I didn’t get it at first, but it all makes sense to me now. What I have spent all of my adult life trying to disown is that I am stupid. In psychological terms it is being called “Impostor Theory.” Seems there are a whole bunch of us with high profiles and very successful careers that fear that we are going to be found out, exposed as cheats, who benefited from good luck, or worse, were self-promoters, deceitful, manipulators, phonies…
This assignment is usually done as part of a group exercise, a form of group therapy where at its conclusion, the participants come to a costume party dressed as that part of themselves that they have “disowned.”
Well, if I got this right, I am coming to the party wearing a dunce cap and acting the part of the class clown which was my coping mechanism for covering up my stupidity. Turns out I was pretty funny, clever, entertaining and eventually likable and to the outside world, not stupid at all. The rest is history.
But the original labels stick and really never go away… So I guess you wear it to the party, act it out, dance it out and openly and with everyone else at the party’s support, work at integrating it, living through it, with it, and eventually owning it.