Special Ed

 

Erik ReeL painting
Eriki ReeL, Subtle Influence, acrylic on archival paper

Q:  OK.  So, wow, you’re put into special ed.  How’s all that play out?

ReeL: For speech therapy. The rest of the time I’m in a regular classroom. I don’t like this arrangement at all.

Mind you, my mother is frustrated, too. She doesn’t understand what is going on either.  Before I was born, she had a job administering IQ tests to gifted kids. She’s seeing what is going on at home, that I am way ahead in everything plus drawing all the time and she’s convinced I  should be going to a special school of a very different sort, not in special ed.

Then she finds out they’ve put me in the lowest  reading group in the first grade.  She’s furious and once again, we’re meeting with the teacher, who says I can barely read, and the other groups are already half-way through their books.

My mother is astonished and asks how in the world the teacher got the idea that I could barely read. The teacher says, well, I tested him when he first got here. It turns out it was a reading test where I had to read out loud.  So there I was stammering and struggling with my speech and the teacher misinterprets this as really bad reading.

Once my mother gets the situation, she says, no, he has trouble speaking, not reading, and demands that they put me in the top reading class. The teacher says, but they’re already half-way through their book. My mother says, he’ll catch up. It’s a long, heated argument between the two before the teacher gives in. My mother was a whirlwind, a hot head: no way was she going to lose this one. I see the whole thing.

So they switched me and I had no trouble catching up. I was a fast reader. Then some things happened in terms of math and the school stopped talking about putting me into the special ed program any more, as long as I worked with a speech specialist a couple hours a week.

Like I said earlier, the main thing I got out of the speech class was better methods for masking the hearing problem, so I was able to leave special ed during the later part of second grade without really solving, or even really understanding  the problem.

But there was always all this attention and stress and stigma around all this that made me very uncomfortable. I wanted to do anything possible to avoid any of this in the future if at all possible.

So I stopped complaining when I didn’t catch something that was said. In school I would make sure I had covered everything by reading to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I would do anything to keep others from knowing. In social situations, I would pass on anything I didn’t hear. Still do.

Q: So this still impacts you today.

ReeL: Oh, definitely. People sometimes get that I’m not catching everything I hear, but then assume I can’t hear it. Sometimes they start shouting, which usually makes it worse. That’s a natural reaction.

In my case, it ripples into other things:  I can’t recognize certain ring tones, I don’t like phones. I learn better by reading. I prefer written communication. Sometimes reproduced sound distorts things in a way that makes it easier. I love theatre and music.  But I am definitely a visual, not an aural, learner.

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