The other day I started a series describing ways that tics (from Tourette Syndrome) can be misinterpreted by others. The first blog on this topic dealt with something I have personally experienced: tics being misinterpreted as signs of impatience or boredom. Today I am going to deal with a misconception that I don't deal with personally, but that I imagine is not uncommon for those with certain vocal tics: tourette syndrome being mistaken for a cold or another contagious illness. As coughing & throat clearing are two quite common vocal tics, it's not difficult for NT's to make the assumption that someone is sick with a contagious illness. This might seem like a benign misunderstanding to someone who has never dealt with this type of reaction; after all, a physical illness would seem to inspire more sympathy than tourette syndrome. This is not the case, however--it seems to be human nature to conclude that anything that resembles a contagious illness must be contagious and that anyone who appears sick has hostile intentions & is deliberately roaming the world, trying to infect the healthy. There is no doubt some kind of evolutionary advantage to reacting this way, but there is also no doubt that this reaction adds to the distress of the person with tourette.
I'm going to avoid writing about certain aspects of the media attention focused on Derrick Coleman: the fact that "legally deaf" isn't really a thing and that deafness is very often not a disability. Instead, I'm going to focus on Coleman's reintroducing resiliency into the discourse about bullying.
Bullying tends to be a personal matter for adults who have been disabled since childhood because so many of us were bullied. There seems to be something about a disability that attracts bullies. I believe that it is good that bullying is being recognized as a serious problem, but I am growing increasingly concerned that the mainstream discussion is compounding the pain and frustration of children who are victims of bullying.
When I was going up there was far less discourse on bullying and much less acknowledgment of the seriousness of the issue, but what limited discussion did exist tended to stress resilience in the face of bullying. There may have been little attention paid to bullying in the mass media, but much of what did exist came in the form of celebrities, speaking about their youth during interviews. The rich and famous would speak about times they had been bullied during their youth, painting a portrait of bullies as pitiable creatures, living tiny, little lives while their former victims reaped fame and fortune. Fictional stories tended to stress victory of bullying as well, with most films and books on the topic ending in some type of triumph for the bullies' target(s).
These stories impacted bullied children in two important ways. One is that they inspired us to imagine our own future success, viewing being bullied as a temporary situation, one that we could expect to eventually overcome. Given the number of suicides currently being traced back to bullying, this is no small matter. Perhaps even more importantly, celebrity stories were a tool in avoiding internalizing the message that we deserved to be picked on. Victory over bullying means hanging onto a sense of one's inherent value. Back in the day, one never heard about successful bullies, but there were enough stories about stars who had "shown up" bullies with their success. It was often implied that they were bullied by those who were jealous of their raw talent and\or beauty, offering an alternative explanation to the idea that one was being bullied because of an innate inferiority. At the very least, they suggested that being bullied put one in "good company" and offered fodder for daydreams of future success.
There is no doubt that bullies sometimes win. I know sensitive, kind, talented people who have been so badly scarred by bullying that they do not share their gifts beyond a circle of people who are also disabled. While I appreciate the fact they my life is enriched by knowing these individuals, I am saddened by the loss of their gifts to the world at large. I am certain that there are others who feel so diminished by bullying that they share their gifts with no one. It is important that we honor the stories of these individuals still suffering the after effects of childhood bullying, but it is equally important that those of us who have triumphed over bullying share our own stories.
Sharing our stories can inspire and strengthen youth who are currently being bullied, as Derrick Coleman's story doubtless has done. Our stories can also help to shift the current discourse on bullying. The "just ignore" advice so frequently given to bullying targets when I was growing up only compounded our frustration. I am concerned that the current, relentless emphasis on how pervasive and overwhelming bullying is actually intensifies feelings of hopelessness in kids who are already oppressed by terrible situations. Telling kids to "just ignore" the bullies made a bad situation worse, but our current approach may be doing that also. I'd like to see those of us who triumphed over bullying look at our own lives and share strategies that can help ameliorate--or even prevent--bullying. Here I talk about the importance of drawing inspiration from successful adults willing to talk about their childhood experiences of being bullied. Peter Flom talks about a different source of strength, working to develop friendships, on his blog: "I am Learning Disabled." I'd love to hear about others' strategies for resiliency. Here's a link to Peter's: http://www.iamlearningdisabled.com/finding-strength-to-have-strength/
Today I added another baseball book to the list of reviews of children's books about real or fictional characters with disabilities. Given my childhood hatred of sports,it seems a bit odd to me that I am finding it enjoyable to read and write positive reviews of "sports books." In retrospect, my diagnosis of NLD as an adult explains my complete and total lack of success at sports as a child. I am finding as an adult, who feels successful in many endeavors, I can find a way to approach sports (at least books about sports) from a position of strength. I find myself using this position of strength as a platform to advocate for children with disabilities which are different from mine, children whose success in sports can form the beginnings of the sense of competence that is necessary to live life fully. I am also free to marvel at the resilience of those who cling to a dream of participating in some way in a world that at first may appear to be attractive and yet impossible to reach.
Today I added a review of the best book I've read since finishing "One Step at a Time" a few days ago: The Good Guys of Baseball: Seventeen True Sports Stories by Terry Egan, Stan Friedmann, and Mike Levine. Outdated (as any book published in the 1990's and focusing on current sports must be by now), but still in print and still inspiring. I'd love to read a book similar in content, but published in the past year or two, and focusing on "good guys in sports" who are playing currently.
The content on this website mostly comes from my perspective as a youth services librarian with disabilities. The further I travel along life's road, the more entwined these two parts of my identity become. Librarian: I have an MLS from Rutgers University and have working in public libraries for nearly 20 years. The focus on my career has always been youth services. Disabled: I've been disabled more than twice as long as I've been a librarian. My experience started at birth when I was immediately diagnosed with cleft palate. Also present was a non-verbal learning disability (NLD) for short. This was not formally diagnosed until I was 19, leading to years of frustration. My Tourette Syndrome was not present at birth, but surely started young as I don't ever remember living without it. The Tourette was also not diagnosed until adulthood, further compounding my frustration. Coincidentally, I was also diagnosed with IBD (more commonly known as Chron's\Ulcerative Colitis) at the age of 19. That was another easy diagnosis--as with cleft palate, they look and they see it.