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Over-Active: Extracurricular Activities and Disability

Posted Jul 29 2009 12:00am

In high school, I was one of the most involved students that you could possibly imagine. Toward the end of my high school career, I learned the importance of academics, which stimulated my involvement even more. From becoming president of the National Spanish Honor Society to serving as chairperson for our school's Pennies 4 Patients campaign, you name it, and I was involved.

Many parents, students, teachers, and other various community members thought I was doing too much. I understand where there concern was planted because of my medical issues and because it was important, especially as a senior in high school, to do well in school and to get into the college of my choice. The funny part about it was this list of things happened during my senior year:
  • I had just returned from the Georgia Governor's Honors Program (more on that in a bit)
  • I was accepted into an Advanced Placement Spanish course (the course was equivalent to taking Spanish for the fifth consecutive semester at the college level).
  • I was accepted into a teaching internship in special education.
  • I gracefully bowed out of some Spanish competitions that I had previously participated in because of my elevated stress levels. Bear in mind that the decision was made on my own accord.
  • I found out that I was accepted to Georgia College and State University, the only school to which I applied, and the school of my dreams.
  • I received credit for my freshman English course as a result of an exam I took on a school break. Nevermind that for three days that same week, I was running an almost 102 fever.
  • On May 8, I hosted two screenings of Darius Goes West for my classmates and for the community. Together, we raised nearly $1,000.
  • I received the Most Valuable Wildcat Award, the Algebra III award, and the Government award on Honor's night.
On top of all of that, I graduated with a 3.91 weighted GPA with high honors and a dual diploma.

I didn't list those things to brag upon myself. I didn't list those things so that you could pat me on the back. That list is to show you that once you teach someone with a little bit of an extra challenge to manage their condition, they will be able to treat it just as another way to live life. Take, for example, someone who loves to arrange their closet by color so that picking out clothes to wear the next day will be efficient. That person doesn't think that what they do is weird, hard, or different. To that person, their arranging their closet is just a way of life. The same goes for individuals with extra challenges. For us, the things that we encounter and the things that we must do "differently" are just ways of life. Certainly, we may have issues that will prevent us from participating as much as a person without our issues, but that in no way eludes to the fact that we will not participate.

I understand that those who love, care, and protect individuals like me are simply concerned about well-being. I greatly appreciate the concern; however, I believe that myself and others with enhancements should be allowed to discover things about living life independently just that way -- independently. Guidance is nice and is very much appreciated, but often, when individuals like myself are given guidance or advice, we can't help but believe that it's just due to the fact that we have a little something extra to worry about that may prevent us from being able to fully participate.

For parents with young children who have special needs, my personal recommendation is to survey your child's reaction to certain extra-curricular activities. Take them to a dance studio to observe a lesson, take them to the swimming pool to meet the swimming teacher, and take them to the sports fields to watch the games. If there is a positive response to any of the activities, I would encourage you, if time and finances allow, to get your child involved in something. Start small - maybe your one time a week therapy appointment is enough of a change in routine from your child's normal day that he or she gets enough outside stimulation away from school and home. In that case, you may want to look at therapies as extra-curricular activities, particularly if he or she seems to enjoy the therapies.

If your routine includes managing time for your child's busy schedule, he or she will be able to see from a very young age that it is possible to take care of yourself, have fun, and be a friend all in one lifetime!

Involvement is essential to a child's physical, mental, emotional, and social development. It will also help your child to better integrate with children without impairments so that he or she sees that the world is full of different people.

By the time your child or any individual with a disability reaches my age, it is often fair to assume that the individual may deal with it independently. As for me, I know that college will bring about a whole new set of circumstances, but my peers know that as well. I know how important it is for me to find friends, find a niche, study hard, play hard, and do all the other things college kids will do. With that in mind, over-active may describe me in college, but I'm okay with that. As far as I'm concerned, I'm perfectly normal. Normal people do normal things, right?

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