Starting In A Mainstream High School: MD Style!
Let’s talk about high school. As a kid with Muscular Dystrophy, starting high school was extremely daunting. That’s why I’m here to share my experience.
Firstly, I want to get out of the way that high school is not the stereotypical experience that the movies make it out to be. Not every school has their share of cliché mean girls, bullies, smart kids, etc. To be honest, kids can get disruptive, especially in their early years of high school. Although, as it comes to the end of the year, you will hopefully get used to the noise!
The term ‘accessible’ does not mean that there are no stairs at all, it just means that there is a way for you to get around the school and access the classrooms and bathrooms that you need to access. Seeing as you will be moving between classrooms, you need to ensure that your workspace is well prepared for you to learn, in every learning environment that you face. Adjustable tables are a good option, as well as small tables on wheels that can move around the classroom for your benefit. If you have a table that comes with your wheelchair, use it, as it makes places that don’t have tables accessible to use.
Most schools these days require you to bring an electronic device (Bring Your Own Device). Some schools ask for laptops and others ask for iPads or other handheld devices. Either way, these devices will help you make the most of your education.
Depending on the school, you may have a Student Learning Support Officer (SLSO) stay with you throughout class. If that is the case, be sure to stay on your best behaviour, as your SLSO will be monitoring your actions! It can be a little tricky at times, as sometimes you can feel monitored 100% of the time and other students get into trouble off your SLSO too, which can be a little awkward. However, having a SLSO can be a bonus as they keep you on track and can be a much needed support through the process of adjusting from primary to high school.
A common thing that happens at the start of your first year of high school is a heavy workload. This is done to prepare you for the future, and you just need to fight through it. The start of the year is the worst part of the year, but near the end of the year the work starts to die down.
Continuing with the topic of schoolwork, let’s talk about exams. First tip for exams is to not put pressure on yourself. You don’t stress as much when you just tell yourself ‘what will be, will be.’ Next tip about exams is to study enough so that you memorise the content, but not so much that you drain yourself of all energy and can’t remember anything. When you are calm and have studied, you tend to be more prepared for the exam.
You may either get special supervision or a writer for the exam. If you get a writer, you need to be very specific about what you need to write and explain exactly what you need when it comes to drawing things. Always look over their spelling too as you lose marks even though you haven’t literally wrote the words yourself, it still is your work that is being submitted. It can be a long process when you have to explain exactly what you need to be written, so students are always given extra time in exams to accommodate this.
Let’s talk about making friends. If you had a good group of friends that are going to the same school as you, it will be easier. For the people who are going into a school with one or two friends, or none, it might be more challenging. Some schools have a camp or some other fun activity that helps the new 7th graders start making friends. If you get this opportunity, and it is accessible, take it. Some schools have a peer support programs, which are great too.
If these programs aren’t offered this just means that you’ll need to make friends the old-fashioned way; by communicating. Communication skills are a good thing to practice, and can make it easier when it comes to finding things in common with fellow classmates. I have ended up getting some good friends in my class. I even got a few kids to help me set up my books and electronic devices. Many of the kids are really quite willing to help me out if I need it, which has been a huge relief.
There have been difficult moments like going to Luna Park for a school excursion. Mum and I had previously organised I could play games while the other kids were on the rides. That didn’t eventuate on the day and I ended up being a “hat carrier” and watching them on the dodgems and other rides. I certainly wasn’t one of the greatest moments of the year as I felt a bit excluded, but I still enjoyed going and learning about the history of Luna Park, so it wasn’t all bad.
When an excursion is coming up, either ask the teacher/s involved for information on the accessibility of the location or do some personal research to investigate the location. If the excursion is not accessible, then you follow up with the faculty behind the excursion for either a way around the problem or the possibility of you getting a day off (quick side note: these days off are best spent studying not gaming!).
Some kids in wheelchairs may not look forward to sport, because there is nothing much for them to do. I was a little worried about when it came to sports, but thankfully my school offers “Drama/Theatre sports” which I just love, and bowling. If your school doesn’t offer any of these sports, ask the sports coordinator. There are lots of inclusive sports available now. There are also the inter-school sports and swimming carnivals for kids with disabilities.
At the start of the year I definitely was wishing to be back at Primary School. But now I have embraced the variety that high school brings, and I find I like Cooking, Drama, French, Science and Music. These are some things that will help you get prepared for high school with any type of Muscular Dystrophy. Try and embrace it, there may be some hard times adjusting, but I think by the end of Year 7, you will be loving it.
Video by NSW Government