Being a teenager is hard enough, factor in the early 80s and not much info on the subject of Tourette — and the snarky way the media has depicted TS — and growing up was a huge recipe for disaster.
I had finally made it home, and I was once alone again. I had no friends because my family had moved while I was in the hospital, and I had no school. Nothing was familiar to me anymore. I had lived in a hospital environment and wasn’t use to my own family anymore. I was changing in so many ways as a teen, and I had Touretts. I was a square peg in a round world.
I didn’t fit in anywhere. I had missed 2 1/2 years of school, and technically I should have been going into 7th grade. As soon as the school system heard I had TS, I was automatically branded “special needs” and was under chapter 766, which basically put me in a classroom with children that had severe disabilities.
I fought this. I went head to head several times, challenging the head of the special needs department. I wanted to know how I was “normal” and then not. I was still exactly the same. The only difference was that my body would do its own thing at times, but my mind was fine.
The reason I couldn’t keep up was because I missed 2 1/2 years of school, not because of the Tourette. I went from getting through half of the fourth grade and entirely missing fifth and sixth grade. I am stubborn, so I made them send me to the nearest junior high.
When I was at the day school, instead of just putting me in a mixed class, I wish the school would have looked over my records and had given me age-appropriate work. The mistakes that other people made have hindered me, and I can never change this.
Junior high was a nightmare! The first few weeks, kids made their cliqués. I was actually with the popular crowd, until one day — feeling comfortable and confident that my new friends loved and accepted me — I made the mistake of telling one person my “problem” … banished, poof. That was it, I was done. It went from bad to worse.
I remember going into my math class, and the teacher wasn’t there yet but all the kids were. They all lit into me. I remember putting my head down on the table and crying, and you know what? They continued. Then there was a gym teacher that I caught making fun of me, mimicking my facial tics. We had a meeting, and of course she denied it, but I know what I saw.
Oddly enough, I am glad that all this happened. It made me strong. I have compassion. I can honestly say I see people very differently than most, because upon meeting anyone, I see them — not the visual side of a person, but the inner person.
I am who I am because of my experiences. I am glad I didn’t end up like most of the people that I briefly went to school with — superficial, mean and cruel. Most of them have apologized, as I have called them on it, when the occasions have come up.
I learned at a very young age how cruel a place the world can be, regardless of age or sex. I also feel like I owe these individuals a thank you, because they showed me what I would never want to be — like one of them.
At the time, chapter 766 stated all children should remain in school until the age of 21 . I had been bounced around from all sorts of programs and had done the coursework.. Of course, I fought that, too, and in the end, I did get my diploma after battling the head of the special needs department. It is the same one that everyone else got. Class of 1988.
I didn’t know it for many years, but when I did need my transcripts for something, I was told that there was no record of me at all. Once again, the school system had just pushed me through, and let me down.