Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Oh Brother

When my brother (above left, my sister, on right) was in kindergarten, he was diagnosed with ADD and with learning disabilities. Although, I'm almost eight years older than he, I was too young to understand that there was something different with this boy. Apparently, my parents saw him struggle with everyday tasks and activities from an early age. School was never easy for him and although he had a ton of friends, academically, he battled on a daily basis.

When I entered college, he was in middle school. I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career, but interested with my brother's journey in school, took an introductory class about special education. It was if I was meant to be there and the rest, as they say, is history.

After I declared my major and got into the field, I found a particular interest in emotional disabilities. Almost simultaneously, my brother began having more behavior problems at home and school. There were more office visits, calls home and outbursts. As I moved closer to my graduation date, his behaviors became much more problematic and bizarre.

My first year of teaching was an adventure. I lived at home and tried to help my brother, as well as, figure out how to just keep my head above water. It was my idea to have my brother evaluated at the end of the year for an emotional disability. He met the criteria. The following school year, he was also diagnosed with a devastating mental illness. So now he was labeled ADD, LD, ED and mentally ill. That's a lot for scrawny 17-year-old shoulders to bear and, let's face it, it can be hard for a school to know how to best educate a student with all of these challenges.

Luckily, I had already done a lot of study and research about people with emotional disabilities; which includes students with mental illnesses which impact their education to a marked degree. Finding the best ways to educate, include and appreciate my brother and his struggles became my passion. While other professionals could only see his labels, I was able to see past all the labels and still see him... my brother.

I'd love to say that he made it through school without any further problems and that I was somehow able to magically find the key to make things "click" for him. I was and still not able to do that for him. I wish that I could. However, he did "graduate" and continues to work diligently on obtaining his GED. To date, he's taken it three times and is so close to passing. He plans on trying again this spring. His mental illness has taken a big piece of who he is, but not all of him and certainly not his spirit. Managing life with certain differences and disabilities is and will continue to be a life-long endeavour.

Tomorrow is his birthday and I am so incredibly lucky to have him in my life. The gifts he has brought to me outweigh any negatives. For this I am truly thankful. I am a better person, friend, sister, human being and TEACHER because of him. I am passionate about the work I do because of him. I strongly believe that ALL students are entitled to a quality education, despite their disability. But, most importantly, I am able to see my brother in all of my students and remember that they are not identified by the label placed on them, but rather of the people we hope or know they will become.

I hope you will see my brother in all of your students too.


Jen Barney said...

beautiful sarah. thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Sarah--you are a blessing to many people who have family members who face similar struggles, and I appreciate the courage you have to share your story with other because it can help so many people. I firmly believe that everyone has a purpose in life, and for some of us, we may not know what that is until we're in heaven. Your brother is very fortunate to have you for his sister! Wendy

Anonymous said...

Sarah, Sarah, Sarah,
I love your heart! Thank you for the beautiful display of love you give each student who comes into contact with Ms. S, and thank you for loving JP the way he needs to be... Completely! I cherish you! Thank you for what you do!!!
~Rebecca D.

Andrea said...

I finally had a minute to read your blog. As I knew it would be, it was uplifting and focused on the person, not the disability. Throughout my uncle's bout with mental illness, you let me vent share my frustrations. You also helped me to see that he was still a human being who needed to be loved and supported by us, his family.
I'm very glad that WMS has you to fight the battles that students with emotional disabilities face. You also make sure to always look at the student as a person first and not as their disability.