The following post is part of a series of reflections and interview responses given by successful young adults with varying disabilities who have direct experience with the Connecticut Special Education system. Our interviewer and writer is Katie Feinstein, daughter of Attorney Feinstein, who is also a successful young adult living with disabilities. Katie chronicles individuals respective journeys within the system and beyond, into their adult lives. The Feinstein Education Law Group represented some of these young adults when they were students. Katie asks individuals to discuss their struggles, triumphs and perspectives as they consider their pasts and move forward into futures of hope and evolving independence.
1. Firstly, tell me a little bit about yourself as a person and what your life is like today.
I'm a 29 year old female with hand, speech, and mobility difficulties. I graduated Avon High School in 2004 and The University of Saint Joseph (formerly Saint Joseph College) in 2008. I received my Bachelors Degree in English with a minor in Psychology. In 2013, I went on and received my Masters Degree in Interactive Media through Quinnipiac University. I am the proud author of five books and I write in hopes of illustrating how everyone is an individual and everyone has a purpose in life. Writing is a way to express myself and is a means of reflection. I enjoy the creative aspect that writing offers. I also like the creativeness and ability to express oneself that artwork offers. Artwork and writing are both means of communication. Three of my books have been named among the best in family-friendly media, products and services and are Mom's Choice Award Honoree recipients! I plan to publish more books in the future. I'm keeping busy, but unfortunately I'm struggling to find a stable computer-based position that will provide a stable income.
2. Tell me about your disability/ies. When were you diagnosed, and how were you tested? What do your disabilities mean for you, and how do they affect your everyday life?
I have hand, speech, and mobility difficulties due to birth trauma. I was never truly diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. My records say "birth trauma/cerebral palsy?". Different doctors say different things. Not having a true diagnosis never bothered me and doesn't bother me. I know what I need to work on and that's all that matters. Labels don't matter. I believe this outlook on life is positive. Everyone has things that they need to work on.
3. Looking back, how was school for you? Were there any areas that you enjoyed more, or excelled at? Was there a period in your education that you preferred? Did you ever have to deal with bullying? In short, how was your overall school experience?
Looking back, school for me was ok. It was a struggle and didn't help me excel as much as I could have, but the education was ok. I preferred college and postgrad due to the independence. Regarding bullying, I had one incident in high school where in class a girl threw a cupcake at my back. My older cousin (a student in the same school) somehow heard about it and talked to the girl. Overall, my school experience was ok. College was better.
4. Did your disability have an impact on your education? If so, what methods were implemented or equipment used to help you, either formally in an IEP or informally? How involved were you in the creation/evolution of your IEP, if you had one? What parts worked for you, and what didn't?
Before college, yes, my disability did have a strong impact on my education. First, in school, I had a paraprofessional. It was annoying as I reached middle school/high school age because I didn't feel independent and was always watched. I think this impacted my education because in college I didn't have a para and my grades improved and I felt better. Then, due to my speech, I struggled with class placement as the school kept having me tested to see if I had an intellectual disability or a processing problem. It was ridiculous. Speech doesn't reflect mental ability. This testing occurred even after getting a communication device because I liked using my voice first before the device. Before college, I didn't really communicate in the classroom and only talked in the hallway or during lunch to friends. In college, I felt free to speak/participate in class without pressure. During IEP creation and/or meetings, I was involved when I reached high school age, but it was tough.
5. Outside of school, as a child how did you or do you cope with everyday life that may in some ways be challenging because of your diagnoses? Did/do you have certain strategies, hobbies, outlets that you've used?
I've found that with effort and creativity I am able to do anything. I enjoy swimming, horseback riding, playing with my dogs, writing, computer work, music, and art. I consider all of these things as hobbies as well as outlets. I don't normally get frustrated trying to cope with everyday life because I guess I just wasn't brought up like that and instead try to do my best.
6. What is/was your support system outside of school and after college? Did they help, encourage, or inspire you and any specific ways?
My family especially my dad, my mom, and my brother was/have been very supportive. They always encourage(ed) me to try my best and pursue my dreams. They also communicate(d) with and listen(ed) to me. My family and friends never put barriers up for me and knew/know that with hard work and creativity I am able to do anything I set my mind to.
7. Has your disability or certain aspects of it improved or changed over time? Have physical therapy or other services served to help you in this?
Working hard allows me to see improvement. Patience helps too. Surgery is questionable in my mind since I've had four and I'm not seeing improvement from it. I'm going on number five because the past surgeries on my foot have failed. Physical activity definitely helps. Not therapy necessarily, but working out. I recently joined Chapter 126/a gym and my work there has been wonderful.
8. I've had the privilege of reading some of your work, and you're very talented. Do you remember what got you started writing poetry and stories? Has your disability or life experiences influenced your writing or worldview? If so, how? How does it feel to be a published author?
Thank you. I've always enjoyed writing since I'm a creative person and since it's a way of communication for me. However, it wasn't until my undergraduate studies where I started to really pursue writing. After receiving my Bachelors in 2008, I organized some of my poetry that I wrote in college and published my first book in 2009. My life experiences have influenced my writing because experience is inspiration. My disability hasn't influenced my writing in a huge sense yet besides for being a part of those experiences and the fact that I type with one finger. It feels wonderful to be an author and I hope to continue writing.
9. Looking forward, what is your next project? What are your future aspirations and goals? Will you continue to write? What else do you see yourself doing besides writing?
I have three books that I'm working on writing and have four upcoming events. I also have been actively searching for a stable computer-based position. I see myself working on computers as a full time job while continuing to write on the side in the future.
10. If you could say something to a kid with your type of disability or who has experienced similar events in their lives, what would it be? If you could say something to their parents, what would it be? What do you have to say to all those who want to become writers or have similar goals to you?
Never give up! For a child, don't give up on what you feel is right or give up on your dreams. Don't lose sight of who you are. For parents, don't give up on your child. Always try to communicate with them and listen to what the say.