For each voluntary self-advocate, we provided several questions to help have them focus their answers about their education and experiences. Jacob Lewis is a self-advocate I’ve had the pleasure of reading a variety of his work. I was excited that he agreed to join us for July. -Renay H. Marquez
A little about yourself (State you’re from, things you are all right with people knowing about you)
I’m an intelligent, talkative, autistic, nerdy 17-year-old from Maine; but not necessarily in that order. I’m the yearbook editor-in-chief and photographer at my high school, and I always have my camera (a Nikon, of course) around my neck. I sometimes find it difficult to understand people’s emotions and thought processes on a personal level, which leads to social conflicts and an inability to connect with my peers, but I’m constantly working at it to make myself a better student and a better person.
What things have you seen in classrooms that made you feel welcome as a student?
The things in classrooms that make me feel most welcome as a student are not things in a physical sense, but rather attitudes or ways of teaching.
My favorite classes are ones in which the teacher allows for me to work in a way that I am either best at or with which I am comfortable. The example I tend to use for this is my making videos rather than slideshows for presentations; it provides all the information required in a novel way, but also helps me to showcase my skills and be more invested in the assignment.
Teachers who interact with students on a personable level are great when it comes to making me feel welcome. I don’t expect them to remember everything about everyone and have in-depth conversations with me, but simply checking in once in a while if I seem distracted or anxious or confused makes me feel like our end goal is the same and that the teacher is not in opposition to me. Ultimately, it comes down to being acknowledged as a person with feelings and needs. While this seems straightforward, sometimes students and teachers alike get caught up in the idea that school is an institution for learning to the point that it becomes extremely overwhelming.
What would you like to see as a learning model in education for students with disabilities?
I’ve written about this before, but my view of an ideal system to accommodate students with disabilities is to have a system in which basic supports are built-in and available for all those who need them, not just students with disabilities.
In the past I’ve benefitted greatly from preferential seating, and while it may not make sense to offer this to everybody upfront, the ability to choose a seat that makes a student most comfortable and ready to learn is something that should be possible without the need for a specific written accommodation makes the student feel less singled out and different since everyone could potentially do the same.
What are things you may have seen educators miss about students with disabilities?
There are a couple of things I think educators miss about students with disabilities.
Disability isn’t linear. As a 2E (twice exceptional) student, teachers have assumed that since I can do one task, a related one should be no problem at all. However, this isn’t always the case; students with disabilities may be able to do one thing easily and have difficulty with something seemingly trivial in comparison. For example, I excel at reading comprehension and interpreting the text for major ideas and themes, but I struggle with detail recollection and identifying literary devices, both of which in theory are simpler tasks than the aforementioned.
The most important thing that gets lost in translation is that students with disabilities are trying. Of course, there will be outliers, but the high majority of us are desperately trying to understand and learn, or even just trying to understand how to learn. There have been multiple instances of me asking my teacher what instructions mean that has turned into them thinking that I am being deliberately insubordinate or attempting to undermine their lesson, but this simply isn’t the case. I can’t wrap my head around certain phrasings because of how my thought process works, but I am always trying my hardest.
The most important thing that gets lost in translation is that students with disabilities are trying.Jacob Lewis