Past the quad, past the staff lounge, and behind the gymnasium, a portable building squats at the edge of the soccer field. This brown blemish houses the Resource Education Department, commonly referred to as “special needs.” I first entered that building through my school’s Buddy Lunch program, which unites general and resource education students together. The students that I have met through this program enjoy interacting with the broader school community, but their segregation from “mainstream” students deprives them of this opportunity.
This marginalization resonates deeply with me because my cousin Nina has intellectual disabilities. She and I are so similar, apart from an infinitesimal neurological difference that supposedly warrants us being considered “completely different.” She deserves the same level of kindness and respect that she has always shown to others.
Many of my peers flippantly use words like “retard” and “autistic,” unaware that even the term “special needs” has a negative connotation. No one deserves this degradation; I have worked to educate my peers to make the campus more accommodating and comfortable for students with intellectual disabilities.
I hope to continue challenging stereotypes of those with learning disabilities. As a child, I never intuitively differentiated between myself and people with intellectual disabilities; this is something that happened only after others pointed out differences. I want to be a part of the generation that achieves a full, ethical representation of people with learning disabilities. The only cure for ignorance is education and exposure.