Sticks and Stones
By Marina Nakhla, college student, daughter, sister, friend
My name is Marina. I’m 21 years old. I was born with bilateral, lower extremity abnormalities. I had a bilateral above-knee amputation when I was fourteen months old and ever since, I have been wearing prosthetic legs.
My physical disability has impacted me in all aspects of my life, but it has also taught me resilience, motivation and perseverance. In fact, my disability has pushed me to thrive in the academic, professional, and social aspects of my life.
Bullying is awful for any child. But for a child with limb abnormalities, bullying is even worse. My childhood was extremely difficult – in fact, preschool, elementary and middle school were the most difficult periods in my life. This is to share my experiences and insights regarding how I deal with it.
Often, unfounded assumptions are made towards kids with disabilities. Unfortunately, some people have odd beliefs about those with disabilities. Some of these can be internal and unintentional, while others can be intentional and hostile. When I started preschool, the school district placed me in a special education class because they assumed that I had an intellectual disability because I had a physical disability. A year later, school officials saw that I didn’t belong in a special education class, and I was placed in regular classes with the rest of the kids. I’ve experienced situations where people were surprised that I was excelling in school or that I was going on field trips with friends.
It’s important to break through these assumptions and show people what you’re capable of. Tell them that you worked hard. Tell them that you deserved that award. After all, you’ve probably worked harder than anyone else to get where you are. Assumptions about me have carried over into young adulthood. Some people assume that I don’t drive. Instead of shying away from what they may think, I’ll correct them. I’ll show them my car and my hand-controls or even drive them around. I’ll show them that I am capable, and that people with disabilities drive all the time.
My family always pushed me to work hard in school. They constantly told me that they were proud of me and to ignore all of the negative comments. My family attended all of my awards ceremonies, parent-teacher conferences, open house days, and other activities. Their involvement in school taught me to be proud of who I was, not shameful. And in the end, this involvement is what helped me grow into the strong woman I am today.
In school, I was constantly called names. Kids would point at me and call me “weird” or “freaky” or a “robot”. I still remember how incredibly affected I was by the name calling. I would cry a lot because I felt like I was a loser at school.
My parents always told me that these kids didn’t know any better. They even inspired me to tell people that I wear artificial legs. I took their advice and ended up making friends who accepted me for who I was. In turn, I became more social in school. I stopped shying away from uncomfortable situations, and started speaking up in class. In high school and college, I blossomed into a “social butterfly.” I could not have gotten where I am now if I had let the bullying dictate my life. It’s easy to retreat and not speak up, but I enjoy that people like talking to me, see past my physical appearance, and appreciate me for who I really am. Acceptance played a huge role in the way I dealt with bullying. After all, if you don’t accept yourself, how can you expect others to accept you?
My mom always stood up for me with endless support when people were staring. Growing up with limb abnormalities, I’ve always experienced unwanted attention. It would make me feel really uncomfortable, but my mom would always intervene. Anytime she would catch someone staring at me, she’d ask them what they were looking at. She’d also tell them to stop staring and that there was nothing wrong with me. It simply wasn’t their business.
Although I didn’t fully understand everything when I was younger, I now know that the way she shielded and protected me truly made a difference in my life. Because of her, I learned to ignore the staring and not let it bother me. As a result, I’m never ashamed to go out in public. And I’m comfortable taking off my prosthetic legs for certain events or in front of people I don’t know very well.
I’ve learned that there really isn’t anything “wrong” with me, and that some people are simply just instinctively curious.
Special treatment? Not in my family. Having an amazing family and support system helped me immensely... to be comfortable with who I am and encourage me to do my best despite others’ assumptions. My parents didn’t just tell me that I was just like everyone else... they treated me like everyone else. Growing up, they assigned chores for me, made sure I did all of my homework, punished me if I did something bad, and rewarded me for my good grades.
There were those who disagreed with the way my parents raised me. They told my parents that they should be easier on me. My parents disagreed. They said that I needed to be responsible. Today, I am very independent. If my parents had been too lenient, I believe I’d be much more dependent on others to do things for me.
Fortunately, I was not bullied to the extent of threats and physical aggression, but other kids may experience this. I believe that it is essential for parents and family to be a strong support system for their kids throughout these difficult years. Encourage your kids no matter what. Tell your kids that they are special. Always listen. Pay attention to what they have to say. If the bullying becomes serious, contact school officials and report it. Be sure that your child is safe.
Last but not least, unconditional love is crucial.
When a child with a physical disability feels accepted and loved for who they are, it makes all the difference... this I know.
With thanks to OttoBock Momentum where Sticks and Stones was first published as a blog. For more from Marina and other OttoBock bloggers, visit https://myottobockstory.wordpress.com.