An article from The Chronicle of Higher Education has been making the rounds this week, authored by professor of psychology Gail A. Hornstein. To quote Alice Wong of the Disability Visibility project, Hornstein’s piece – titled “Why I Dread The Accommodations Talk” – is, well, “a dumpster fire of an article”.
Professor Hornstein teaches at Mount Holyoke College, a liberal arts college for women in Massachusetts. According to the college’s website, “Mount Holyoke women build robots, stand for social justice, and climb mountains”, and the college asks only that their students be “smart, determined, and willing to embrace change”. Nowhere on their website do they state the fine print: that their students are expected to be abled, or at least to overcome the infrastructural challenges of disability alone and without support from their tertiary educators.
Hornstein’s complaints are nothing we haven’t heard before. She begins the article by describing a disabled student of hers: “not confrontational, but not exactly friendly, either”; wearing an “old black motorcycle jacket and punk haircut”, “avert[ing]” her gaze”, speaking in “a flat tone”, and “mumbl[ing]”. In contrast, Hornstein “relaxes into [her] chair” and “look[s] directly” at her student. If Hornstein is sharing these details in an effort to humanise her student, she fails miserably: this is a textbook stigmatised description of millennial mental health. We know that the issue in question is mental health and not physical because that’s the point of Hornstein’s article.
Although in the USA students are not legally required to disclose their disabilities in order to receive ADA-mandated accommodations, Hornstein takes it upon herself to outline the ways in which “mental-health [sic] problems differ from many physical disabilities”, are dealt with in “overly broad and vague criteria”, and are “variable” (Hornstein seems unaware that physical disabilities are also frequently variable).
Perhaps Hornstein hasn’t read the sections of the ADA relating to eligibility, in which “disability” is defined as
A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual.
The definition of “disability” shall be construed broadly in favor of expansive coverage, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA.
(1) Physical or mental impairment means:
- (i) Any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more body systems, such as: neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, immune, circulatory, hemic, lymphatic, skin, and endocrine; or
- (ii) Any mental or psychological disorder such as intellectual disability, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disability
(2) Physical or mental impairment includes, but is not limited to, contagious and noncontagious diseases and conditions such as the following: orthopedic, visual, speech and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, intellectual disability, emotional illness, dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Human Immunodeficiency Virus infection (whether symptomatic or asymptomatic), tuberculosis, drug addiction, and alcoholism.
(3) Physical or mental impairment does not include homosexuality or bisexuality.
Hornstein then escalates the matter even further: “faculty members”, she writes, “need to respond appropriately and help students to learn what’s a crisis (and what’s not), and to understand when it is reasonable to ask for the course structure to be changed or for expectations to be modified (and when it’s best to try to cope on one’s own).”
Let’s allow that to sink in for a moment. Hornstein’s student has come to her with legally-issued accommodations for a documented mental illness. For those unfamiliar with the process of diagnosing, documenting, and requesting accommodations for mental health conditions, I can tell you now that it’s hellish. Any student who has access to disability accommodations has already been through an absurd amount of diagnostic bureaucracy in order to get to that point – bureaucracy that’s made even harder if, for example, you have a disability that interferes with your executive function, ability to make or keep appointments, capacity to make phone calls, chase up referral forms, or explain intimate details of your life to various medical and authoritative bodies.
Hornstein’s student’s request is very simple: she has panic attacks and has been granted extended deadlines in the event that her disability interrupts her studies. This is in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which states that:
Any private entity that offers examinations or courses related to applications, licensing, certification, or credentialing for secondary or postsecondary education, professional, or trade purposes shall offer such examinations or courses in a place and manner accessible to persons with disabilities or offer alternative accessible arrangements for such individuals.
…Any private entity that offers a course covered by this section must make such modifications to that course as are necessary to ensure that the place and manner in which the course is given are accessible to individuals with disabilities.
Unfortunately for Hornstein’s student, instead of reassuring her that her disability accommodations will be provided as is required by law, Hornstein – rather bafflingly – explains that her course has a “fast pace” and that her student would “be at a significant disadvantage if [she] missed a test”. (…Rather the point of needing legal accommodations, no?) Instead of telling her student that she will comply with the law, Hornstein says that she does not provide make-up exams in her course, and asks what might be the most insulting question ever asked of a student with panic disorder: “What do you usually do to calm down before an exam?”
“What do you usually do to calm down before an exam?”
If I were Professor Hornstein’s student, and in response to my request for legal accommodations she had asked me, essentially, “Have you thought about calming down?”, I may well have laughed in her face. Or quit the course right there. Or reported her to my university’s Disability Support Services.
Anyone who has documentation and accommodation requests has already got all the coping skills, all the strategies, all the tools, & they’re damn resilient just to get that far in the first place. It’s condescending and a fundamental misunderstanding of the way panic attacks work. Like – oh shit, it hadn’t occurred to me to just STOP being mentally ill! No one’s ever suggested that before! So fucking helpful!
I’ve been having panic attacks since I was a child. I’ve been getting psychiatric and psychological help for them for the last five years. I still get panic attacks. Sometimes they occur in response to easily-identifiable stimuli and sometimes they come seemingly out of nowhere. My heart beats irregularly and very fast, I experience dyspnoea (shortness & irregularity of breath), my whole body breaks out in a sweat, I have hot and cold flushes, my chest feels tight and painful, I might blush bright red or go dead pale, I shake like a stick insect in a hurricane, I feel numb, dizzy, tingly, my throat feels choked, my limbs feel weak, sometimes my vision goes dark or blurry, I feel nauseous and sometimes throw up, and I often experience dissociation, derealisation, or depersonalisation. Usually I end up sobbing my guts out.
Like many people who experience panic attacks, I often worry about “losing control” or “going crazy” (note: “crazy” is often considered a slur, or at least a remarkably rude descriptor, in neurodivergent communities). Unlike many people who experience panic attacks, I am lucky enough that I have never mistaken a panic attack for a heart attack – possibly because I have actual heart attacks to compare them to (I have a bicuspid aortic valve and an ascending aortic aneurysm, and have frequent emergency episodes of various kinds of cardiac nonsense.) For Professor Hornstein’s benefit, I can quite happily report that panic attacks can be every bit as debilitating, painful, and terrifying as heart attacks. Sometimes my panic attacks last under a minute, and sometimes they can last hours. Generally they will last between twenty to forty minutes. (For those who might find it useful, you can download a copy of the Panic Disorder Severity Scale here, and you can access the Panic and Agoraphobia Scale here.)
Once I am in the throes of a panic attack there is very little that I can do except ride it out. In that respect they’re very much like rip currents. Rip currents are narrow, extraordinarily powerful currents that are easy to spot if you know what you’re looking for, but fiendishly difficult to recognise if you don’t. My mother volunteered as a lifeguard when we lived on the coast, so for a couple of years every Sunday my siblings and I were enrolled in the junior surf lifesaving program. There are three ways to escape a rip: swim between the flags where the lifeguards are watching, hold your arm up straight & wait to be rescued; swim sideways away from the pull of the water, parallel to the beach, until you escape; or relax, keep your head above water, and wait for the current to eventually bring you back to shore. The worst thing you can do if you’re caught in a rip is panic and try to swim straight back to shore; the rip will pull you rapidly away from the beach and you’ll exhaust yourself trying to fight the tide. Rip currents kill more people on average in Australia than bushfires, floods, cyclones and sharks combined.Hornstein is the lifeguard here. Her student was caught in a rip current and held her arm high for assistance, as she should be able to expect when swimming in a lifeguard-patrolled area. And yet instead of paddling out to rescue her, Hornstein left her student to fend for herself, with the justification of encouraging strong swimming. But not everyone is a strong swimmer, and you don’t become a strong swimmer by flinging yourself into a rip and hoping for the best.
According to Hornstein, her student’s response was as follows:
She mumbled a few things, and we talked a bit longer, but little concrete guidance emerged.
The term moved along, and I saw her each week in the back row of the lecture hall, but she never again came to my office. The TA of her lab section said Lee never missed a deadline and was doing well. I didn’t give her specific advice, nor did I ignore the reality of her problems. Instead, I conveyed confidence in her capacity to succeed and to come up with strategies to manage her difficulties. I have no idea if she still suffers panic attacks, but she didn’t miss any deadlines and got a high grade in my course.
It sounds like Hornstein’s student made it out of the rip alive – maybe because she’d been caught in rips before and knew what to do, or because a nearby swimmer noticed her distress and helped her out. Maybe she gave up and relaxed into the current, hoping to at least stay awake & above water for as long as possible, only to get lucky and be brought back to shore by happenstance, depending on the shape of the beach. Either way she was put in a terrifying position, denied legal aid, & forced to struggle her way out while being told it was building moral fortitude. Hornstein counts this as a success. But how many other students have drowned?
You can’t fight the whole ocean alone.
Hornstein, naturally, is convinced that her negligent approach is actually what’s best for her students. She describes herself as “an outspoken ally of many disability-rights activists” who has “taught and written about mental health for 40 years”. And yet she continues to betray her lack of understanding or compassion toward disability & disabled lives with every subsequent paragraph. Frankly, if this is the mindset of the last 40 years of mental health academia, no wonder it’s in such a sorry state.
“People have the right to behave oddly”, she claims, and as an example: “I once had a student who did not look directly at me or any other member of that 15-person seminar for the entire semester. I’ve had students who made strange head movements in class because they were hearing voices.”
This is not “behaving oddly”. It’s deeply, insidiously ableist that Hornstein was examining her students’ body language to this degree in the first place, that she considers this worthy of note, let alone that she considers herself super progressive for tolerating it. A very common hallmark of autism is significant discomfort making eye contact. ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis) therapy, which has been rightfully called out in many forums as being horrifyingly abusive, holds forced eye contact as one of its main tenets. Sparrow Rose at the blog Unstrange Mind describes witnessing an instance of ABA therapy in action outside a behavioural clinic:
A mother and father came out of the clinic with a little girl, around 7 years old by my best guess. Mother said, “Janie (not the actual name), look at me.” Janie didn’t look at her mother. The mother said to the father, “you know what to do,” and the father took hold of Janie and turned her head toward mother, saying, “look at your mother, Janie.” Janie resisted, turning her head away and trying to pull out of her father’s hands.
Mother crouched down and Father lifted Janie’s whole body up, laying her across Mother’s knee, face up. “Look at your mother, Janie,” father said. “Look at me, Janie,” Mother said. Janie began to whimper. Her body was as stiff as a board. Father held her body firm and Mother took hold of Janie’s head, “look at me, Janie,” Mother said.
I was glued to the sidewalk. I didn’t want to see any more but I couldn’t look away, couldn’t walk away. Janie began to moan and thrash her body. Father’s hands held her body steady as she kicked and flailed. Mother’s hands held Janie’s head steady. Both kept urging Janie to look at her mother. Janie’s moans turned to screams but neither parent let her go.
Finally, Janie’s entire body went limp with defeat. She apparently made eye contact because Mother and Father began to lavish praise on her. “Good girl, Janie. Good eye contact. Good girl. Let’s get some ice cream now.” Janie’s limp body slid to the sidewalk where she lay, sobbing. Father picked her up and carried her to the car, the whole way praising her submission. “Good eye contact, Janie.”
I hate making direct eye contact. It makes me feel queasy and hypervisible, like a stranger holding a hug for too long. I can fake it enough to get by but it’s unpleasant. I feel very sad at the thought of my lecturers taking note of whether or not I am making eye contact and concluding that it’s “odd” but something they are reluctantly willing to tolerate. Autistic ways of being in the world aren’t “odd”. The student in question might have been autistic, or they might have had social anxiety, or they might have been shy, or they might just have not wanted to make eye contact. Regardless, policing body language in this manner is a manifestation of systemic ableism.
Hornstein’s second example is equally infuriating – what, to her, constitutes “strange” head movements? And how in the hell did she come to the conclusion that those “strange head movements” must have been because the student was experiencing auditory hallucinations? Why did Hornstein phrase it as “hearing voices” rather than “auditory hallucinations”? Why did she feel the need to specify at all?
She provides concrete examples of situations that she considers “serious” and “not serious”. “Not serious” conditions include: headaches, colds, “being anxious about the assignment or having a minor conflict with a roommate”. “Serious, unexpected circumstances” include: “coming down with the flu or experiencing the death of a close relative… staying up all night with a suicidal friend or having an exam the morning after a distressing break-up.”
It doesn’t escape me that all of her examples of what actually constitutes as “serious” in her eyes are things that affect abled people. Having the flu, experiencing the death of a relative, staying up with a suicidal friend. What if I’m the dying relative? What if I’m the suicidal friend? What if a cold is just as debilitating for me as the flu? For that matter, what if I am immunocompromised and fellow students coming to class with “not serious” colds pose a significant danger to me? What if my anxiety and agoraphobia are so intense that they prevent me from leaving the house for weeks at a time? What if my migraines are so gut-wrenchingly painful that I can’t speak, see, hear, or move? All of these are things I have experienced in an education context. For the most part, as with Hornstein’s students, I have been left to make my way out of the rip alone.
Hornstein believes that “people have to learn to manage chronic problems and conditions, and to cope with the crises — be they physical or emotional — that can affect any of us at certain moments.” Except Hornstein hasn’t been affected by chronic conditions, or by physical or emotional crises: she writes that “For some people, school is a refuge, a conflict-free zone where they can relax and be successful. (I know; I was one of them.)” It’s easy to advocate for strength when you haven’t had to be strong. And of course it’s beneficial for people experiencing hardship to learn fortitude and resilience, but they’ll be doing that already, on their own terms, and they shouldn’t have to face infrastructural obstacles in tertiary education for the sake of building character. Regardless of Hornstein’s opinions about strength in the face of adversity, making the conditions of her students’ education more adverse is not the solution, especially when this logic is applied only to disabled students.
Hornstein calls this “crucial life lessons of adulthood”, and cautions against “overprotecting” students. She considers her authoritative capacity as a teacher to include “determining who actually requires assistance, and in what form, and discouraging students from defining themselves by what they can’t do”.
I would posit that it’s a lot easier to avoid defining yourself by what you can’t do if you live in a world where “what you can’t do” doesn’t have such an enormous definitional capacity toward your identity. I can’t breathe underwater and I can’t speak medieval Latin, but those things don’t prevent me from accessing education on the same level as my peers. If my teachers were regularly asking me “but have you just tried harder to breathe underwater?” then perhaps my lack of amphibiousness would seem more immediately relevant.
Hornstein ends the article with these parting lines:
Lee’s accommodation letter did serve one key function: It gave her permission to meet with me and to reveal, if she so chose, potentially embarrassing private information that she would not otherwise have told a professor.
And it gave me a chance to model an attitude of nonjudgmental assessment of the circumstances, and to encourage self-reliance, coping skills, and confidence in a student’s strengths and talents.
It’s not embarrassing to be disabled and seek legal accommodation.
It’s not good teaching to “nonjudgmental assess” (…ie… nonjudgmentally judge???) circumstances that aren’t your job to assess, & then to essentially say “your panic attacks are a weakness & character flaw that you can overcome by Coping and being Self Reliant”.
I don’t know what hardships Professor Hornstein has experienced in her life. Regardless, her hardships are not everyone’s hardships, and her coping strategies are not everyone’s coping strategies. In writing this article she has not positioned herself as a disabled person, a mentally ill person, or a person facing adversity in any form; she has positioned herself as “a professor of psychology at Mount Holyoke College” and “an outspoken ally”.
It’s not up to teachers to decide how or when the ADA should apply to their students. The point of the ADA is that it applies to everyone, all the time. Anti-discrimination legislation exists to remove structural barriers. If Hornstein is concerned about her students’ ability to face adversity later in life, she should put her energy towards eradicating the conditions and causes of that adversity, not just encourage her students to get used to it early.
It’s not up to people who do not need assistance to decide “who actually needs assistance, and in what form”. Disability accommodations provide equality, not advantage. If our efforts to remove disadvantage overshoot the mark and advantage certain groups to the detriment of others, then we can tackle that issue as it arises.
It’s not up to abled people to make moral judgements about disabled people’s lives, experiences, body language, ways of coping with adversity, or the avenues of legal aid that they choose to employ.
To those fighting the rip alone: I’m so sorry. It’s rough and I’ve been there. It’s so hard to keep going when you’re scared, lost, in pain, and can’t see the shore. But rips are only dangerous if you don’t know what you’re dealing with. Maybe nobody will help you, and I’m sorry for that too. I can’t promise that a time will come when you’ll be able to breathe easy. But I can damn well promise that there’s solidarity in struggle, that I won’t go quietly, and maybe if we’re lucky we’ll manage to fight our way out together.
18 thoughts on “Response to a lecturer’s reluctance to provide disability accommodations, and some thoughts about rip currents”
This is really disturbing.
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Please submit this to Inside higher Ed or The chronicle for publishing as an official response. She needs to be called out on a larger platform!
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Honestly hadn’t occurred to me to submit this as a news article, although I have written journalism pieces in the past. Thanks for your suggestion. I do have to admit I was surprised as to how many people my post resonated with!
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Brilliantly written rebuttal, thank you for sharing this piece. If you’re interested please contact us at ChronicallyAcademic.org (email email@example.com) would love to have you write for our blog, chronicallyacademic blogspot.com
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Thank you! Definitely interested & will get in touch – I’d heard of the Chronically Academic network (possibly through the SDS newsletters?) & I’m a big fan.
Ayva recent meeting with Disability Services, it was mentioned that MH has become the most common disability among our students asking for accommodation. Just like folks in my profession/ field (nursing/ health care) need to learn to be respectful and comfortable working with people with mental health issues, so does academe.
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I am a faculty member at another private university in MA. I am in the school of eduction. I saw the original article – read the first paragraph or so, groaned and moved on because it was so typical and so full of absolute elitist BS. Thank you so much for sticking with the article, “dumpster fire” and all and writing a brilliant piece that rebukes the tired trope of the long suffering professor who must “deal” with students.
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I’m a disabled Mount Holyoke student who is very involved in the AccessAbility office on campus. First, I want to say that the overwhelming majority of our professors do not support this viewpoint she has, and are absolutely incredible about accommodations. This professor is pretty well known around campus to be…odd (she supports some toxic mental health student groups on campus, and teaches classes like one called ‘Hearing Voices’). When we have our weekly meeting, we will definitely be talking about this and what we can do to support Lee, and all the students like her on campus. Thank you for such a powerfully written piece, and all you do to speak out for disabled students like myself. Mount Holyoke is an incredible school, I just wish we didn’t have professors like this hurting our students and how we are viewed.
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I have encountered several faculty members like Hornstein (thankfully in the minority!) over my 30 years in higher education as a disability services professional. Typically, and perhaps due to their many years in teaching, they believe that they know best – better than the student, better than the disability services professionals, better than the students’ doctors or psychologists. I spent 20 years as a professor listening to them pontificate at faculty meetings, holding entire meetings hostage while they crowed their wisdom at the room. They are ironically remarkably unteachable. You may know the type. Her intellectual arrogance is revealed in the following, from her article:
“I completely support the inclusion of psychiatric conditions among those being handled by campus accommodations offices. But overly broad and vague criteria for what constitutes a student’s problem serve no one.
We as faculty members need to respond appropriately and help students to learn what’s a crisis (and what’s not), and to understand when it is reasonable to ask for the course structure to be changed or for expectations to be modified (and when it’s best to try to cope on one’s own).
Those are crucial life lessons of adulthood, and we aren’t helping students who already have problems to succeed in their lives after college by treating them in a standardized manner or by overprotecting them. Determining who actually requires assistance, and in what form, and discouraging students from defining themselves by what they can’t do can be especially important.”
She believes that she knows (within minutes of meeting this student – was it the punk hairstyle? The leather jacket? The suspicious eye gaze?) that the student’s approval of extended time was based on “overly broad and vague criteria.” How could she possibly conclude this? Did she obtain access to the student’s documentation? Doubtful. She also believes that it’s her job to teach students to learn what is a genuine crisis and what is not. No, it is not. Her job is to teach psychology. The student has the DS office working with her to help her simultaneously manage her classes and her disability; she also has presumably a psychologist working with her in counseling, and parents behind her. Most importantly,she has an entire lifetime of experience behind her. As Paolo Friere once said, “People are their own best experts.” Apparently not so, according to Hornstein.
The fact that this student survived Hornstein’s class and did well says nothing to vindicate Hornstein’s holier-than-thou approach to teaching, and says everything about the persistence, intelligence and strength of the student to not just survive Hornstein’s class but to actually do well in it: one major thumb to the nose to the professor. Good for her, although I’m fairly certain that it came at personal cost. The Draconian approach to education (“if I can’t kill you along the way, and you somehow manage to survive me, it means I succeeded in my teaching”) needs to die once and for all, forever and ever, amen.
Hornstein has no right – legally or morally – to take it upon herself to determine “who actually requires assistance, and in what form.” That is the job of the disability services office, where people such as myself, who continually and deeply study this complex and ever-changing field, make difficult and well-reasoned judgments every day about what constitutes equal access and then, more importantly, determine what accommodations or modifications will grant this access to them. This is our profession. It’s what we do. Once we make these carefully considered judgments as to what disability accommodations a student is entitled to, though, these accommodations then carry the weight of the Americans with Disabilities Act behind them. So yes, professor (above), you do have to fall in line. That said however, it is also designed to be an interactive process. Each course is different so if you are doubtful, don’t see how it could work, or if it feels unreasonable to you, just pick up the phone and call the DS person who approved the accommodation and engage both the DS office and the student in dialogue. But please, for the sake of your student and disabled people everywhere, as well as for your own sake, do NOT challenge the student outright or, worse, simply refuse to provide the accommodation. There is no good ending there, I promise. Hornstein violated the law. She is only lucky that that student chose not to pursue it (maybe she didn’t know she could?).
To repeat, it is to Lee’s credit that she survived Hornstein’s course. This is all about Lee, however, not Hornstein’s so-called wisdom. Tactics used by persons with disabilities to survive toxic environments come at significant personal cost – not all have the strength to withstand them as Lee did here – and it is for this reason that ADA and Section 504 laws were created. How many students with mental health disabilities have tried to take Hornstein’s classes and were academic casualties, not successes? We’ll never know. I’m truly glad Lee survived her experience although I sincerely hope her next professor is more teachable.
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I am a current student at MHC and I can tell you that the entire Psych department is displeased with Prof. Hornstein. Thankfully she’s on her way out the door, but please know that the entire campus is incredibly accomodating and validating. She is not a reflection of any part of the campus community.
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When I was in High School, my English teacher told me to get checked for a mental disability so that I could get extra time on exams. Because this is looked down upon in my culture, my parents refused to do this and told me to “get over it” and “stop being lazy.” To be completely honest, I feel really happy with their decision. I ended up graduating HS with a 3.9 GPA and now have a 3.8 in College. I learned how to deal with my problems and I know I wouldn’t have learned how to do this if I would have gotten accommodations. What Hornstein was doing is wrong but I also think that some kids do end up abusing the system or getting written of as mentally disabled when they are actually not because they are getting bullied, unhappy with their lives and therefore don’t want to study, or have family issues that prevent them from studying (as was my case). Also, I still sometimes have issues with time management on Exams and I have had my share of panic attacks. But I learned how to deal with them on my own and never asked (or will ask) for extra time or for any sort of accommodations. I had a teacher who was similar to Hornstein in the past. He told me, “If you can’t handle my class, than how do you think you will handle investment banking?” (I really wanted to be an investment banker when I was in High School. He also made this comment in front of the entire class about me, which made me feel really bad to say the least). However, this did motivate me to not go for the easy way out and to do well. He ended up being one of my favorite teachers. So while I think that what she is doing is bad to students who actually have a disability, I do think that part of what she is doing could be motivational for those who have been misdiagnosed or who are cheating the system for an easy way out. (And yes, I have a bunch of friends who are cheating the system in this way because they have rich parents and are lazy.)
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Katybronsk, I understand what you are saying. And yes, there are a very few people who might try to take advantage of the system. But what you describe of your own experience tells me that you are experiencing something that is outside of ordinary stress–you mention panic attacks–and that isn’t something that should be ignored. It sounds like you’re not allowing yourself any latitude, and that’s unfortunate.
I hope you will give yourself permission to seek help if and when your situation and health require it. Panic attacks are no small thing, and, without treatment, they can grow far worse over time.
While my major concern in my own health these days is my cognitive disability, I am no stranger to panic disorder, and it has been part of my life for so long that I didn’t know it was out of the ordinary until I was an adult!I experienced my first panic attacks as an elementary student. By the time I began working, while still a teenager in high school, I experienced them several times a week. I became known as a chronic “cryer,” because my panic frequently manifested in frustration that I couldn’t hide due to spontaneous, uncontrollable crying. Though I slowly learned to control the crying on my own, I suffered constant stress and sleep disturbances, and eventually sought help, where the incidents I describe were finally identified as panic attacks, and by then I was 30! Because I didn’t seek help sooner, I spent more than two decades suffering needlessly. During those two decades I lost a lot of opportunities because the older I got the harder it was to control the panic. I would avoid social situations and didn’t apply for promotions or better jobs at other organizations; often, I had interviews that I had to scrap at the last minute because panic overtook the moment.
I’m not saying this *will* happen to you, but I hope you’ll consider the possibility that your panic could get worse with time, and it could seriously interfere with your life.
There’s no shame in getting help. Please give yourself permission to get help if you need it. Best of luck to you. You deserve it.
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Uhm… I’m not sure if I mentioned it but I’m 100% fine now. The last time I had a “panic attack” (although that’s probably an exaggeration) I was in 11th Grade. I learned how to manage my emotions from than on words. I’m currently in college and only had one experience when I allowed for my emotions to get the better of me this year and it wasn’t a panic attack. It was just me making mistakes due to stress. (In comparison with more than 30 something more serious situations in 10th Grade). The main point that I was trying to make, however, is that if my psych teacher wasn’t strict with me and allowed for me to take extra time (and didn’t humiliate me in front of the whole class), I would have never learned how to manage stress/my own emotions in the way that I did and I also would have never known that I was capable of actually “handling it”. I would have constantly looked for the easy way out. Also, I got bullied a lot in MS and behaved incredibly badly (Not proud of it) and than ended up having bad grades because I was trying to get expelled (because I didn’t want to suffer by going to the school that I was forced to go to.) As a consequence, when I started going to HS, having worser grades than everyone else my first semester because I was playing “catch up” and trying to turn my life around, the HS counselor decided to explain my behavior by coming up with mental illnesses, saying that I was dyslexic, had ADHD, etc… and trying to get my parents to take me to get help (because that’s easier than saying, “this kid had bad grades on purpose because she wanted to get expelled because this school sucks, which is partly my fault because I work for this organization.”) With all of this said, there are some issues that I should probably look to get help on (non panic attack or ADHD or dyslexia or the number of other disorders that my HS counselor came up with related) that would make my life more happier (not necessarily more successful) and I will eventually get this help. 😊
Forgive me, but you’re very young to making such definitive statements. I went through a severe depression right out of high school but was “100% fine” a few years later. I had a job and was coping well with life . . . until I wasn’t anymore. I ended up with a horribly abusive supervisor and that brought back my anxiety, my depression, my panic attacks–worse than they’d ever been.
I’m not saying this will happen to you, but I am saying that your life can change drastically, and you have many years left in which it will change. I hope it is for the better every time, but please realize you’re quite undereducated in this area.
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Valid point. Nobody knows what will happen in the future. It’s impossible to argue with that. 😂
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This entire article is beautifully composed. But I’m commenting only due to the final paragraph… I’m having a really, really hard night. Living with the consequences of my disease & its treatments in an abled world that demands of me capabilities that are declining more every day; a world that doesn’t recognize the ingenuity and determination I have in devising new methods of surviving, of succeeding–a world that sees what I’m “losing” rather than what I’m gaining, that sees my requests for accommodation and assistance as burdensome rather than an opportunity to benefit from my talents… a world that feels very much like it doesn’t want me in it–you know the score. At any rate, as you can discern, I’ve been in a dark place tonight. I wanted you to know your words gave me back a little light. Thank you for turning on your lighthouse for those of us out here in the water alone.
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Thank you so much for this beautiful retort. I’m a middle-aged grad student and solo business owner who has cognitive disabilities due to a head injury. It’s been a few years, and the lingering effects may be permanent. I have unpredictable symptoms that mean I don’t always know when I’ll need extra time for a task or project. It has slowed my reading and writing to a crawl, making tasks I once took for granted exponentially more difficult. Reading–one of my favorite passtimes–has become an endurance test that sometimes requires a painful amount of time and effort. To survive in grad school, I have made the choice to petition professors for syllabus details before the semester begins, and do as much as I can ahead of schedule in order to not fall behind when I get sidelined by days or even weeks of brainfog and agonizing insomnia coupled with visual phenomena. When those symptoms strike, I’m struggling to understand conversations and restaurant menus. Yet I *look* fine. Most people don’t know how much this injury still haunts me. I’m doing much better than I was the first months and years after the injury, but it is clear that some of these symptoms are here to stay. Getting others to take me seriously when I say that I need extra time is not easy, and more than one or two have scoffed at my request. The anxiety I already experience due to the challenges I face in everyday tasks that once were mindless is compounded and exacerbated by folks who either treat me like I’m manipulating their sympathy ~OR~ who assume that my disability means I “can’t handle things.” I know when I need help. I know how to ask for it. And I’m a grown woman who is lucky (?) enough to understand my rights and the obligations of institutions with which I interact. But not everyone has those advantages nor has the ability to advocate for their own needs.
As for the lines you wrote about the bureaucracy involved in just getting recognized as needing accommodations, and how difficult it is to traverse when someone may have a disability that interferes with paperwork, phone calls, getting to appointments and the like? I wanted to hug you when I read that. That’s my life in a nutshell. But it doesn’t mean I “can’t handle it.” I just handle it differently.
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New comment for an old post 🙂
A beautiful piece that I wish I couldn’t relate to so well. I’m on my third attempt at uni after flunking out the first time and being expelled the first time, largely due to failures (refusals) of the universities to accommodate me as a psychosocially and physically disabled woman on the dissociative spectrum. (Also, my brother is on the autism spectrum and I can attest to how horrible ABA is!)
It’s so true what you said about the nightmare of bureaucratic hoops of fire you have to jump through as a disabled person. I’ve spent hundreds or maybe thousands of hours over the years wrangling the NDIS, Centrelink, Victims Service, the public housing commission, the police, the courts, child welfare, and the psychiatric system. Like dealing with the university and trying to get disability accommodations, I challenge any abled person to manage these bureaucracies without feeling totally exhausted, frustrated and sometimes defeated. Howey, O’Brien, and Lea call this kind of thing “slow administrative violence”, elaborating on the Rob Nixon’s idea of “slow violence” as a systemic, invisible kind of violence against marginalised folks that doesn’t get the attention of “ruin porn” (flashy disasters that make the news).
This professor makes me so angry! Thank you for articulating this so well.