Impossible Things

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Impossible Things

Imagine you have a job that requires you to do increasingly harder tasks each day that you go there. Let’s say you are working a desk job but every day you are expected to do 50 sit ups. You haven’t done a sit up in years and you have a bad back from a previous injury. But everyone is required to do it so you give it a try and you maybe get in 2 or 3 before you give up. Your boss critiques your performance and gives you a Level 1 – the worst level there is. He also decides that because you can’t do sit ups you probably can’t do a lot of other activities the job entails. You sense his disdain and can’t help but feel slighted in your job. I don’t imagine you are going to happily report to your job each day. You probably will use a lot of sick days and try to find ways out of doing the sit ups. But none of it works and now the sit up requirement gets higher each day and you fall further and further behind. You want to be able to do the sit ups (though you secretly think they are stupid) but your back injury prevents you from doing so. Your boss just tells you to stop complaining.

Or imagine you need glasses. You have been wearing them since you were a child and there is no way you can see without them. You start a new job and are told you are not allowed to wear glasses or contacts as it gives you an unfair advantage over your work mates. You know this is ridiculous and try to argue your point but in the end you give in. You report to work and are shown to a desk. They promptly give you a pile of files that you need to work on. Only you can’t see. Day after day your files pile up. You are consistently being called into the boss’ office to explain why you are not completing your work. You try to explain about the glasses but you are dismissed as making excuses. You hate going to work each day.

The first two examples seem far fetched, ridiculous even. But what if it wasn’t so ridiculous? What about this scenario:

You have a Learning Disability and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and you enter a new grade at school. You and your mother have both informed the teacher in person and in writing about your unique learning needs as a result of these diagnoses – things like needing extra time to write a test or giving fewer questions for homework or needing technology in order to access the curriculum.  Your teacher decides you are exaggerating your needs and that the accommodations you are asking for give you an unfair advantage. You struggle the entire year, routinely receiving the lowest levels of grades for work that you could have gotten top marks for had you had the accommodations. You start hating school because every day is hard and you feel like you are a disappointment to everyone.


Every day my youngest son has attended school he has faced obstacles. He had unique learning needs which, if accommodated, could lead to success. Let me be clear here, we did Psychological testing and he came out as average to high average in all areas of cognitive functioning (same as an IQ score). What the testing told us was if he had the right accommodations he was capable of average to above average grades. Instead each day he received the lowest grades because he wasn’t given the proper tools to get the job done. Imagine how you would feel if you repeatedly were given the lowest marks, made to stay in at recess to finish work and sent to the office for unfinished work. Imagine you overheard staff talking about how you are never going to “make it” in grade 9. How stupid would you feel after all of that?

I let my youngest son down. I had no more fight in me after having fought for his brother. I had a few meetings with the teachers and reminded them of the accommodations in the Psychological report. But I didn’t follow up enough and he fell through the cracks. One particularly trying school year his teacher, who was forever disciplining him for his disability, decided to separate him from most of his peers and put him in a remedial group that an Educational Assisstant taught. You read that right, an EA was supposed to be teaching the kids that needed the teacher most. When we found out it had been going on for years, my youngest thought that we knew so never brought it up. When we brought it to the school’s attention they balked and threw out a bunch of platitudes and in the end they continued to do exactly what they had been doing. At that point we told our son, be polite and follow the rules, but we were looking at Grade 8 as a write off. I know some wouldn’t agree with us doing that but the boys self esteem was so far in the crapper that he needed to know that this situation was the schools doing not his. Now school is about to start and he will be in high school. High school was very good for our oldest son so we are very much hoping that our youngest is able to find his niche and get the accommodations he needs.

As a child I found school relatively easy and it was my favourite place to go. I wish that my children had a different experience with the school system. Even with accommodations school is still hard for them. Without them it is impossible. We shouldn’t be sending our kids out into the world to do impossible things. How cruel.

Tina Szymczak
Tina Szymczak
Tina Szymczak is a 40-something mom and wife with two spirited boys. She has worked in early intervention and as an advocate resource for families with a loved one with a disability. Now she also writes a blog about raising children with complex needs, trying not to lose your sense of self as you parent, and her struggles with mental health.

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