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Academic Advocacy

Updated: Nov 2, 2021

The transition between middle school and high school is a very exciting, but nerve-

wracking time for all individuals who are affected by CMD. You are unsure about how the high school staff is going to accommodate you and whether you’ll be able to become involved with school activities you’ve been waiting for since sixth grade.

Personally, I was more excited than nervous, as my middle school team was amazing. I was confident that they would ensure that the high school staff did their best to allow me to have the best high school career possible. The main points of conversation were about parking (as my brother now drives me to school) and ways to make my classes more accessible to me. Here are a few tips that I will provide based on my own journey to help you with yours.

When it comes to accessible classes, first and foremost you need to lay down everything you definitely need on the table ASAP. Most school systems have rules so that if your accommodations aren’t in the system, teachers can refuse to accommodate you. But, thankfully, my teachers have been nothing but encouraging and kind to me, giving me whatever I need to enjoy the class. Importantly, you may not think you need certain accommodations, but you want to have them in the system. Then, you can still use them whenever you want, even if you don’t use them a lot. There are no limits on use, but there are limits on what you can do outside of what is in the system. For example, I have a designated bathroom in the school that is easily accessible and close to many of my classes. I rarely use it, but it is still available for me. If I hadn’t requested a private bathroom, I would be unable to go to the bathroom in school without having numerous obstacles. Another person might need to use the bathroom at the same time, and I might not have the time or space to use said bathroom. Now, even though I barely use it, I still have a bathroom that only I can use in the school. The amount of times I use it doesn’t matter, but the fact that it is there if I need it does.

Speaking of which, there are numerous people you can ask for about accommodations. My state specifically has a special system for students. In our system, as soon as we move into elementary school we can ask for the accommodations we need and change them over time. Many states do allow you to talk with administration and the counselors as well. I have these meetings every once in a while called IEP meetings where myself, my family, a principal, a counselor, a physical therapist, and the head of the special education department all meet to discuss accommodations. The biggest meeting I’ve had so far was the final meeting of middle school, when we had staff from both the middle and high school meet to make the transition smooth.

On another note, extracurricular activities are vital to your high school career, both for your social life and college applications. In my experience, extracurricular's are usually extremely flexible when it comes to disability, especially theatre and the academic clubs. I was taking a theatre class, so I knew the teacher, and he helped make sure that I could participate in the play, musical, and any other related activities. My school itself is accessible, so any event or meeting I want to go to, I can go nearly 100% by myself (although most doors aren’t accessible, so I still need help with those).

However, my school has two floors. The only ways to get to the second floor are through the stairs and elevator. When it comes to drills, or a real emergency, it took a bit of planning to figure out what we would do in that scenario.

To plan for emergencies (such as a tornado, lock-down, or fire), you must talk with every teacher about a Plan A and Plan B. I am very thankful to have my assistant with me, so she helps coordinate with teachers as well. Your emergency plans will be situational depending on your classroom layouts, so they can’t necessarily be systematized in advance. You must communicate with teachers to discuss different routes you can take to be safe in any situation, as that is a top priority.

Most high schools have very specific rules for student drivers and parking. My school has a lottery system based on grades and attendance. My brother now drives me to school, because we got permission to park in the teacher’s lot with a special pass so that the security will know that we are students at the school with permission to park there. You will most likely need to talk with the administration specifically about options at your school if you’d like to do something similar, because it is a matter of security.

All in all, high school is a very exciting time for all kids, but even more so those kids with disabilities. High school brings so much more freedom and fun, but also more work. Always understand that self-advocacy is of the utmost importance when it comes to academic transitions in general, and you are the only person who knows exactly what you need.


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