A great education—with MS
Claire, too, has made special arrangements to accommodate her visual challenges. She receives textbooks and handouts with large print. She also keeps an extra set of textbooks at home so she doesn’t have to carry them to school each day. She has an easier-to-see combination lock for her locker—one with a sliding lever rather than a traditional circular lock. Her mom purchased it for her after realizing she had been asking a friend to open her locker for an entire semester. During elementary school, the school provided a portable air conditioning unit to help her remain cool, as her classrooms were smaller and got hotter than they do now in her high school.
Your best on the test
Test-taking, especially timed, standardized tests, can be a big stressor for students with MS. But students and parents can work with schools to find ways to help students with MS achieve their best results. Barker worked with her high school counselor to receive time accommodations and a quiet room when taking the ACT. For Emily, too, accommodations help at test time. She receives tests in large-font format and has no time limit.
Extracurricular activities are often valuable additions to college applications. But as areas that, for the most part, fall outside the realm of Section 504, students with MS must choose and manage those activities wisely. For Barker, that meant “managing my stress and my symptoms, taking my meds and learning time management; I gave myself permission to say ‘no.’ ” Unfortunately, sometimes the disease also said no to her. “One of the hardest things for me was that I lost my ability to dance,” she remembers.
For other students with MS, activities may help them build social and teamwork skills. Claire participates in student council and cheerleading and is also a member of her school’s track team. “It took me a long time before I felt confident that Claire would be safe in some of the things she wanted to try,” says Kathleen. “I realized I wasn’t doing her any favors by holding her back.”
Learning to navigate bias and other social issues is another part of the education process. Claire is pragmatic when speaking about the problems she sometimes encounters with other students. “Sometimes kids are mean,” she says, matter-of-factly. “I just ignore them or walk away. I think those kids don’t know me or don’t understand.”
Students who are encountering prejudice against people with disabilities can call an MS Navigator at 1-800-344-4867 for nearby programs and support groups.
Emily was asked to speak during a school assembly, so she spoke about her diagnosis with MS, why she missed so much school, and how she would much prefer to be treated normally rather than pitied or babied. “The feedback she got from students, parents and teachers was that they were grateful to know what was going on; it answered questions for them,” her father Dean recalls. “It helped her realize life could change for the better, if she could open up and let them in.”
Mullins was hospitalized during high school and received an oversized card signed by his classmates. “I started to get a sense of how many people cared about me,” he says. “Now, I pay attention to these circles that I’m involved in. It’s in line with advocating for yourself and realizing you are in a position to be valued by others, but also by yourself.”
Kelly Smith is an award-winning editor who lives near Denver with her family.