LINK Center: Self-Advocacy in Action

Nancy MaderAs the Director of Transition Projects at FCSN, I frequently find myself reassuring parents that their kids are going to be okay. That through all of the stress of school and IEPs and medical appointments and finding the right adult service agencies, that their sons and daughters are resilient and are going to make it out of high school services. One day I overheard Catherine, our summer intern, talking about her IEP and transition services. I asked her to speak on a young adult panel for our Planning a Life conference and she blew everyone at the conference away. After seeing her impact at Planning a Life I wanted more parents and professionals to hear her story and asked her to write an article for Newsline. Her story follows this brief introduction and I hope that you enjoy it. Catherine is by all accounts an extraordinary young woman with a very bright future. We are grateful to have her here at FCSN.

Catherine’s Story

As a middle schooler, I failed my first class ever. I tried really hard and worked about seven hours a night on homework, but still, I was failing. My parents became concerned and met with my teachers to discuss whether or not I needed accommodations. The teachers and administrators were convinced everything was “fine” and that I was being “lazy” compared to the other students. They refused to test me, so my parents hired a private psychologist. I was finally diagnosed with ADHD, Extreme OCD, Severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Slow Processing Speed, and a learning disability. My parents presented my diagnoses to the school. However, I was only “awarded” a 504 Plan.

In high school, my teachers noticed that I was passionate about their classes but still failing. After getting a GPA of 1.82 my first semester, the school decided to offer testing. The Neuropsychological Testing reaffirmed my previous diagnoses. I was given an IEP, put into a Learning Skills program, and assigned a school psychologist for in-school therapy. After getting these accommodations, I started doing better in class. However, there were still teachers who weren’t comfortable with my accommodations. I decided that I needed to advocate for myself and open up to my teachers about my struggles. After being vulnerable and honest with them, they started to understand why I needed so many accommodations. By my senior year, my GPA had skyrocketed and I had become an L-S Scholar who was enrolled in honors and AP classes. After graduating from high school, I was accepted to UMass Amherst and I was thrilled!

Upon enrolling at UMass Amherst, I immediately applied to the Disability Services program in order to continue my support system. I was assigned a Consumer Manager and given the accommodations that I advocated for. During my first year at UMass, I was hospitalized six times with a “mysterious infection” and my grades started to fall. By March of Spring Semester, I was diagnosed with Neurological Lyme Disease and had to withdraw from the semester early in order to start intensive treatment. Luckily, my Consumer Manager stepped in to advocate for me – due to the infection affecting my brain, I was unable to write or speak. After receiving treatment, getting more accommodations for my new physical disability, and continuing to advocate for myself when I was able, I began to thrive again. I am now a rising senior on the Dean’s List who will be graduating in May 2019 with a B.S. in Psychology and a specialization in Developmental Disabilities and Human Services while on the Pre-Physician Assistant Track.

In the future, I hope to attend graduate school for a Masters in Physician Assistant Studies in order to become a Physician Assistant who specializes in children with Developmental Disabilities and special health care needs. Today, I proudly live with my disabilities and encourage others with disabilities to follow their passions. I am finally succeeding because I persevered, was a strong self-advocate, and never gave up. I truly believe that anyone is capable of anything that they put their mind to; if there’s a will, there’s a way.