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Voices of Self-Advocates: Newsline is interested in bringing you the reflections of self-advocates who provide rich insights into their lives as persons with disabilities. In this issue, we hear from Zachary Friedland, a young man with complex medical needs. If you are a person with a disability and would like to share your story, please e-mail your contribution to beth@fcsn.org. Submissions should be no longer than 500 words. The Federation reserves the right to edit your contribution

The Magic of Metacognition
By Zachary Friedland

When I was in elementary school, I would watch the kids play tag during recess. I never understood why they were happy to run and play while I sat on the sidelines by myself.

During a discussion about classroom management in one of my education classes, I learned about ďmetacognition,Ē or the ability to think about oneís own thinking. As I result, I came to the realization that the other students were not Ďhappyí to see me sitting by myself. Itís just that they, and I, had not yet developed the ability to self-reflect, and take responsibility and initiative for developing ways to include me in their play. The other kids didnít know to ask me why I didnít join them, and I didnít know how to be included. As a result of the class discussion, I realized that itís not that young children donít care, they just donít understand. Often, they canít see anything from anotherís point of view unless it is pointed out to them. Depending on the situation, this may apply to people of all ages when you have to explain your physical or mental health needs.

I am in college now, and while I still cannot run and play tag, I am part of a peer group with whom I share common interests and participate in many of the same activities they do, albeit, with some modifications. I am now able to explain my needs, and my professors, fellow students and friends understand. Communication is key when dealing with situations like this; therefore, it is important to be able to let people know when an activity is too demanding or uncomfortable.

Here are some strategies that have worked for me:

  • Know your limits Ė Never push yourself to do something you are not comfortable doing just because you feel pressured to or expected to do it. Example: I am a member of a marching band. I have some restrictions in movement, and cannot do all the warm up exercises. I explained this to the band director and other band members. They understand when I sit out a particular exercise.

  • Use your words - Itís not that people donít care, they may just not realize you have a health problem if you donít tell them. Example: My scholarship requires that I take a full course load. I met with Disability Services and set up the accommodations Iíd need if I couldnít carry a full course load. I will be able to keep my scholarship if I need to take fewer courses.

  • Be prepared to offer an alternative - Donít be content to sit out just because itís something you canít do. Be the first to offer a fun alternative or provide a modification that everyone can enjoy together. Example: my friends like to bowl, but itís difficult for me. As a compromise, we get at least two lanes, and use bumpers in one, so that not every ball I roll is a gutter ball. And, I never bowl alone. My friends like to bowl with bumpers too.