I have a confession to make.
I couldn't shower myself until I was sixteen.
I wasn't completely independent with teeth-brushing until I was somewhere around fourteen.
I never did my own laundry until I had to, my first weekend being away at college.
I never cut cheese off a brick until last summer, when I was twenty.
I was never taught "life skills". Because I am not intellectually disabled or "severely" autistic (in fact, my disability is cerebral palsy; though I do consider myself neurodiverse and there are some lesser known effects of the CP brain damage that mimic effects of autism), I was not in "life skills" classes in school. In fact, I was in advanced and AP classes, and all the special ed staff at my school waved off my difficulties with a "Cara's so smart - she'll do fine!" It seemed like every IEP meeting always dissolved into everyone praising my intelligence.
Why is lower intelligence always associated with difficulty with life skills? On the flip side, why is intelligence considered a trump card over all other difficulties?
I often feel younger than my peers precisely for this reason. Most twenty one year olds know how to cook without using a microwave. They can drive, even if they choose not to. They have normal summer jobs like working retail or being a supermarket cashier. Looking at others my age, I feel embarrassed, and so very, very young.
No one ever taught me how to do basic life skills. I think it was assumed that because I was "so smart", I would automatically know how to do these things, like all the non-disabled children out there. No one ever took into account that my physical difficulties would mean doing these things differently. No one attempted to try to adapt these things - not even the physical and occupational therapists that pulled me out of classes three times a week.
It was my mother, bless her heart, that started to realize around the time I became a teenager that if I was ever going to go to college and become an independent adult, I would have to learn how to do things. She put her wonderful, creative, research-oriented mind that I inherited from her to work and found out about adaptive nail clippers, shower chairs, long handled hair scrubbers. She pushed me to learn to do things on my own, some with adaptive equipment, some without.
She filled in the blanks that the school left out. But she shouldn't have had to, and not everyone has that family support. Life skills training should be a part of every school curriculum for students with disabilities - no matter how "smart" they may seem. I am tired of the oxymoron that shouldn't exist. Intelligence and life skills are not - and should not - be mutually exclusive.
Cara Liebowitz - a.k.a Spaz Girl