Fibromyalgia,  Teaching

How My Fibromyalgia Makes Me a Better Special Education Teacher

When my student asks me to repeat what I just said, I understand.

Sometimes I don’t understand something the first time due to my extended processing time I need from my fibromyalgia. This is sometimes due to my brain fog, fatigue, or from being in so much pain. What happens is that people are speaking English, a language I am fluent in, and I it sounds like they are speaking a foreign language. I have to ask them to repeat themselves in order to even understand what they are saying. I can empathize with the terrible feeling of being laughed at because others have thought you were dumb for not understanding the first time.

I am able to have patience as my students processes information. General education teachers, even special education teachers, have commented on my patience. I believe this patience stems from a true understanding of my students’ struggles. If I am able to be patient with myself, then I can be patient with my students. I must remember to give grace and have patience with myself because, if I don’t, I tend to not give grace and have patience with my students.

 

If my student is distracted, and I need to redirect them toward their task, I can give them that grace.

My mind will wander while someone is talking or while I am working on something because of my distracting pain or brain fog. Usually, concentrating on work helps to distract me from my fibromyalgia symptoms, but, when I am having a flare, it can be terribly difficult to block out my symptoms and concentrate.

It is easy to get distracted, and I am thankful for those who help me keep my eyes on my goals. My students’ frustration isn’t new to me. It is an enemy that I have been fighting my whole life. I remind my students that getting back on task is a new chance to try their best.

 

Giving extra time for my student to complete a test makes perfect sense to me.

Certain tasks take extra time for me to do than normal people. This is why I have to plan out my time well to be able to perform to the best of my ability. I understand having to read a sentence over and over again in order to truly understand its meaning.

At various times in my life, I have been given extra time to rest or finish things. I am learning to extend to myself that grace as well as my students.

Sitting close to where the teacher lectures is necessary.

In order to drown out distractions, even the anxiety, of a larger group, I always want to sit in the front. Because I am already distracted by pain, I want to eliminate every other distraction possible. I also prefer to sit up front because this lowers my anxiety level, giving me the illusion that there are less people in the room than there are.

My students have so many other obstacles that is a joy to place them where they will most succeed. Despite some protesting at times, I understand the importance of giving this advantage to my special education students. I am able to be firm in giving them what is best for them because I understand its advantages.

Breaking information into smaller chunks makes learning easier.

I have to break any information I receive into smaller bits of knowledge in order to process it. Otherwise, my mind gets bogged down with the flow of information instead of the information itself.

I take joy in taking the extra time to make learning easier for my students. It is beautiful to see their pride in understanding something that could not have been grasped without chunking the information. I smile every time a student comes up to me and asks what the next step is because, even though it is written on the board, they need step-by-step instruction. Seeing their faces when I give them the next direction and their eagerness to finish this step as they rush back to their seat is one of the many joys of teaching.

Seeing information makes it easier to follow.

If you just tell me or write down for me what to do, I have a harder time following along than if you show it to me. It takes less energy for me to process a picture than to process written or spoken information. Processing information can become quite taxing when I am exhausted and in pain.

Whenever possible, I use videos and pictures to reinforce information that I am providing my students. Especially in teaching vocabulary, I guide my students to think of mental pictures to associate with those words, draw them, and use that picture on tests to help them recall the meaning.

Remembering is hard.

I have a terrible short-term memory which is just another symptom of fibromyalgia. I have learned to compensate for this by creating accommodations for myself and am willing to teach and provide these accommodations for my students. For example, if someone gives me an instruction, I ask for them to wait until I get a pen and paper. If I schedule something, I immediately put it into my calendar. I just assume that I will have forgotten within 5 minutes.

I remind my students to write down their assignments which are written on the board. I write instructions on the board and allow them time to copy them down.

Reading aloud is comforting and helpful.

Ever since I was very young, my father would read aloud to me. I associate this with comfort and the joy of learning. I hope to give this same experience to my students. I had difficulty learning to read, but I learned to love the beauty of a well-told story from my father. Reading can be terribly difficult. When I am having a fibro-flare, I am reminded of just how exhausting it can be to read when I have the obstacles of vision difficulties, distracting pain, and the inability to focus my eyes on a page.

I provide read-aloud to my students for reading in class as well as test questions. This helps them understand what the passage was conveying and what the questions are actually asking for. Read-aloud usually takes time, but I am very willing to give that time for my students’ success. I am much more understanding of the longer time it takes to read-aloud because I understand what a relief it can be to simply listen.

 

 

If everything is overwhelming, and my student doesn’t even know where to start, I am there.

Life can be completely overwhelming, even without a chronic illness or special needs. When I see my students feeling unable to cope with the amount of work that they have or even the emotions that they are working through, I can empathize. Sometimes all they need is someone to sit with them and tell them that it is okay to cry. Many times they need someone to guide them in learning to cope. Whatever it is, I am more than happy to do it. It is so fulfilling to teach them what I have learned. I had a student come up to me on the last day of school and thank me for all the support that I had given her. I saw so much of myself in her and was overjoyed to be able to give her the tools that no one gave me in high school to work through my emotions.

With my  fibromyalgia, my body is literally overwhelmed physically. By having to deal with this almost every day, I have learned coping mechanisms that I demonstrate and teach my own students. My nerves are on fire, and I feel terribly emotional. I am able to find peace through it, sometimes even in the middle of guiding others toward that peace.

 

Although I am far from happy about having fibromyalgia, it is a great joy to see how I can relate to my students on a deeper, more genuine level than I would be able to otherwise. This creates a beautiful bond that helps my students learn to be better students and people. In a way, I am healed by providing a path to healing for my students.

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