Daphne Frieden of Greenville, North Carolina, reads this column through the Facebook page, “Disabilities by Daniel J. Vance.”
Lately, she has felt she should have earned better grades last semester while majoring in elementary education at East Carolina University. She has epilepsy and was born with spina bifida, a neural tube condition affecting in part her ability to walk. The epilepsy came from having hydrocephalus, which was caused by spina bifida.
Frieden admitted straight up, “The epilepsy affected my grades (last semester) and I didn’t do well, but it wasn’t because the teachers weren’t accommodating. It was (primarily) because I didn’t do the work. Many of my teachers have been very kind. If all goes well, I should be graduating in December 2014.”
Last semester, she had two epileptic seizures, and the semester before, five or six. The epilepsy started when she was 16, and has made driving an automobile problematic.
She said, “Even if somehow going a couple years without a seizure, I still would not want to drive and risk hurting the family in the car ahead of me because of the possibility of a seizure. I can get around using public transport, taxis, and friends.”
As for growing up with spina bifida, she said, “Imagine being a six-year-old on your first day of school and being asked to tell the class about yourself. My response was to list all the surgeries I had gone through. Then a classmate asked, What is a bladder? Because of spina bifida, I wasn’t able to run on the playground or walk fast. That caused some social difficulties. I had plenty of friends, but on the playground my idea of having a good time was talking with teachers while sitting on the teachers’ bench.”
Her mother started homeschooling her in second grade after the latex in physical education class basketballs caused her to have an allergic reaction and the school wouldn’t accommodate. People with spina bifida often have a latex allergy.
Frieden graduated from a public high school in 2010. To get around on the East Carolina University campus, she uses a motorized scooter. Though able to walk on her own, she is limited in terms of distance and terrain.
She advised parents, “The disability in your child has to be acknowledged, but it can’t be the only defining factor if you want your child to succeed.”