The Start of a Writing Dream-Navigating the Elementary School System

Originally published on my blog:

Emily Gillespie March 2017 “Dancing with Ghosts” Launch

This week, as I get closer to the celebration of the publication of my first novel, I can’t help but think of all the steps that lead to this dream. No, I’m not talking about character sketches and long days looking at computer screens, I’m thinking of a time before that.

In Senior Kindergarten and Grade 1 when the other kids were learning the ABCs, I was behind. At the start of Grade 1 my mom nicely told the teacher I needed extra assistance and she was ignored. In Grade 3 when my classmates were starting to read I was behind. My mom’s advocacy and my need for extra learning supports was ignored by the school.

That’s not to say I wasn’t intrigued by the world of fantasy, I think I decided I wanted to be a writer in Grade 2 or so, before I could even really read. My mom personally taught me to read, NOT the school system, which was apathetic towards me…I was another kid in an overcrowded classroom, another budget line.

It was soon clear that I needed testing to get the academic accommodations I would need to get accommodated for my Learning Disability, and the wait list was a few years long! Without this, I wouldn’t get any extra time, or any type of guidance beyond the standard lessons the 30 kids in my classes got. My parents paid for a private specialist to do the testing. They shouldn’t have had to pay. With frustration, I acknowledge that I got accommodated and other students didn’t because my parents could afford it (and spent lots of time advocating for me).

I was reluctantly accommodated by the school, but for the most part the specialists, and classroom teachers had no idea how to interact with students with Learning Disabilities, or how to accommodate me, which can be a blog post for later. Just hearing the word IEP (individual education plan) brings back awful memories.

Fast forward to Grade 8 picking classes for Grade 9. I was a student with a disability; therefore, I was pressured to enter the college stream. There’s nothing wrong with college, but there was a big problem with folks in school systems not listening to me… It was framed as you either need supports for your disability and therefore should be in the college stream, and if you are in the university stream you clearly don’t need accommodated…

Of course, I did what I wanted, but in high school, and undergrad I was haunted by the voices of people in authority telling me that I wasn’t disabled enough. If I was disabled, I could only fit their narrow ideas about how I should perform in school and act in the world. If I existed outside this, clearly my disability wasn’t real. I wasn’t real. I’ll tell you more about this process later.

Right now I’m thinking about my first book which comes out this week, and the teachers and system which didn’t want to accommodate me, because it was viewed as extra work. My mom sat beside me as we waited for the bus every morning and taught me to read, until I’d pretty much rather read than do anything else.

The biggest obstacles I’ve overcome in my life aren’t in relation to disability, but in accessing messy systems. Guess what, I can read, I can write, and I won’t forget MY STORY.

-Emily Gillespie

Where to buy my book:



Like what you read? Give Emily Gillespie a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.