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When Melody turns five, her mother takes her to see a doctor to determine if she is ready to enroll in elementary school. Dr. Hugely, who happens to be a very large man, takes Melody into a room and gives her a series of tasks to test her. The problem is that Melody is unable to complete most of the tasks due to her physical limitations, not because of any intellectual limitations.
Dr. Hugely asks her to stack colored blocks but her stiff arms knock the blocks to the floor. He asks Melody many questions and Melody becomes increasingly frustrated as she knows all the right answers but cannot speak. Dr. Hugely tells Melody’s mother that Melody is “severely brain damaged.” He diagnoses Melody with cerebral palsy. Melody’s mother was already aware of the name of the disorder but refuses to accept Dr. Hugely’s opinion that Melody is unintelligent. Melody’s mother starts to cry as the doctor advises her to send Melody to a school for the developmentally disabled or put her in a residential facility since she will most likely be a burden to take care of. Her mother insists that they will not send Melody away. She tells the doctor he is wrong and that her daughter has more intelligence inside her than he will ever have. As they leave his office, Melody’s mother informs the doctor that she is going to enroll Melody in Spaulding Street Elementary School.
Melody has been at Spaulding Street Elementary School for five years. A “special needs” bus picks her up every morning and takes her to school. She is in a special program with other children who have disabilities. Initially, Melody was excited to attend. Now, the learning environment is no longer challenging for Melody and she feels that classroom H-5 is more fitting for babies than for the nine- to eleven-year-old kids in the class. Her teachers over the years have generally been nice, but they teach the same things year after year. When Melody was younger, her mother pasted common words, phrases, numbers, and the alphabet to a plastic tray attached to her wheelchair to help her communicate but it too has stayed mostly the same over the years. Melody feels stifled in this environment but can’t express to anyone that she desires more. At school, she likes to watch the “regular” kids play outside. She wishes someone would ask her to play, or at the very least, acknowledge her and say hello. They treat her and the rest of the students in H-5 as if they were invisible.
Melody’s interview with Dr. Hugely introduces another ongoing challenge for Melody: the struggle to access the services she needs and deserves in order to develop. Like many others, Dr. Hugely fails to make a distinction between a physical disability and a mental disability, interpreting her physical inability to explain her answers to his questions as a sign of intellectual disability. Melody’s narration of the scene shows the irony of this situation. Dr. Hugely imagines himself to be more intelligent than Melody, yet he lazily jumps to the conclusion that she is intellectually disabled based on manifestations of her physical disability. In addition to frustrating Melody, Dr. Hugely’s misdiagnosis puts Melody in danger, since he recommends she be institutionalized, which would mean losing the care of her parents and the opportunity to live a full life. Melody’s mother acts as her advocate in this chapter, insisting to the doctor that Melody does have intelligence and understanding. She demonstrates her love and loyalty by refusing to consider sending Melody away for her schooling or care. She uses her own voice to battle the communication frustrations her daughter grapples with. In this way, Melody’s mother protects her from losing the services she needs.
Melody’s descriptions of life at school illustrate her sense of justice as well as her insight into other people. Although the students in the general education track ignore the special education students, Melody describes their actions and activities in detail, emphasizing the ways they use their bodies and the opportunities they have to learn and grow. This provides contrast with the educationally stagnant special needs class, stuck every year with a classroom better suited to preschool than fifth grade. The snowman activity, like the limited choices on the word board Melody uses to communicate, is an example of how age-inappropriate education impedes disabled students’ development. While the school may not understand what its disabled students need, Melody’s observations prove that she understands and appreciates the individual strengths of her disabled classmates. However, while she does not dismiss or belittle her classmates, she notes that none of them is like her, trapped by her body in such a way that others are unaware of her high level of intelligence.