As the spring semester sets in and the workload piles up, many students lose sight of reasons to stay positive and motivated.
While it is easy to fall into a trap of negative thinking, senior Lauren Kriss, a public relations major from Cedar Park, tries to focus on the positive despite her struggle with cerebral palsy.
Kriss said the most difficult part of her disability arose when she first came to college.
“I was worried that people would be overly focused on it until they got to know me because that was the pattern I saw in high school,” Kriss said.
However, the way people treated her in college proved to be an encouraging new start, she said.
“People didn’t care at all and hardly noticed, or if they did, it was just out of genuine curiosity,” Kriss said. “Frankly, the most time I get comments on it is when people notice that I can type really fast with one hand.”
Not everyone she has encountered, however, has been so understanding. Kriss said people’s perception of her can be broken down into two categories.
“There’s people that can know me for a long time and not notice at all, and then there’s strangers that walk up to me and ask, ‘What’s wrong with you? Did you have a stroke? Are you ok?’ and I just want to question them back, ‘Are you a doctor?’”
Kriss’ friend Jacob Howle, a senior agricultural communications major from Idalou, said Kriss has mentioned a couple of occasions in which she has awkward encounters with strangers.
“She’s told me instances when she’s at the bar or with friends, it happens pretty regularly,” Howle said.
The people who are more outspoken about her differences are not unkind, just misinformed, Kriss said.
“To be fair they are never mean, they are just awkwardly abrasive,” Kriss said. “It’s an awkward thing to do, but it’s not necessarily mean-spirited.”
Over highlighting her disability, Kriss said she is determined to project her ability and personality.
“My goal has been to shift the image from cerebral palsy girl to cool girl with cerebral palsy,” Kriss said. “You can know that (I have a disability), but it shouldn’t be the identifying factor of who I am, because I think that’s overly simplistic.”
Kriss would rather be asked about her aptitude rather than people assuming her skills and motor function, she said.
“I don’t mind when people inquire about something, but I don’t like when people assume I can’t do something,” Kriss said. “The number one thing across all disabilities is to not make assumptions about them.”
Instead of presuming her proficiencies, being open and kind about her abilities is the right way to go about it, Kriss said.
“People assume that there are physical activities that I can’t do, and I actually can do them,” Kriss said.
Jacklynn Prewitt, a junior education major from Fort Worth and another of Kriss’ friends, said Kriss’ physical disability in no way inhibits her capabilities.
“She is more independent then I could ever be, and I would love to be like Lauren sometimes,” Prewitt said. “She has her life more together than I do.”
Howle made similar comments regarding Kriss’ character and positivity.
“As a student, she is probably the most effective student I’ve ever seen on campus,” Howle said. “She’s very goal oriented.”
As her friends get to know Kriss better, though, they sometimes forget she does have a few limitations. Prewitt said certain activities are just not possible.
“Lauren and I had this conversation where she said she wished she could ride a Lime (scooter), but she knows that it’s just not something she could do,” Prewitt said. “It’s not like it inhibits her, it’s not like her life is earthshattering because she can’t ride a Lime scooter.”
Kriss believes a more beneficial outlook is to focus on the positive and the abilities that make everyone unique, she said.
“The one thing that I really believe is that there needs to be a shift in the mentality onto ability,” Kriss said. “To me, it’s silly to focus on the few things that someone can’t do when they have thousands of things that they are great at.”
Kriss has sensational optimism and takes life’s challenges with enthusiasm, Prewitt said.
“She’s genuine throughout her ups and downs,” Prewitt said. “Super forthcoming about everything that happens to her, whether it be an embarrassing story or talking genuinely what she did that day, never surface level.”
Kriss’ parents also reinforced this outlook of focusing on the things that make others exceptional rather than people’s limitations.
“They told me everyone has their own battles that they are fighting,” Kriss said. “Focus on your talents, and don’t let your challenge get the best of you.”