Back to School with Audiobooks

There are few things I love more than strolling down an aisle of school supplies and smelling fresh notebook paper. Every year, I chose new folders and notebooks for my trapper keeper and the most vibrant mechanical pencils I could find. As an adult, not much has changed. I still swoon over the school supplies aisle while trying to keep in mind that I have an entire box of empty notebooks at home.

Growing up as a chronically ill kid, I was homeschooled. I had severe chronic daily migraines and headaches, the extent of which we didn’t truly understand until I was a teenager. My dad was a teacher, and he and my mom customized my classes to give me my best chance. As a kid, I listened to lectures and books on tape, exploring mythology, history, biology, math — really, just about everything. I remember listening to tapes over and over again, making me a very obnoxious dinner guest, full of “did you know” animal facts.

For an entire year (or what felt like it), my mom taught American history and then read the Little House books to my brother and me. But she didn’t just read us the books. She included an interactive experience complete with crafts and recipes that we’d try out. We all still remember how the butter turned out when we forgot to salt. Though we all get a big kick out of it now, I’m pretty sure that it’s one of the biggest recipe flops of my childhood.

On my better days, I flew through stacks of library books, always aware that at any moment, the magical switch in my brain might turn off, and I wouldn’t be able to read text anymore. On my bad days, I walked through the kids’ section of the library, running my fingers along the spines of the books I wished I could read. But they didn’t have audiobooks, so I couldn’t.

As I got older, we had to get more creative. In the world before online learning, there just weren’t as many resources out there for kids like me. And not a single medical professional told my parents about the resources that did exist. So my parents just had to make it work. The subjects we couldn’t get on tape, they read to me. I took dozens of oral science and history tests. Instead of writing papers, I gave presentations.

But literature class is where I shined. I adored listening to Jane Austen and learning more about her life. Oftentimes, I’d find myself wandering down rabbit trails, picking up every novel on audio of hers that I could find. Audiobooks gave me access to the stories I wouldn’t have been able to read otherwise. A LOT of the classics were on audio, and I found myself listening to obscure stories — *cough* Pearl Maiden *cough* — I definitely wouldn’t have picked up otherwise.

When I called my mom to ask her if she knew when I first started listening to audiobooks, we found ourselves walking back through my childhood, trying to figure out what books on tape were assigned for what grade. Eventually, we realized that I was listening to audiobooks even before we knew I was disabled. She said, “You know, I just think we’ve always listened to audiobooks. They were just always part of our life.”

Talking with disabled kids now, I appreciate seeing how online learning has changed the way they’re able to learn and the different types of educational materials they are able to access. But even more, I love hearing about how audiobooks are changing the lives of disabled kids around the world. Now more than ever before, audiobooks are more affordable, and libraries have access to countless titles. This means kids like me can listen to thousands of audiobooks, not just dozens.

Audiobooks, and the accessibility to information that they afforded, gave me a life-long love of learning, and the opportunity to go to college and grad school. Now, as an adult, audiobooks continue to play a vital role in my everyday life, just like they did when I was a kid. So now that back-to-school season is well underway, I can’t help but think, what audiobook am I going to listen to next?