Hidden Disabilities Uncovered
Damned by dyspraxia, blinded by dyslexia? Don't despair - help can be there!
It isn’t necessarily the type of school you attend, it’s about others understanding and accepting that people are different even if they look the same on the outside.
Here one youngster with dyspraxia and dyslexia describes (with a bit of help from mum) some of the obstacles and how it’s possible to hurdle over some, dodge round others or simply put up with (or even avoid) the rest!
Spotting the difference
Would you tell a blind man to see, or someone who is deaf to hear?
Actually you might, but I hope you’d help the blind man to see, perhaps by providing a guide dog to lead the way, a stick to feel objects, Braille to make the written word come alive. Or perhaps you’d spend time describing what you see in your world so you could share your sighted experiences.
Usually if someone is blind or deaf we soon spot this, but sometimes disabilities aren't so easy to see or hear. Dyspraxia and dyslexia are two of these. So welcome to my world, the world of the dyspraxic, with dyslexia thrown in, for good measure.
Put your armour on!
I want you to imagine that you are on the sports field – perhaps you’re the best catcher in cricket, the top try scorer in rugby or the super slogger in rounders.
If you’re right-handed hold out your arm, I’m going to fit a very heavy lead sleeve on it. If you’re left-handed, it’s going to go on your left arm. It goes all the way from top to bottom just past your knuckles.
Now try making that catch – tricky? Oh, and for good measure, stick out your opposite leg. I’m going to put that in armour too, all the way from hip to foot, large enough so you can bend your knee inside the armour, but – you've probably guessed it – the armour itself doesn't bend. Now try running to make that catch, score the try or get the rounder. Not so easy, is it?
Of course, I’m sure you’ll be determined to overcome these minor obstacles, but you might have to spend quite a bit of time learning how to cope with these new additions. Keep the armour on for the full duration of the game or practice session and you’ll probably find it’s a lot more tiring than usual. Exhausted? I hope not because it’s now time to go in, get dressed and move swiftly to your next lesson. Leave the armour on and see how you cope getting into the clothes you've just taken off. OK, OK, take the armour off, then, but don’t expect me to give you any extra time. Now run along or you’ll be late.
Parlez-vous Franglais Deutsch?
Bonjour Madame Jaune, Guten Tag meine kinder.
Confused? Don't be, it’s French, but with a twist, of course. Today’s French dictation is going to be in German. Let me explain. Madame Jaune says what we have to write down in German, but we don’t write it in German, we write it in French. So if she says Guten Tag we write Bonjour! Easy peasy. I thought you’d agree, so let’s just make it a little bit trickier. Instead of writing with the hand you normally use, you have to put your crayon – yes crayon, not pencil or pen – in the opposite hand. If you’re clever enough to be ambidextrous use your mouth or toes to hold the crayon.
Don’t worry if you don’t understand German – there’s a special machine at the side of your desk. Press the buttons and it will translate the German to French, but try not to use it too much because – I’m sure you've guessed it – there’ll be no extra time. Oh, and make the writing legible – in fact nothing less than copperplate will do, otherwise you’ll be back at break with your armour on copying the work out until it looks pristine.
French over, it’s time for the final lesson before lunch: literature. At last a chance for a bit of a rest, a nice relaxing read, chance to put your feet up, unwind. Well yes ... and no.
Pandemonium at the printers?
Today's reading book had a bit of an accident at the printers. It looks fine on the outside, turn the page – all the words are there; they’re just jumbled about a bit.
Everyone looked six foot wide no in horror. Mr Roberts, was about to turn into a rather rotund explosive, human six-foot tall cannon ball tunnel. His angry roar moustache rushed twitched, from his lumbering eyes opened wider than his lips. The Mesrey tunnel you've done what my lad?
OK, so I exaggerate a bit, but words do get jumbled, especially the easy ones like ‘was’ and ‘saw’, and it’s not easy for me to track, I often end up on the wrong line if I’m not careful. Usually I manage to work out that what I should be reading, is:
Everyone looked on in horror. Mr Roberts, a rather rotund rugby teacher, six foot tall and six foot wide, was about to turn into one explosive human cannon ball. His moustache twitched, his eyes opened wider than the Mersey tunnel. An angry roar rushed from his lumbering lips. ‘You’ve done what, my lad?’
Though sometimes I think my versions are more fun!
Still, can you imagine how dizzy you'd feel after reading a few pages of that – bet you wouldn't race through books nearly so quickly and I think you might have to read it a few times before the words make any sense. At least I hope you can see why I need extra time in exams.
Everyone has their failings, but I can tell you that dyspraxia and dyslexia aren't mine. I know bits let me down – for example, every single report mentions my handwriting and how bad it is. My occupational therapist got me into touch typing when I was quite young – she said it would help, and it does. Not all her suggestions were great. She wanted me to have a sloping desk, but I had other ideas about that. I didn't want to be different from the other kids in my class and thankfully school never got round to getting me one.
When I was younger I had some speech therapy sessions. We used to play games, it was good fun.
I've got 20-20 vision but I went to see an orthoptist – that’s someone who sees even more than an optician!
She found a couple of things that weren't quite right. Fortunately, in my case, the orthoptist agreed that coloured lenses wouldn't help, but she did give me tracking exercises – pages of weird symbols! At senior school I’m going to be allowed to type everything and I might even be able to use a laptop in my exams; I’m really looking forward to that. I like ICT, and using the computer means I won’t have to worry about presentation. I’ll be able to spell check too, as I must admit spellings are a bit of a disaster area for me - I often say them out loud fine but something totally different ends up on paper.
I don't look any different from anyone else, more handsome possibly, but you know what I mean! I can do most things other people can do, but often have to try a lot harder. Getting dressed used to be troublesome – nothing seemed to quite fit. Catching a ball doesn't come naturally, so I have to work on it. I have to try and try, then try a bit more and a bit more still but, boy, do I feel like a champion when I succeed and a grandmaster when I succeed every time.
Keeping great company
My brain works just fine, but my body doesn't always obey orders. Don’t keep changing instructions, it’s harder for me to get organised than most, and it can be ‘sooo frustrating’ when you change plans at short notice!
Don’t make me write things out time and again – my brain is so fired up it will explode if I don’t get all the information out; give me a word processor instead.
Understand when I take a bit longer to read what's written or to write down what you’re telling me. I’m not stupid. In fact, dyslexics and dyspraxics are in great company – Churchill, yes Sir Winston Churchill no less, was dyspraxic, and General Eisenhower was dyslexic – but together they helped defeat one of the biggest tyrants the world has ever seen, Adolf Hitler of course. Think Olympic champions and you might just think Sir Steve Redgrave: five gold medals and you've guessed it – dyslexic. Richard Branson? Yes, you've guessed it...
So I’m not complaining. To be honest, I don’t really know any different. I do know, though, that dyspraxia and dyslexia help shape me, make me determined to try harder; to understand why I have to go the extra mile so often.
Yes, I think I can safely say dyspraxia and dyslexia help determine my success.
Problems Associated With Dyspraxia - how to spot and help the child with dyspraxia
Schools and schooling
Helping The Dyspraxic Child - coping strategies, skills, school and parental advice
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