Need help? Feel that you're the only one? Here is all the information you need to survive being a teenager with Dyspraxia!
Mon Jun 14, 2004 6:48 pm
How to deal with doubt and disbelief
Dyspraxia? There are so many labels for this disability/condition/gift that I often end up feeling like a prize-winning jar of marmalade. Perceptuo-Motor Difficulty, Developmental Co-ordination Disorder, Clumsy Child Syndrome, and Minimal Brain Damage are just a few of the tags that have been used over the years – although the last two are so insulting that I would probably more than minimally damage the brain of anyone who tried sticking them onto me. But the most accurate name that I have ever come across is the simple, poignant title that Dr Amanda Kirby chose for her book: the hidden handicap.
Although my boarding house roommates would probably contest this, I think I look like a fairly average person. All my limbs are firmly attached to my body, I can walk upright and unaided, I don’t have to take special medication. Yet I have an invisible difficulty that sticks to me like a shadow as I go about my day. It first makes its presence felt at seven-thirty a.m., when I take my shower. At home I sit on a bath-board to stop me crashing to the lino and concussing myself. In Colditz Castle, no such luxury. After I have spent fifteen frustrating minutes buttoning up my blouse, buckling my shoes, etc., I can eat breakfast. Having the co-ordination of a pregnant penguin is not handy (quite literally) when you’re dealing with scalding hot kettles. Once I have dabbed the milk splashes off my uniform, I am ready to rush off to school – ten minutes late, obviously, because time management is not my forte either.
Like most of you, I get a few perks at school to make my day a little easier. I use a computer in tests, have extra time to complete written assignments, go to special lessons to help me with everything from organisation to social skills, and sit in an armed chair in class. That’s a chair with arms, not a chair fitted with Kalashnikovs – though I must admit that a weapon would come in useful from time to time, especially when certain of my classmates start making comments on my difference. These range from, “But you’re meant to be so clever! How can you have dyslexia?” to, “You do not have a disability, Vicky! It’s a ploy to make yourself look good on your UCAS form.”
I like to think of myself as a very polite, very kind person – the sort of girl who cries when you are crying and volunteers to carry your school bag when you’ve sprained an ankle and are hobbling about on crutches, that type of thing. So normally I am able to brush off unwanted remarks about my special needs with a shrug and a patient smile. But when I have a bruise the size of a small terrapin on my thigh after crashing against the shower dial, have already lost three pieces of homework, can barely remember what I’m meant to be doing next, and have a PE lesson looming ahead like the apocalypse itself, I am in no mood to deal with stupid remarks. On very bad days my senses misfire and the senseless babble in the school corridors and in the sixth-form centre distorts my thinking. That’s when I start to wonder if anyone realises how difficult and frightening life is sometimes, and if I can ever truly explain how it feels to live with dyspraxia.
Last summer I had a friend named Jamie who made it his mission to prove that I could not possibly have learning difficulties. We once had a timed essay to write for English, and when the hour was up he picked up my work between finger and thumb, saying sardonically, “So this is the girl who needs extra time.” When crossing the school grounds with me, instead of politely ignoring my complete inability to walk in a straight line, he pointed at the school doors and asked, “Erm, are you aiming for that door?” When I fell off my chair in the library, it was, “I find it so amusing when you throw yourself at the floor.” He succeeded in reducing my reasoning ability to pulp, so I could not argue my case with anything like my usual sharp clarity. He puzzled me. Why, when he refused to believe that I have what the psychologist calls ‘dyscalculic tendencies’ and I call ‘a number nightmare’, did he agree to help me prepare for GCSE maths? Most people who have been in the same room as an algebra textbook and me for longer than five minutes run for the hills whenever I am forced to do something remotely mathematical, before I morph into a bear with two sore paws.
Now I think I have found the answer.
“You will be able to put on your UCAS form, ‘I battled against my disability and won’,” he said dramatically. “Hah! Oxford will be begging you to go.” The derisive ‘hah’ set the seal to the answer – he, along with many others, is a little jealous of people like us. Of course, some of the disbelief you meet with might not be irritating or humorous, but bitter. When you stumble (literally or figuratively) across people who refuse to give you the help that you might need, remember that you do not have a ‘disability’. If you want incentive to put your brain’s brilliant quirkiness to good use, try a dose of healthy scepticism…it got Winston Churchill running a country, after all.
Ã“ Victoria Biggs 2004. All rights reserved.