My experiences are quite different from both of yours, although elements remain the same. I am also gifted academically (according to my educational psychologist's report, my cumulative IQ score places me in the top 1% of the population, and my verbal IQ puts me in the top 0.1%) In my final year of primary school, when I was ten years old, my teacher tried to get me to take the GCSE English exam. The headmaster and the administration were doubtful about this, so my teacher - confident that I could prove him right - took me out of lessons for a morning and gave me a past paper to work through. When he collected it at breaktime, it was only half-finished and most of what I had written was illegible. I'll never forget the terse disappointment in his voice. That was when the usage of words like 'lazy' and 'insolent' became more frequent than ever.
My academic giftedness didn't help me because my dyspraxia is too severe. (In contrast to my verbal ability, my performance skills - spatial, motor, visual memory, etc. - place me in the bottom 0.3% of the population.) Most of my teachers realised that I was intelligent, and that made them even less inclined to accept such shoddy work. There were a few teachers who believed I was genuinely stupid - my French teacher in Year 7 being the principal culprit. Thanks to forgotten homework and illegible worksheets (why, oh why, do they give you such a tiny space to write in and use such a confusing layout?) my average grade for the term was a high D. Then came the end-of-year exam. Most of it was multiple choice. I got full marks. While my French teacher gibbered at my parents at the Parents' Evening about my 'unrealised potential', I just stared blankly at the wall. I knew I was clever and I knew the test was ludicrous.
We started to produce coursework for our language exams in fourth year (Year 10, the first year of GCSE study). By this time I had transferred to Colditz. Overjoyed that coursework was a component for the French exam - I could type it on the computer and hand in something legible! - I wrote an essay on Marie Antoinette and gave it in without a second thought. The next thing I knew, my teacher was snapping, "Well, I can see you
didn't write this by yourself."
"I certainly did," I responded hotly. The unaccustomed cheek (I was usually very mild and timorous) startled her. She reread the essay and discovered several little mistakes (nouns with the wrong gender, etc.) that convinced her I was telling the truth. But why did I have to convince her? Why did she assume that I was incapable of producing good work?
The first teacher who not only realised that I had a specific learning difficulty, but acted on the information, was my Latin mistress. In the first year of my GCSE course, when we were required to take mock exams, she gave me a predicted grade of 'anything between A* and E'. Her prediction was one of the things that made people start to ask, "Why?" about me. I was diagnosed the next year, two terms before my GCSE's, and not a moment too soon. I did very well in those exams. But sometimes - only sometimes - I wonder whether I might have done still better in a special school. The frustration that comes with being seen as stupid when you know you're darned well not really hurts - but most of you know that from your own experiences.
A year ago I met two old classmates from Jeddah on the plane back to Saudi Arabia. They were insufferably condescending. I could feel myself shrinking back into the gawky, bumbling class clown I had been at the age of eleven. "Which universities have you been accepted by?" one of them enquired.
Oh, it felt so good to say, "Cambridge." My rather vindictive pleasure was shattered when they glanced at each other with raised eyebrows.
Socially, I still struggle. I probably always will. But the boarding house (Colditz) has worked marvels for my confidence and communication skills in this regard, and I doubt whether any special school could have done more for me. Then again, the house-mother was an experienced teacher who had specialised in SEN and then become headmistress of a mainstream school with an extremely high number of special needs students. She knew what she was doing.
She is a firm advocate for mainstream schooling, but even she will recommend a special school if she thinks a child needs it. She sent two of her pupils to special schools after they had been in her establishment for a year, saying that it is wrong to hold tightly to one particular theory - each child should be treated as an individual, and go to the place that best suits him. I think I agree with that.