Schooldays Were Not My Best Days by , Dyslexia Dublin © 2014
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School was difficult for me from a very early age… what my peers took in in seconds it took me minutes and this left me in a position where I fell way behind. I just didn’t get the complete academic picture and I got the feeling from day one that the teachers held me in far from high regard. I tried to tell them how it was one big struggle but they never listened.
I do have to admit though that I did find some subjects interesting and others that were taught by teachers with interest… geography, history and music… art was okay too!
I also knew there was no way out… I had to attend school, even if it meant just going through the motions most of the time. With dyspraxia and also at that point having a distinct difference from almost all of the students in the school and not having the benefit of diagnosis, it was hard most of the time.
We were a big family, at the time there were 4 boys and 2 girls, so we had to be independent and being ready for school meant just that… no help from anyone but myself… school bag, polished shoes and gleaming white teeth and scrubbed hands, as these were checked by the teacher and, guess what, I would always forget something… pencil, rubber, ruler and that would get the teachers back up straight away. Although dyspraxia was unheard of, we would have been known as clumsy children (clumsy child syndrome), tripping over the slightest thing or spilling water during art or lunch.
I went to the same school for the first few years and that brought about security and routine which are so very important to dyspraxics… we need to know what is happening from day to day. Mum worked from home so we had that level of stability, but we used to walk to school and that had its own perils, especially in winter… it was downhill all the way and there was a main road to cross at the bottom.
I can remember physical education and going into the gym… I just couldn’t roll or do hand stands like the other kids… even balancing on one leg was hard and, on occasions, still is! It made me feel different, very different. We had swimming lessons which came about 3 years after I had been thrown in a swimming pool and nearly drowned! Again, technique was against me… I could just about master the breast stroke, the front crawl and butterfly was never within my grasp… far too much to remember and co-ordinate. This all led me to have very low self-esteem.
How can we be wiser after the event? We can help those through the things that we struggled with.
Many of the specific learning needs would be a life time condition and dyspraxia would be no different, but there are many things we can do to improve our life and by practising certain skill sets, we see the effects of dyspraxia mellowing with age and so many of us going on to achieve great things.
Do look out for missed milestones and work to close any gaps as soon as possible.
I was recently talking to my father and he said if only he had realised how hard life was for me back then, he would have done so much more. Get your child into clubs and, if funds permit, get one to one tuition for certain important things like swimming. The rule with specific learning needs is to give four times longer to grasp instruction and demonstrations are the best way to explain, as we learn visually as most of us would be right brained.
If you have concerns, it’s worth talking to your school and GP about getting help as early as possible and this will minimise frustration and meltdowns and, of course, isolation if left until the teen years kick in.
Work with your child on reinforcing routines through play and role play… this will also create a huge bond. Memory games are also great, as short term rather than long term memory is an area of weakness (long term is always strong)… it won’t be long before you start to see improvements and allow for small hiccups as concentration has to be at 120%. Make sure you discipline yourself to keep to the routine… your child will be depending on you and it will be well worth all the effort on both parts.
Exercise is a great thing and certainly helps with developing core muscles which in turn reduces fatigue, something us dyspraxics suffer with.
It’s important when teaching them a new skill to be verbally and visually repetitive and practice truly makes progress.
Because we tend to be slightly less mature age for age with our peers (around two or three years), social interaction and our social skill sets are generally less mature than our chronological peers. This at times lead me into the hands of bullies. We all feel the need to belong and older children can see us as easy targets and can also use us as a tool in school (getting us to do things they wouldn’t so we get into trouble), etc. and this is something parents should be aware of, as many schools don’t see this vulnerability and we get blamed for causing disruption/trouble. It was a problem for me throughout school and being tall for my age made things worse again.
We can also present with lack of volume control and also spatial awareness and many feel uncomfortable with us being in their space… it is necessary to persevere with building our social circle and this can be eased by talking to parents of our friends. A good book on this is ‘My Friend Has Dyspraxia’ by Nicola Edwards. It is currently out of print but worth getting hold of a secondhand copy.
How can we steer others to help with our children (schools and family members)?
We tend to confuse our close family members… we can keep things together when we are in company for short periods and many would tell parents of children with dyspraxia that they are imagining it. It’s only when they look after our children for prolonged periods that they see the problems that we face day to day.
We need to take things much slower and, as mentioned, we need far higher levels of concentration and we should refrain from trying to multi-task until we are happy that we have mastered a task.
Supervision needs to be tight around areas of possible danger and we should almost take it for granted that our maturity levels are around 2-3 years below our chronological age… so if you have a 13 year old, allow them to do tasks that a 10 year old without dyspraxia would do.
Don’t underestimate our strengths as we will succeed in the end… it just takes us a little longer. Resource them where necessary… a means to anchor their feet when sitting is a good idea, a rung across underneath the table/desk for example. Writing slopes also help as they can view the board and their workbook… allow them to do warm up exercises with their fingers to help with hand writing, allow breaks in writing to avoid tired hands, allow water bottles in class to prevent dehydration and cramps and allow them to get up and stretch.
It’s also important to seat children with dyspraxia away from distractions, students or windows… if they appear to be distracted it’s not deliberate, it’s dyspraxia!
Always explain what you want them to do and build a comfortable relationship that allows them to tell you when they are struggling. Make sure that their resource time is taken when they are doing lessons that they are exempt from, such as languages and not during important lessons like Maths or English. Get the SNA to help diarise and plan homework and projects.
If you find it hard to get your head round what dyspraxia means to each and every one of us, do read ‘Caged in Chaos’ - an account by a teenage girl who battled those early years and came good.
And always remember give lots of praise, be constructive in anything that concerns you and always remember… praxis makes perfect.
N.b.All our articles are for information purposes only, we use research and the work of others within the team and in the area of specific learning needs and we always advise parents to seek professional advice on any issue that may concern them.