During primary school I was diagnosed with Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia. This improved my life at home greatly since my family could begin to understand me, but at school, it was a different story.
I don’t really remember what it was like when I first went to primary school, but I have been told that, before going, I was confident and assertive. However, I started school and that changed. Through the years it became obvious that I was different. Not only did I start school not being able to speak English (I had my own language that my family tried to understand), but with each year I was falling behind my peer group educationally and socially.
As time went on I made more enemies within my year and the teaching staff. My peers didn’t like me since they couldn’t understand me and I found this frustrating, which I was likely to show through a few kicks and a hit. As you can probably guess this escalated their dislike for me. With teachers, I became known as “dangerous” and was used as the example for the class of what stupid looked like.
All of this fed into the paranoia that I began to experience. If someone didn’t hear me speak to them, I thought they were ignoring me on purpose. If another person was day dreaming in my direction, I truly believed that they were looking at me with hate. It didn’t help that I found reading people’s body language and tone of voice difficult too.
Although I didn’t have terrible coordination, spatial awareness or balance, I never enjoyed P.E.. I was always the slowest and the weakest. I would try everything to get out of this humiliating activity. I know that this can be a more troubling and distressing lesson during our school time when it is so important to fit in and seem “normal”. Part of the problem is, the two sides of the body cannot cross over to the other side when performing physical tasks (crossing the midline). This was most prominent for me in classes when I was told to sit straight on my chair, but then found it difficult to write. My right hand would have to start writing on the left side of the page, this was physically uncomfortable, and forming the letters became harder because, when my right hand is moving on the left side of me, it feels as though I have very little control over the movement (as though I was trying to write with someone else’s hand). This meant I had to concentrate more on my hand movements, which in turn would make my writing even slower.
None of this improved when I was diagnosed. I was diagnosed privately at the age of 9, instead of through the NHS, since it would have been years instead of weeks before we found out what was “wrong” with me. My teachers refused to recognise that I had a disability. They didn’t put anything in place to help me, but continued to treat me like a bad student. Had the diagnosis been made through the NHS then maybe the school would have recognised it?
However, the Principal Clinical Psychologist who diagnosed me saw potential. She told my mum that, if I learnt how to learn with my dyspraxia, I had the ability to go to university. Something my mum hadn’t thought possible. But there was a lot of work to do. Once I started speech therapy, I had to be re-taught the alphabet as well as playing games to teach the right and left side of my brain to work together.
In the classroom I was always left to my own devices. Being on the table with the other people who were struggling, we would always distract each other and this didn’t help my already bad concentration. One teacher confessed, with an uncomfortable laugh, that I would stare out of the window all day. Probably trying to find peace in the busy classroom.
In the playground I was being bullied, but I couldn’t verbalise this to my family or the teachers. My bullies took advantage of my lack of communication and told the teachers that I was bullying them. Of course, the teachers believed them and I was told off whilst they laughed in the background.
There were a couple of teachers that supported me and tried to help me be happier in school, but this unfortunately wasn’t enough. I left primary school believing people would never like me and I just wasn’t smart enough.
I was never shouted at again after being diagnosed. With a label, my mum was able to find information on what was going on inside my head. My family were able to understand.
My mum would always get angry with me for being late out of school. She couldn’t understand why I was always the last one out when I said I hated being at school in the first place. When I was diagnosed though, she understood that I found the rush of the class to get their things and quickly get out difficult. I would stand back because, to enter the craze, I would need to be able to quickly respond to the others moving around me. This I couldn’t do since my mind would go blank with panic from the busyness and I would feel suffocated. It was easier to let them get first. After, I could do what I needed carefully and at my own pace. I didn’t have to worry about concentrating on not being pushed away from my things or dropping my bag in the cramped space where people might step on it. But, of course I couldn’t verbalise this.
With each year my psychosomatic illnesses became more frequent and my mum would give me more “mental health days”. She knew I wasn’t happy at school, but didn’t know how to get the teachers to listen.
I hope this post can help parents support their children and see these formative years from the dyspraxic child’s point of view. It’s difficult in the first place as a child not having the vocabulary to express oneself, but to add dyspraxia, where communicating is difficult and there are challenges that aren’t always visible, it is tough for the child being so internalised with frustration, embarrassment and loneliness.
Check tomorrows post where I will be explaining some of the difficulties I faced in Secondary School.
My best wishes for all of you.