D is for Dyspraxia

dyspraxia

My teenage son has dyspraxia. When I tell people this, most of them give me a politely blank look, meaning, “I have no idea what you’re talking about but I’m too embarrassed to tell you.” And this is the response I’ve also had from his teachers during his 10 years at school. It’s not their fault; they receive very little special needs education during their teacher training. They’re expected to deal with children who have a whole range of disorders like autism, ADHD and dyslexia and yet know almost nothing about them and are expected to cope the best they can.

This woeful state of affairs has meant to a large extent, I have been educating my son’s teachers by giving them practical tips on how to help him and at the same time battling the scepticism of some who don’t believe my son has any kind of condition at all and that I’m just an overly worried middle-class mother who needs to stop bothering them.

Let’s get down to the nuts and bolts then. What is dyspraxia? It’s defined as, “a developmental disorder of the brain in childhood causing difficulty in activities requiring co-ordination and movement.” Well that’s part of the problem but the complete picture is so much more. Yes, my son doesn’t have the greatest co-ordination but he manages to write and tie his shoes laces; he just can’t do it as well as his peers.

The greatest impact has been to his concentration and short term memory. He can focus on a written task for 5 minutes, perhaps 10 if it really interests him and then his mind will wander; he can’t remember verbal instructions and has very poor organisational skills. His notes in class are often inadequate and it’s really difficult for him to put his thoughts down on paper, especially for a creative task. When it comes to verbal comprehension however, he’s right at the top of the scale. He has the added problem of being a very bright child, which masks his condition. As he’s started his GCSE coursework this year, his difficulties have become much more apparent and he needs a lot of support at home.

To give you some idea of how dyspraxia affects his life, let’s compare him with his brother who’s 10. Every morning the younger one will get out of bed and dress himself before coming downstairs and getting himself breakfast. When he’s finished he’ll go and clean his teeth and style his hair, usually without me reminding him to do any of it. When I tell him it’s time to leave to go to school he’ll put on his shoes and coat, then pick up his school bag without prompting.

The older one on the other hand needs constant reminders at every stage. I’ll have to get him out of bed (hey, he is a teen) and make sure he has some breakfast. Then I have to send him upstairs to get dressed. Unless I make sure he’s changing he will distract himself at every opportunity, either with his phone or a book. Once dressed I often stand over him to make sure he’s cleaning his teeth and getting his shoes on. He’s a little better at preparing his bag and making sure he has his keys but he’s very inconsistent. Then I have to insist that he leaves at a certain time or he will make himself late.

Homework causes the most stress. My son would prefer to do it in his bedroom but unless I check on him every few minutes I know that he won’t be doing it, he’ll have found something else to do. He doesn’t like me monitoring him but he dislikes sitting at the table downstairs even less.

Some of his homework he finds easy like maths and science because it’s logical and straightforward. English is an entirely different matter. Often he has no idea how to the tackle the task he’s been given and I have to break it down into manageable chunks and then we’ll look at each part together. French is also a struggle for him to retain and we’ll just do a little bit at a time so he doesn’t feel overwhelmed.

My son does have friends at school but they’re a small, select group. He wants to have more but many of his peers find him a little odd and unfortunately it’s a perception that once made is hard to change.

I know that once my son leaves school he’ll find his place in the world but it won’t be easy for him. What would make the biggest difference to his chances is if the world knew more about people who lived with developmental disorders and accepted them for who they are. One day this will happen, just as the barriers about talking about mental health are crumbling. Until then I’ll educate as many people as I can about dyspraxia as it is only through awareness that we can hope to affect change.

Beyond Brilliant (or C is for Choir)

I jokingly said I’d write a poem about choir for today’s challenge. This is the first one I’ve ever written, so I know it’s not brilliant but it was hugely enjoyable to write. And as I’m sometimes a front row diva, I feel entitled to take the mick. After all, one should be able to laugh at oneself!

Big Gig 2016

Rock Chorus performing their Big Gig

Beyond Brilliant

Blue hoodies

and black shoes.

Men and women

singing away their blues.

 

Old and young,

the point is to have fun.

Haven’t sung since school?

Well, this choir’s for everyone.

 

Four sips in and another four out.

Swivel your hips

and shake away your doubts.

Lauren counts us in and off we go,

some voices high and others low.

 

We sing Madonna, Tom Petty

and some Coldplay too.

With forty songs under our belt,

there’s a lot for us to do.

 

But expect a lot of giggling

if you mention Toploader.

Oh the jokes made about that song

If only you knew!

 

Camaraderie and laughter

is really all we’re after.

You want us to sing in harmony?

Well, we can do that too!

 

Sometimes we sing to three men and a dog,

with the raining lashing down

it’s all part of the job!

Other times we have a Big Gig to get through

and that’s when you really see what we can do.

 

The rehearsal beforehand can be a bit of a fight,

with too many divas wanting the limelight.

What do you mean I can’t stand in the front row?

It’s my right to stand here. Didn’t you know!

 

But when the curtain goes up and the lights go down,

watch out folks. Rock Chorus is in town.

Twenty two songs sung with passion and feeling

If you’re really lucky we’ll throw in some tambourine-ing.

 

Blue hoodies

and black shoes.

Men and women

singing away their blues.

 

 

 

B is for Brač

Croatia and Wales 109

Village harbour and church

 

The Croatian coastline is speckled with over a thousand islands; little green, wooded jewels in the bright blue sea, some inhabited, some not. In summer, brilliant white yachts tack between them; day trippers trailing their feet languidly into the sea, basking in the sunshine.

On our first visit to Croatia, four years ago, we explored these enchanting islands from our base on the mainland and discovered a relaxed, unhurried pace of life. The wooded landscapes dotted with ancient towns and the clear blue water utterly seduced us and we decided to stay on one of them next time we came.

Two years later, I found a little cottage to rent in a fishing village on Brač, an island near Split. It looked idyllic but was it going to live up to expectation?

Driving off the ferry, we followed the signs uphill out of the port and drove west through a landscape of olive groves and farms. Fruit trees grew in abundance and a purple rash of bougainvillea spread along many walls. Surprisingly, there were piles of white stones poking out of the ground everywhere.

Brač is famous for its limestone and there is still a working quarry on the island. The Diocletian’s Palace in Split is built out of it and Croatians claim it was used to construct the White House.

We turned off the main road into our village and drove down to the harbour. Looking at the narrow lane winding its way perilously close to the sea and crowded with shops and restaurants, John asked, quite reasonably, “Are you sure we can drive along here?”

I looked at my detailed printed instructions, “Yes. Just go slowly. We’ll be fine.”

He made his way hesitantly past the harbour, fishing boats rocking gently, some small shops, a tall church spire and a restaurant with tables and chairs set out by the sea. Inches to our right, was the Adriatic, where children were playing and men fishing.

Then, a beach and a small bar with a spacious balcony perched over the sea: our local for the next fortnight.

“Turn left, our cottage is up here,” I instructed.

John turned up a narrow lane and there was our cottage, an old fisherman’s place with white walls and green shutters, its little garden holding a magnificent fig tree.

Flagging in the sweltering heat, we dragged our suitcases out of the car.

“Who’s coming for a swim?” I asked.

The boys perked up and flung everything on the floor in their rush to find their trunks. We walked back down the lane and dived into the sea.

Floating on my back in the warm water I smiled. In front of me the sea stretched all the way to Split, just visible below the mountains, behind me the village clung to the hillside, colours vibrant in the hot sun.  In the distance, the little coast road disappeared over the horizon, meandering past tiny coves and pine forest, enticing me ever onwards …

 

Croatia and Wales 101

Biastrica beach at the end of the lane

A is for Awakening

live your life quote

My writing/inspiration/motivation has been in one of those periodic ruts that affect creative people. Last night I came up with a plan to get out of it: writing 26 pieces of creative non-fiction, one for each letter of the alphabet. Here is today’s musing :

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Two years ago a friend nagged me relentlessly about going on a personal development course. Every time I spoke to him on the phone, he mentioned it and told me how much he’d benefited from it. Eventually I gave in and booked a place just to shut him up. What harm could come from going?

It turned out to be three of the most uncomfortable days of my life and the repercussions are still affecting me. As I listened to other people go up to the microphone and unburden themselves of terrible secrets – abuse, bullying, affairs, regrets – thoughts long buried slowly percolated to the surface of my mind. My one overriding realisation was how unfulfilled my life was.

As I sat in the white-walled lecture room it dawned on me I’d spent the last decade sleep-walking through my life and completely lost sight of who I was. It was an endless cycle of childcare and domestic matters which I could do with my eyes closed and used about a tenth of my brain power. And if I didn’t do something about it now, I would become stuck in a prison of my own making, never able to break free. Now I’d voiced this feeling there could be no returning to my old life.

By this time I’d been writing for about a year but it took doing the course and its follow-up to restore my self-confidence enough for me to sign on to the journalism course I’m halfway through and to teach me to believe in myself.

And when I hit a bump in the road now, I remember the most important lesson I took away with me: words are easy, action is hard but in the end only action will move you forward, so take it.