Bridging the divide

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How a dysphasic pupil became a budding writer

Eighteen months ago, I graduated from university with a Masters Degree in Creative Writing. I wore the gown, I received the bow from the Vice Chancellor and had my picture taken, just like the rest of my classmates. All of this sounds pretty normal, except that at one time, the very idea of me becoming a writer was, quite frankly, laughable.

About twenty years ago, I was diagnosed with dysphasia and spent a number of years in a specialist SEN school where I undertook speech and language development classes. I suppose I could therefore be described as something of a success story. I am writing this article because I want to show parents that a learning disability doesn’t necessarily mean that a child will not be successful and able to achieve the things s/he wants to.

Dysphasia is a language comprehension disability that is normally associated with the elderly. In my case, the condition affected all elements of communication, from speech through to reading and writing. In short, I found the physical act of communicating incredibly difficult – I would learn to speak but my voice would be garbled; I would try to write and my hand would simply fail to do so.

It is very hard to describe the condition to someone who has not experienced it. The best analogy I can think of is that of a bridge over a canyon separating two towns. One of the towns is your mind and the other the world. The bridge represents the physical act of communicating in all its forms. Dysphasia is akin to having that bridge fall apart. The two towns are untouched but there is no way to cross the divide. Today, the canyon is bridged by numerous ropes and pulleys – tricks and techniques that I was taught to overcome my disabilities.

Managing my condition was beyond the skills of mainstream education. Much of my success is due to the constant battling and sheer tenacity of my parents, who fought to get me into a specialist school that would give me the tools to function within conventional education.

The fact that they had to struggle so hard is deeply worrying. I only discovered, after talking to my father more recently, the extent of the archaic and downright disgraceful system in place during the 1980s. If I had lived a mere 20 miles away, I would not have received the level of care and help that I did, due to the inconsistent approach to SEN facilities across county lines.

Although the situation is much improved today, it is clear that a postcode lottery still exists in certain parts of the country. Whilst I was very fortunate and got the help I needed, there must have been many people my age that did not, and were therefore denied educational success simply through geography. This is clearly unacceptable.

I am not trying to say that given the right tools, every child with SEN can achieve a masters degree. However, I do believe that a child should have the right to the services and specialist support that would give him/her the best possible chance in the real world. It should not be accidents of geography or the ability of parents to fight their corner that determine which child gets one of the (too few) specialist places available.

As my case demonstrates, care and dedication can massively improve a child’s chances in this world. Specialist support not only allowed me to overcome my language problems, it also enabled me to discover, despite everything, that the written and spoken word was my true passion. Now, far from being unable to write, it is increasingly difficult for me to stop!

So, I urge parents of those with SEN never to give up. After all, your determination is the most important gift you can ever give to your child.

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