My experiences at school – From nursery to sixth form (part 2)

If you haven’t had a read of it already, part 1 can be found here: My experiences at school – From nursery to sixth form (part 1)

So, rewinding back to October at the beginning of Year 6. It was time to look at secondary schools. The SEN support was actually one of the most important factors influencing my decision in the choice of secondary school.

We visited three schools altogether, two of them I really liked although one I liked slightly more than the other. At my first choice of secondary school me and my parents arranged a meeting with the SENCo to find out what their SEN support was like.

So along we went to the meeting, expecting to have to explain what dyspraxia was to the SENCo as in our previous experiences teachers had never heard of it. To our surprise, the SENCo knew exactly what dyspraxia was and had all sorts of different ideas for support that could be put into place.

The meeting was excellent, such a contrast to primary school! So I put that school down as my first choice and that was the school that I got into!

Dyspraxia affects me in social situations, so making new friends at school wasn’t going to be easy. The first few months of secondary school I spent mainly with people from my primary school, but of course they were forming their own groups of friends and made it quite clear that I was “too quiet for them” and would ask me why I kept on “following them around”. I really don’t think they understood how much more difficult it is for me to make new friends, they were just quite desperate to get rid of me!

By the January of year 7 I had finally “fitted in” with a group of lovely friends, some of whom I’m still close friends with now!

One of the suggestions the SENCo had given in the meeting was for me to have something to fiddle with in lessons, as not fidgeting isn’t easy for me! So the school gave me a Tangle to use. For those of you wondering what on earth that is here’s what they look like:

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They’re brilliant and ideal for people who need to keep their hands busy, it’s something I’d definitely recommend getting for people who find it difficult to sit still! One of the teaching assistants in the lesson asked me if it helped me to concentrate better and it wasn’t until I looked it up that I realised that apparently it does help concentration too.

There was one problem though. It’s not exactly something that blends in, so when I started using it in lessons everyone would ask me “What’s that?”, “Why are you using it?”, “Can I have a go?” At that point not many people in my classes knew about my dyspraxia so  it actually put me off using it and I stopped using it after a while…

Talking about the fact that not many people in my classes knew about my dyspraxia, I did have one or two comments from people. One person told me that I “walked weird”. I wish I’d explained that I actually have dyspraxia and that’s why, but at the time I was a quiet year 7 and just didn’t say anything.

In one of my textiles lessons a Teaching Assistant asked me if I found the sewing quite fiddly to do. The person sat next to me, unaware of my dyspraxia, said something like “Why would she find it fiddly?” Again, I didn’t say anything but looking back on it now I wish I had!

There were Teaching Assistants in the majority of my lessons. The were mainly working with another student in my class who had Down Syndrome, but they would always help me when I needed it. My teachers seemed to be understanding too, well definitely much more than my primary school teachers!

Parent’s evening gave the opportunity for my dad to talk to my teachers about my dyspraxia. He explained to my English teacher that doing lots of writing hurt my hand quite a lot, quicker than it would for others. My teacher thanked him for letting her know as she didn’t actually know about that part of my dyspraxia and she said that whenever I needed to in the lesson I could take breaks and stop writing for a bit.

As the geography trip to Derbyshire was coming up, which involved a lot of walking, my Dad spoke to my geography teacher about this too. Her response was “I’m sure Natalie will be fine if she gets a couple of her friends to walk a bit slower with her.” What she didn’t point out was the fact that we’d have huge rocks to climb, very steep hills to walk up and down and walking through lots of wet mud – all of which would require a lot of balance. I fell over so many times on that trip (yes, for me it was literally a trip). I was at the very back way behind everyone else with two teachers with me, who at some parts had to hold my hand as I just did not have the balance required. One of the times I fell over was right before lunch, and I fell over into wet sticky mud which I got all over my hands. We were having lunch in a cave…so I just had the wipe my hands on my coat as I obviously had nowhere to wash them – it was disgusting!

My dad also spoke to my food tech teacher about my dyspraxia during parent’s evening, as one of the things the SENCo had suggested was using special equipment to help me in food tech. Apparently it was just sitting in a cupboard, so the next lesson I ‘reminded her about it’ (possibly the most commonly used phrase by teachers! – “Can you remind me please?”). It made food tech much easier. Some of the equipment included a non-slip mat, a chopping board with spikes and a knife with a longer handle which had better grip. The teachers and teaching assistants helped me quite a lot in Food Tech too – it was something I found quite difficult and therefore not exactly one of my favourite subjects!

As tech subjects involved a lot of physical work, and drawing too, I often got behind in my work, such as in this piece of work:

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The fact that this was called ‘Race to Complete’ and I didn’t complete it makes me laugh – the irony!

The majority of my teachers seemed to be very supportive, but I did have the occasional comment on my work such as this one:

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I know the drawing is awful, but I just  really struggled with drawing and considering it was science homework I didn’t think the drawing would be the important part…and as for the presentation of my handwriting, well there’s not exactly a magic wand that makes my handwriting neater. Handwriting is something I struggle with so my handwriting is the way it is.

Believe it or not, one of the teachers that was actually very understanding was my P.E. teacher! She would always encourage me and pointed out how much my confidence had improved over the course of year 7. She took an interest in sports I took part in outside of school (in Year 7 I started taking part in disability athletics outside of school) and even wrote a bit about me in the school newsletter!

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Although I still found P.E. difficult I don’t remember dreading it that much during year 7, I’d even be happy to put my hand up and answer questions about things (which for me was quite rare that I’d do that in any lesson!)

Typically, just as P.E. lessons were no longer the lesson I dreaded the most, the P.E teacher decided to leave…everyone was so disappointed when she left!

So at the beginning of year 8 our new P.E. teacher came along…typical me fell over on the first lesson we had with her. Although we were running around in the hall in all different directions and with my level of spatial awareness it wasn’t exactly unlikely that I bumped into someone and fell over.

The new P.E. teacher was really not as supportive at all, she would always tell me the way I should be doing things rather than actually helping me or understanding that I was already trying my hardest. You’d think that after a while she would have a bit more of an understanding of what dyspraxia was but in fact some of the comments she made seemed to get worse as the years went on…

Anyway, back to year 8. The student in my classes who had Down Syndrome joined our tutor group for registration in the mornings which meant that there was a teaching assistant in the classroom during that time. The teaching assistant came up to me one morning and said that the SENCo had asked her to check that I was alright with everything and if there were any questions that I had. So each morning the teaching assistant would ask how I was getting on with the homework or if there were any questions I had – it was really useful.

The same teaching assistant used to help me a lot in tech subjects, as I found these particularly difficult. I think the majority of my electronics project was done by her as soldering was just way too fiddly for me! It was nice though, she wasn’t the sort of person who would ‘do it all for me’, she would just help me where I needed it.

The teaching assistant was also quite open in talking about dyspraxia too, she even joked about the fact that her family sometimes think she’s dyspraxic as she would always fall over for no reason!

While the majority of my teachers seemed aware of my dyspraxia, there was a time in a science lesson on a non-uniform day where my teacher saw the back of my hoodie (‘Herts Athletics’) and asked what events I did. I told her that I did disability athletics and she then came up to me a couple of minutes later asking what my disability was. I told her that I had dyspraxia and she asked if that affected my balance, co-ordination and organisation – so at least she had an idea of what it was! I remember saying at the time that for me my organisation wasn’t really affected. A few years later I realised it definitely is, I think it’s just the fact that in year 8 I didn’t really have anything that I needed to be organised about. Anyway, my teacher said that the information about me said I had a physical disability but she didn’t know what it was, as when I’d walked in and out of the classroom she hadn’t noticed anything. Apparently she thought I might have been deaf (funnily enough my hearing has never been that great) – but surely being deaf would be a sensory impairment not physical?

I really don’t understand why she thought the information about me only said that I had a physical disability, as at the school teachers were given ‘Top Tips’ cards for any students with Special Educational Needs. Each individual student had a card written about them which included their strengths and weaknesses along with exam arrangements and further information for them to refer to. The further information included laminated sheets with information about various types of special needs: Dyspraxia, Autism, ADHD etc. The Learning Development department at my school were excellent, I think it was more a case of the teachers not always reading the information they were given!

One thing I used to dislike in school was when teachers would tell us to plan something in a particular way. For example, asking us to produce mind maps. Mind maps don’t work well for me, it’s just too much information on one page to process. As you can see from this picture I’m not very good at producing them either:

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In year 8 (and year 7 too) art homework was something that used to really stress me out and I got very frustrated over. I’d have an image of my head of how I wanted my work to look but I just could not produce it on paper. I remember this piece of homework in particular really frustrated me:

IMG_20150628_184441Believe it or not, this actually took me hours to do. I really don’t know why I got so stressed out over it, it wasn’t exactly important!

For some reasons for certain subjects in school, including art and music, there was a system where after each term we would move to a different class with a different teacher. For me this wasn’t great, as often it meant going into a new class where the teacher hadn’t looked properly at the information given and hadn’t realised I’d got dyspraxia.

For example, in year 8 this was another piece of art homework which I got very frustrated about:

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I found perspective extremely difficult to draw, and when my dad mentioned this to my art teacher at parent’s evening she said that she didn’t even realise I had dyspraxia and thought that I was just a perfectionist who liked to take my time!

Strangely enough, when it got to Year 9 I actually quite enjoyed art lessons. This piece of work I particularly enjoyed doing:

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I think the main reason I enjoyed this was that we could just do what we likes, no ‘rules’ or a certain way it had to look. I have to admit, I’m still quite pleased with how this turned out considering it’s me that drew it!

I was actually considering taking art as a GCSE option (although I didn’t in the end). I initially hadn’t considered it because I was worried I would just never finish anything but we found out that I would have been allowed extra time for art too.

Another option I was actually considering taking, which might surprise some of you, was P.E.! This is because I took part in disability sports outside of school which I really enjoyed and my athletics coach said that I would have been able to do these sports for GCSE P.E. However, we went along to the options evening and my P.E. teacher completely put me off taking P.E. She kept pointing out the fact that there would be an exam at the end of it which would be difficult (I had exams to do for other subjects anyway so I don’t get why she was concerned with pointing that out) and she told me to speak to another P.E. teacher if I wanted to find out more information. Apparently my P.E. teacher knew more about the BTEC course than the GCSE course, or something like that – seemed more like an excuse to me though.

In the end I chose: I.T., History, Geography and German (we had to chose a language and either history or geography).

It was also when I was in year 9 that I found out that as well as dyspraxia I also had mild cerebral palsy. It was initially the physiotherapist and my athletics coach at my disability sports group who thought I might also have cerebral palsy and after further appointments I found out I did in fact have mild CP as well as dyspraxia.

My dad phoned the school to inform them of this as well as to ask about exam arrangements as I would have my first GCSE exam that summer and the school asked my dad to put this in writing. I was on my way to the SENCo’s office to hand her the letter when I happened to bump into her in the corridor (not literally, although that wouldn’t be surprising for me). She asked me which would be best for me: having extra time or having the use of a laptop for exams. I said that I would prefer to use a laptop (although it was later realised that I needed extra time too as my thought processing, not just handwriting, takes longer).

It was then a week or two later in tutor time when my tutor told me that he had a message for me asking me to  go to the teaching assistant’s office to collect a netbook. It was from then on that I started using one of the school’s netbooks to work on in lessons. It made such a difference, especially with the increased amount of writing that was required as GCSEs were coming up. It also meant that teacher’s could send me electronic copies of diagrams to save me having to try to frantically scribble them down before they moved on to the next slide:

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However, picture a student suddenly using a netbook in lessons…it’s something that’s quite noticeable isn’t it? My teachers knew why I was using it, of course, but the questions from other people in my class were constant! The amount of times I had to explain to them that it was because “I have dyspraxia and…” I was about to say mild cerebral palsy before they would say “What’s that?!” Trying to explain what dyspraxia is in the middle of a lesson is quite a difficult thing to do!

I had one person say to me that she wished she had dyspraxia so she could use a laptop in lessons. She really didn’t get it did she? I think a lot of people saw it as an advantage rather than helping to put me at the same level as everyone else.

Someone else referred to my dyspraxia as a ‘hand problem’ – that’s a unique definition that I’ve never heard before, I don’t think it’s the most accurate one though!

It wasn’t until year 9 that I found out that in school dyspraxia is classed as a ‘Specific Learning Difficulty’. This was when my tutor was showing me something on my SIMs profile (the school database system) and I saw that next to dyspraxia it said ‘Specific Learning Difficulty’. At first this surprised me as I didn’t realise at the time that the way I learnt was different to everyone else. That’s not to say I didn’t have any difficulties in lessons, it’s just that I didn’t realise that not everyone else experienced the same difficulties that I did. After going through GCSEs and A Levels I know much more about the way I learn and can understand to more of an extent why it is in fact classed as a ‘Specific Learning Difficulty’.

I still had the same issues in year 9 with some of my tech lessons. One teacher actually said to me that I hadn’t got very much done so far. I’m sure she’ll be delighted to know that I never did finish her project!

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It was also in Year 9 when a teaching assistant would come into my tutor group some mornings (the first tutor group was from year 7 to year 8 only). She would check that I was getting on okay with everything as well as going through my recent progress report. It was during one of the mornings she spoke to me when she went through my ‘Top Tips card’ which I mentioned earlier where she asked me if there was anything I thought should be added to it. On the top of the card it said “Developmental Co-ordination Disorder and Ataxia (Cerebral Palsy)”. I got confused at first when I saw “Developmental Co-ordination Disorder” – I had to double check it was the same thing as dyspraxia as I hadn’t heard it used before.

It was the end of year 9 when I found out they had moved some of the tutor groups around. I looked at the list and found out that I had been moved to a different tutor group starting in the September of year 10. As I’ve mentioned before in some of my blog posts, changes of routine do not mix well with me! It was stressing me out so much, so my dad spoke to the SENCo to see if I could be moved back to my old tutor group. She said that she had asked but they weren’t able to do this, but she reassured my dad that she would make sure my new tutor was fully aware of my needs.

I was really not looking forward to going back to school at all in September, mainly because I had to go to a new tutor group. I was sat in my new tutor group and wasn’t given a new timetable. Then a couple of minutes later, two of my friends from my old tutor group came in telling me that I was on the register for my old tutor group!

At the time I had no idea what happened but I was so happy that I was back in my old tutor group. It wasn’t until about a month later that my dad found a voicemail message on the house phone (we never use it) from the SENCo saying that she had actually been able to move me back to my old tutor group in the end – it all made sense then!

The start of year 10 meant that I had new teachers and was using a netbook in their lessons for the first time. It was soon clear that these teachers hadn’t looked at the information they were given regarding special needs. My english teacher said something like “Will you always be using a laptop?” to which I replied “Yes it’s because I have dyspraxia and mild cerebral palsy.” He then said “Oh okay, can you see the board okay?” I have no idea what made him say that – I’m not visually impaired!

In my geography lesson I hadn’t used the netbook for the first lesson because there wasn’t very much writing to do. So when I got it out in the second lesson my teacher said “Why are you using the laptop? Your handwriting looks fine here.” This was the page of my book she was referring to:

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Firstly, there wasn’t exactly much handwriting there to judge it by. Secondly, how could she judge how difficult I found handwriting just by what it looked like? Does my handwriting show that I find it painful and tiring to write for long periods of time? Does it show that it takes me a long time to write?

Before she even gave me a chance to answer her question she then said “Is it for a physical reason?” (I guess at least she didn’t think I was visually impaired). I then said “Yes, it’s because I have dyspraxia and cerebral palsy.” (the amount of times I said this sentence throughout my time at school!) We were doing a cutting and sticking activity at the time so she immediately said “I’ll cut this out while you write the title in your book as you won’t be able to do it quickly enough.”

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(The work we were doing at the time – I think!) Not only did she not ask if I actually needed any help first, but she said all of this very loudly! Even one of my friends who was at the back of the classroom (I was at the front) said that she had heard what my teacher was saying!

I think possibly one of the funniest comments had to be in a biology lesson where it was the end of the lesson and I was the last one packing things away (it always took me ages) and the teacher was talking to me. She had a look in my exercise book and looked confused when she saw the page was blank. Considering I was sat at the front of the classroom I thought she would have seen me using a netbook…anyway, I said to her that I was using a netbook as I had dyspraxia and cerebral palsy. She then said “Oh I didn’t know you did, I’ll make a note of that.” She then went on to say “Is that why the teaching assistant was sat next to you?” The teaching assistant was actually with another student. This shows that she hadn’t looked at any of the information regarding SEN for any of the students in her new class. As for the fact that she didn’t see me using a netbook when I was sat at the front of the classroom, that’s something I find quite funny!

There was a time on my timetable where I had to go from one lesson at one side of the school to another lesson on the other side of the school as well as going up and down a lot of steps. By the time I got to the second lesson I was late, which my  teacher would point out each time. My dad told me to speak to my teacher at the end of the lesson to explain why it was that I was late, I was a bit reluctant at first but I did. I apologised to my teacher for being late and then explained that because of my dyspraxia and cp it takes me much longer to get from place to place, especially where there are a lot of stairs involved. She then said “Sorry, I hadn’t realised that it affected your movements. Thank you for letting me know about that, I’ll take it into account.” I have dyspraxia and cerebral palsy and she didn’t realise it affected my movements?! I’d love to know what she thought they were then… The funny thing is that by explaining why I was late to my chemistry teacher at the end of the lesson it made me my late for my next lesson – P.E.

There was one P.E. lesson where a teacher who hadn’t taught me before was in the lesson. Fair enough, she wasn’t aware of my dyspraxia/CP but her comment annoyed me. We were doing gymnastics and I had to help hold someone up as part of the routine. “You’re not doing it properly! She’s going to fall if you do it like that!” she said to me – I was physically trying as best as I could. After the lesson I was then getting changed and was the last one in the changing rooms, as usual. My P.E. teacher (who was aware of my disability) shouts from outside the changing room “Hurry up Natalie! You’re the last one out of the whole of year 10!” I was already aware I was the last one, and I was already trying to get changed as quickly as I could… After I’d come out of that lesson I started crying. I felt so stupid as to others it might have seemed like the most stupid little thing. Thankfully I didn’t have a lesson as bad as that again…

Although I didn’t have a lesson as bad as that again, I did have a very low ‘Attitude to Learning’ score for me report in P.E. At our school Attitude to Learning is a score based on our attitude to learning really, the name says it all. It’s on a score from 1 to 4 with 1 being the best and 4 being the worst and look what I got for P.E.:

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I did try my absolute best in P.E. lessons and I took part in sports outside of school. Yet other people who didn’t take part in any sports outside of school got a 2 or even a 1, even if they didn’t like P.E. very much.

My dad got in contact with the school’s SENCo, and she spoke to my P.E. teacher who had apparently apologised about what she said in the changing rooms (there were so many different things for my dad to say I don’t think we bothered including the ATL) and said that she had ‘forgotten’ about my dyspraxia/CP. My P.E. teacher was off for a few weeks anyway afterwards as a few days later she broke her arm…karma? The SENCo also emailed all of my teachers, I’m not sure exactly what she said but I think she just reminded them that I had dyspraxia and CP.

After that I didn’t seem to really have any more problems with teachers misunderstanding – thankfully!

The email did seem to make a difference. My I.T. teacher asked if I was okay with what we were doing as she thought it might have been quite fiddly. My chemistry teacher asked me if I needed any breaks (one of my exam arrangements is rest breaks). Although she asked this loudly in a silent classroom while we were doing a controlled assessment, very discreet…but at least she asked I guess! I even had this comment on a diagram I drew for biology:

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Maybe she just felt bad after not realising I had used the netbook in the first lesson, but still it was better than a “make your work neater” comment! Surprisingly, even my P.E. lessons improved. My teacher had started giving detentions out to people who were ‘late’ for the lesson by taking too long to get changed 3 times within a half term. She said that this didn’t apply to me as she knew it took me longer to get changed. I think the rule was unfair for anyone anyway, but I think it was because a few people took too long as they were talking…

The SENCo also arranged for a meeting with someone from the Low Incidence Team, who work with students with physical and neurological impairments. As dyspraxia is classed as a “Specific Learning Difficulty’ in education, the forms only mention my CP:

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A month or two later I had the meeting where a variety of recommendations were put into place:

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A few months later I was given a laptop (well, loaned a laptop) which had speech to text software on it (Dragon Naturally Speaking). The laptop was much easier to use than the school netbooks, which had a really small keyboard and the speech to text software really helped too. My exam arrangements were also put into place from this meeting, which were: the use of a laptop, 25% extra time and rest breaks.

The amount of times in lessons I got asked “Is that laptop yours or the school’s?” Considering it was neither and other people in my class wouldn’t know who the Low Incidence Team were, this was another difficult question to answer…

It got to the beginning of the year 11 and guess what I dropped one morning on the hard kitchen floor? The laptop… I was so annoyed with myself but luckily it still worked okay, although a bit of the plastic had cracked.

Earlier in this blog I said that after my teachers were emailed there were no more problems. Well, that wasn’t quite true…

I was in my German lesson at the beginning of year 11 using the laptop to work on. We were writing a draft for our coursework so the whole class was quiet as they were focused on what they were working on. My teacher said to me “You’re not going to be allowed to use a laptop for coursework” and I said that I had before and that I was allowed to use one for exams. She then asked why it was that I used the laptop. I don’t mind people knowing about my disability but it was just awkward at this point as the whole class was silent. So I explained why, and she then said that she would check to see if I could use a laptop (even though I knew for a fact that I was allowed). A couple of days later it was another trip to the SENCo’s office. She emailed my German teacher straight away and the next lesson my German teacher ‘apologised’ to me. She spoke to me outside the classroom and said “I had an email, and I’m sorry about that. I thought you had a sporting injury or something.” A sporting injury?! My German teacher also said that she didn’t feel as though the conversation in the previous lesson about the laptop had been in front of the whole class – the whole class was silent at the time though…

So while P.E. lessons had improved in terms of the teacher, I then had a few comments from other students in my P.E. class. A couple of people asked me something about the sport I do outside of school and I said that I do disability athletics as I have dyspraxia and cerebral palsy. Their reply was “What did you say? Did you say that you sometimes get called a spastic?” At first, I thought they were genuinely asking me then realised that they most likely weren’t. I absolutely hate it when people use the word ‘spastic’ in an offensive way!

Another comment I got was when we were doing dance and one of the students who wasn’t doing P.E. (funnily enough she was friends with the two girls who made the previous comment) was given the job to lead our group. One of my friends pointed out that I had dyspraxia, just to let her know that I might have difficulty with some things. The girl then turned round to her friend and said “Oh, she’s got problems so she can’t do some things.” What a lovely ignorant comment! If you genuinely didn’t catch the name of my disability then it’s not that hard just to ask…

The same girl then made a comment during trampolining. I quite enjoyed trampolining compared to some of the other sports but did find it very difficult and I think the most I achieved was a seat drop… Anyway, I got on the trampoline and starting jumping for the girl to then say “You don’t have very good balance do you?” I was so grateful that after 16 years of living with dyspraxia and cerebral palsy she’d finally told me something that I would have never thought of before…not! I felt sorry for my friend who said that it wasn’t a very nice thing to say as the girl then starting having a go at her, saying that she could say what she wanted etc.

My closest friends understood quite well how my disability affected me, but some of my friends who I wasn’t as close with would often point out how quiet I was (our group was fairly large, hence the reason why it was sometimes difficult to keep up with what they were saying). Although I have to admit I don’t think I’d explained this part of dyspraxia to them before so it’s not exactly their fault for not realising. On the other hand in terms of being invited to things, I did meet up quite a bit with a couple of my close friends outside of school, but whenever a whole group meet up was arranged by someone else in the group (which was a lot of the time) it would be the whole group invited minus me.

It then got to the Easter of year 11, where we were expecting to be told about study leave. We were then told that we would need to attend our lessons right up until the exam for that subject. For me this would have been a nightmare. I found concentrating in lessons difficult particularly if there was background noise (which there usually was in school). I found it difficult to keep up with the teacher’s pace in lessons and would often find myself having to go through the work again at home. I found some methods, such as mind mapping, which teachers would tell us to use didn’t work well for me. Thankfully it was arranged that I would be allowed to revise from home due to the way my learning was affected. I would have struggled so much otherwise, revising for exams is hard enough as it is!

I was extremely happy with the results I received in August. I got: an A* for Maths; an A for English Language, German, History, Geography, Core Science, Chemistry and Physics; a B for English Literature and Biology; and a Distinction for I.T.

So I had made it through GCSEs! A Levels next…

Before I started A Levels I had a meeting with the SENCo, the head of sixth form and my dad – mainly to decide whether I would be able to take 3 AS Levels instead of 4 (which most people would take) but also to talk about other things that would help me in sixth form.

It was arranged that I would be allowed to take 3 AS Levels. For those of you wondering why, this is because my thought processing takes a significantly longer amount of time that it does for other people. This means that work takes me much longer to complete, so taking 4 AS Levels would be nearly impossible for me. Even taking 3 was a struggle!

In year 12 my school had an Ambassador Scheme where we chose a subject to help out in for the years below us. In the meeting, the SENCo said that if I would like to she’d be happy for me to help in the Learning Development Department. So for an hour a week I helped there and it was something that I really enjoyed doing. I carried on helping out during year 13 too, as we had to sign up for the Prefect scheme where one of the options was where we could help out in a subject again.

Also at the beginning of year 12 our school required us to help show prospective students and parents around for the school’s open morning and open evening. I hated the idea of doing this – trying to follow a certain route around a very busy school while answering any questions the families had at the same time. Me and multi-tasking don’t go well together! During the open morning the family I was showing round asked about the student support. I told them about pastoral and learning development and pointed out where they were when we were near them. We went into the learning development department, and the mum picked up some information that was there while waiting to speak to the SENCo and said to me that her son had dyspraxia (as well as ADD)! I told her that I had dyspraxia too – such a coincidence! She was saying how her son’s primary school hadn’t been very supportive and I was saying how mine was exactly the same! I still find it a huge coincidence how out of all the families I could have taken round (bearing in mind it was chosen at random) it happened to be a family whose son had dyspraxia!

I was a bit worried that having new teachers for A Levels might result in more questions again about why I was using the laptop, but it was absolutely fine. There was one time where one of my teachers didn’t realise I used a laptop for exams but that was it really. They’d always make sure I had extra time in tests we did during lessons too.

The workload in year 12 was really difficult as I’m sure anyone who takes A Levels will tell you – it made me wonder why I found GCSEs hard!

When it came to results day, I was very pleased to receive A’s in all of my AS exams (Psychology, Sociology and Computing).

I was even more worried for what year 13 would be like in terms of the workload. Everyone else would be dropping a subject so even though the workload would be more, they would have one less subject to do. However, I wasn’t able to drop a subject as I had taken 3 at AS Level, meaning for me the workload was increased and I had the same amount of subjects. So even though I was doing the same number of subjects as everyone else it would be more of a jump for me.

I feel like the school emphasise how much harder A Levels will be than GCSEs, but I really didn’t feel prepared for how much harder year 13 would be than year 12. I had another meeting with the Low Incidence Team:

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University is mentioned here as we started our university applications at the beginning of September. Before I started sixth form I had decided that I didn’t want to go to university. I didn’t know what career I wanted to do and I didn’t feel like I’d be ready to live away from home. However, it got to sixth form and one of my A Levels was psychology. I’d always had an interest in anything related to psychology and found that I loved it! My dad then suggested doing it at university at a local university. I hadn’t realised that there were local universities where I would be able to commute each day, so in year 12 we went on a few open days. By September I knew which universities I would be applying to, but other people seemed to have different opinions. I’d get people saying that they think I’d be fine living away from home, that I’d be missing out on the university experience, that I could go to a better university etc. At one point it made me think I was making the wrong decision. It was such a relief when I had submitted my application and no one could make any more comments about it! I was lucky to have heard back from my university choices quite quickly and I was very happy to receive an unconditional offer from my favourite university!

It wasn’t long before we had our first set of mocks – in November! I didn’t do particularly well in those as I’d struggled so much to revise all of the content and keep up with the work. I was also finding that I was getting extremely tired, both physically and mentally. It takes my brain 10x more effort to do everything, so with the increased workload I was exhausted!

It wasn’t helping me to attempt to keep up with the workload either as I’d often come home from school so tired just from a normal school day that I would not be able to concentrate at all. I’d get extremely early nights (a lot of the time as early as 8:30) as I was just so tired!

In year 11 and 12 I had still managed to fit athletics in with school to some extent, but in year 13 by the time it got to October I gave up with attempting to fit it in – it was impossible!

Luckily, in a way, it was Parent’s evening in December so it gave us a chance to tell my teachers about how tired I’d been etc. They all said to me “Make sure you look after yourself” etc. and  “Have a break over Christmas”. By the time it came to the Christmas holidays I don’t think I’d ever been more relieved for it to be the end of term! I had quite a bit of work to do over Christmas though, especially Computing coursework which I was quite far behind on!

It then got to January where I had another meeting with the Low Incidence Team:

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A couple of things were repeated from the other report as they had been forgotten about, such as two copies of the text books and electronic notes for the lesson. They were sorted really quickly after this though and were really helpful!

The group of friends I was in changed quite a bit on sixth form, as quite a lot of people went to college rather than sixth form. I do think, though, that through doing this blog I talk about dyspraxia more to my friends – not excessively, of course (well I hope not anyway!) I think writing about it has helped me to explain certain aspects of it better.

As our exams were approaching we found out that we still had to attend our lessons up until the exam for that particular subject, so again the same arrangements were made as for GCSE. I was so relieved, even though it would still be a struggle, I would have found it impossible to get enough revision done otherwise.

It was typical that my last exam was literally the last A Level exam – I was so happy when they were finally over though! The other day I went into school to return the laptop I had been loaned from the Low Incidence Team to the SENCo. Surprisingly, when I said thank you to her for the support she’d given me she actually said that she’d sometimes thought it hadn’t been enough! Compared to my primary school the SEN support at my secondary school has been excellent!

Year 13 was definitely the most difficult year of school but I now have a long summer (to write plenty of blog posts!) and university to look forward to in September!

Natalie 🙂

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15 Comments

  1. Beth Duxbury

    Hi Natalie, I know we didn’t talk much in school but I really love your blog! It’s really helped me to understand more about Dyspraxia and it’s so well written, and I’m sure I’m not the only person who thought this :). Keep writing because I know everyone will keep reading,
    Beth Duxbury x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Beth, aww thank you so much for such a lovely comment!! I’m really glad you like it 🙂 x

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  2. This was very informative and helpful…so strange because a lot of your work you show looks exactly like mine ten years ago…and I have never seen anyone have handwriting or pictures like mine! Honestly, A few years ago I was going through my junior high things and I was so embarrassed at the level my drawings and hand writing looked like ( my content was excellent though!) – but now that I have the lens of dyspraxia its not embarrassing…just freeing to know I did my best and it wasn’t from a lack of anything…just from a difference I did not understand before.

    I am glad most people were so supportive…I had similar comments but without people knowing the label of Dyspraxia and instead using words like clumsy ect…and yes- ALWAYS pointing out I was chosen last or was last for gym…I think in that regard it would have been a bit tougher for people to know the proper terms for what I dealt with and still be ignorant. I actually think in that regard- your experience would have been harder for me to deal with.

    I think I feel less forgiving with people who know we deal with multiple differences in my family, whom I have explained numerous times to, who still choose to say ignorant phrases, as opposed to people who still say the same phrases that hurt but don’t have any information to know better. IN that sense, I felt a tad angry at your teachers who pursued ignorance…but I am very encouraged to hear all who did…even those who did not understand exactly…
    Loved this post. I wish you the best of luck in University!

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    • That is a coincidence about your work looking similar! Yes it must make such a difference now knowing about dyspraxia. I can see what you mean regarding comments from people. Thank you so much, I’m glad you enjoyed reading this post! 🙂

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  3. Your school work looks so similar to mine, great creative ideas but just no where near enough time to finish. I love your art/music drawing btw. My primary and high school experiences were all like your primary school ones as it was the 90’s and no knew about learning difficulties unless you were really obviously ‘slow in the head’ and as I was fairly bright it never occurred to them that I had one. I think it’s fantastic that you had specific teams to go to for help even though the some of your teachers were very lazy in reading their recommendations.

    I have suspected Dyspraxia or Sensory Processing Disorder (under sensitive) but my Neuro is a bit baffled to be honest. Race To Complete made me smile ^_^ Such luck for that little dude getting you to show him and his folks around the school.

    Well done in passing your AS-levels with such awesome grades! I failed both of mine but haven’t the faintest idea why. Oops!

    I’ll look forward to reading more posts and I’m glad it’s not just one post :0)

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    • Ahh right, that must have been difficult not knowing you had dyspraxia during the time you were at school. What age did you get diagnosed, if you don’t mind me asking? Yes I am lucky that my secondary school had such a fantastic learning development department! Thank you so much for your comment, I’m really glad you enjoyed reading it 🙂

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      • I just assumed I was stupid and clumsy with a witty or clever moments occasionally. Like I was an alien stuck in a human body and planet and no one had given my the instruction manual lol

        I diagnosed myself age 31 after reading an interview with Florence Welch. It was like she was perfectly describing the way I was from being a kid to now! Then I did further research and was referred to Neurologist. I think I may have Sensory Processing Disorder as well or you could say the two disorders are practically the same when the Person with SPD is ‘Under-Responsive’ as shown here http://www.sensory-processing-disorder.com/sensory-processing-disorder-checklist.html

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      • Wow, lucky you happened to come across that article! I knew a little bit about SPD before but the checklist is very informative so have learnt a lot more about it from that, so thanks for that 🙂

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  4. Dan

    Wow… Just wow! After reading through some of your blog posts, including part 1 & 2 of your journey though school, I’m just struck by how similar some of your experiences are to mine, especially regarding social situations, taking longer to complete tasks, etc.
    I’ve always been the creative type, and took Art at GCSE- We had an Art journal of sorts that we would have to fill in throughout the year, like a portfolio, that was supposed to be completed by the end of Year 10… I didn’t finish mine until the end of Year 11!!
    So as you can tell, deadlines have never been my forte, neither has following instructions, coordination’s always been a little off… I suppose I should consider myself lucky (I had a lot of complications at birth, too much and too personal to go into detail here) but I was apparently diagnosed quite early on, around 5 years old, but for some reason the schools never offered me proper support.. or I was just too stubborn to accept it (I guess I felt it was a little patronizing). In the end I was properly diagnosed in my final year of 6th Form, but obviously by then it was too little too late save for my exams.
    Anyway like I said, it’s very refreshing and relieving to find someone that’s shared similar experiences with dealing with Dyspraxia, and all the best at Uni!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! That’s a shame you didn’t get the proper support through school, but at least you received the diagnosis at the end of sixth form. Are you at university now? I’m glad you liked it. And thank you 🙂

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      • Dan

        No, I decided not to go to Uni, Sixth Form was stressful enough for me! Strangely I never realy revised, yet still got decent grades. I’m literally just about to complete an Apprenticeship course in Business Admin, which has been quite the adventure to say the least! The company hiring me on, sticking me in their Warehouse section and basically not upholding their agreements, then making ME redundant as well as another member of staff when the company took a bit of a nosedive financially earlier this year. Luckily I was set up somewhere else, but it’s basically been almost a year wasted, and with my less-than-stellar coordination, you can imagine there were a fair few damaged products working in that Warehouse!

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      • Wow, that’s brilliant about the grades! Sounds like a stressful experience but glad to hear about your apprenticeship course 🙂

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      • Dan

        Thanks a lot 🙂 I hope you enjoy your Uni course

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Sarah

    Your blog us so insproinspiringsing. I love it gives me so much hope ☺☺ you are a very brave girl. Can i ask whàt kind of disprexia did you have was it motor dispraxia? Was your case a mild one or moderate. Did you dusufferffer from any sesnsory issues as wrll. You should ve very very proud of yourself. Good luck with colkrge ❤❤

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    • Thank you so much!! 🙂 I wasn’t told a specific type of dyspraxia when I was diagnosed, but if you mean between motor and verbal dyspraxia, it would be motor dyspraxia. I’m not really sure to be honest which I’d class it as – mild or moderate. It’s kind of hard to say as it affects people in such a range of different ways. I don’t have many sensory issues, I can be sensitive to certain textures and some noises but not many to be honest.

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