Basic skills are in the eye of the beholder

6th July 2007 at 01:00

Bedazzled by the dexterity of the techno generation, Gill Moore wonders if perhaps she's the one with special needs

I've been providing study support for a student we'll call Jekyll. He's got some learning difficulties, but it's his concentration which is the main problem. It's one minute on the assignment, two minutes messaging and three minutes of online snooker, before I drag him reluctantly back to the task in hand. It's a pattern we repeat endlessly until I say: "Look, either you do some work or I go and find something more useful to do." This strategy serves me well for all of two minutes.

His eating habits can't be helping. For lunch, he's had a bag of chips washed down with a can of cola, topped off with a family-size tub of ice cream. "That's not all," he assures me, gleefully fishing a huge bag of marshmallows out of his pocket.

I suggest a change of diet but there are so many things he says he can't eat. I try to persuade him of the nutritional value of bananas. He looks at me, deadpan: "There's too much sugar in them". If he eats the wrong things, he can get high, he says, inviting me to stare into his eyes to check the size of his pupils.

One day last week, Jekyll forgot his medication, so Hyde turned up at college instead: noisy, disruptive, and verbally abusive, with a greatly altered vocabulary. I was in a state of shock because I had no idea he could be so transformed. We soldiered on until midday when Hyde decided to head-butt a glass panel and his tutor sent him home before something more serious happened.

The following day, Jekyll was back, with nothing to link him to his alter ego other than the bruise on his forehead. How did he feel, I ask, when Hyde got a grip on him? With a disarming grin, he claims he can't remember anything he did. He drops two empty crisp packets into the bin and opens a packet of crackers, probably awash with E-numbers.

He's actually quite keen to involve me in his activities, as long as it's not his assignment, and he tends to treats me like his grandma a kindly tolerance for someone who may have been left behind by the modern world.

He takes a lot of time and trouble to explain the finer points of skateboarding as he surfs through his favourite site showing video clips of young men soaring up ramps and somersaulting. I know it's a diversionary tactic, but I go along with it for a while, before I try to steer him round to work, otherwise it's just nag, nag, nag. Then he asks me if I can understand text messaging. "Look," he says, "can you read this: gd.?"

Next Jekyll flips to a shooting game, names every weapon displayed on the screen, and wants to know if I have ever played it. "No," I tell him. "I've got very poor spatial awareness and no hand-eye co-ordination." "What does that mean?" he asks. I explain, and he looks concerned. "Have you ever seen anyone about these problems?" he asks solicitously. "You can probably get help, you know." I'm haunted all weekend by the idea that perhaps it's me that's got special needs.

Gill Moore is a basic skills tutor

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