Fight the good fight

10th November 1995 at 00:00
My husband and I have four healthy, handsome children, ranging in age from 9 to 4 years. Our two eldest both boys have been diagnosed as having specific learning difficulties. The 10 year-old has dyspraxia which affects the co-ordination of physical movements and the eight year-old has dyslexia. If you met them they would appear quite normal and behave as many children of their age. Both are bright. One has a statement of special education needs and is now prospering with support, and we are in the process of trying to secure an assessment for the other.

Theirs are hidden handicaps, but nevertheless, in their own way these are as crippling as any physical impairment. They can be overcome, but will never go away. We experience all the stresses of handicap the children not quite fitting in with their peers, the frustration when they cannot achieve, the battle to get their problems recognized and addressed. And the guilt that somehow we may be to blame that our genetic cocktail wasn't all that it might have been.

The idea to write this came to me having talked to another mother whose child is failing and is about to embark on the long tussle to secure a future for them. Most of all I want to sing the praises of the army of mums yes, dads do contribute, but mostly it is mothers who conduct a daily war of attrition against the dragons of bureaucracy.

When one's child starts to fail, the first instinct is to think it a temporary aberration. Parent teacher consultations never seem to get further than a polite chat. Friends and family patiently listen to one trying to make sense of it all. "Heshe's still very young, there's lots of time . . ." But there isn't.

When trying to get reports or advice, the longest winter term flashes past. Coupled with this is your child's fluctuating progress. For our sons every small change to their routine is potentially a major crisis, and has to be planned for and coped with. It's a nightmare balancing act. On the one hand supporting the child without swamping it. On the other, exercising diplomatic skills worthy of the United Nations.

And of course there are hundreds, if not thousands of children worse off than ours. Perhaps we are seeking to gild the lily, to allow our children the means to fulfil their potential. They may choose not to do so, but at least they should have the chance.

Experts say that children with special learning deficiencies have low self esteem well so do their parents. Yet to get through the system one needs persistence, the hide of a rhino, the constitution of an ox and an encyclopaedic memory. One steps out into the dark with trepidation and each set-back is as shocking and hurtful as the first.

So, to all the battered parents who have to watch their bright, happy, outgoing children turn inwards and retreat as the school gates approach keep fighting.

This week is the Dyslexia Institute's Action on Literacy Week

The author lives in Hertfordshire

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