'School's a constant living nightmare'

27th September 1996 at 01:00
Eleven-year old Danny Holloway likes the idea of school but the reality requires so much effort that by lunchtime he wants to give up. He has difficulty dressing himself, can't run without falling over, constantly fidgets and irritates his classmates by dropping things.

Although he's very articulate, Danny can't write clearly or quickly. He has no real friends so he sits on his own in the playground. His mother, Fiona, says she knew something was wrong from the moment he was born - "he cried continuously, didn't suck properly". Later, as a toddler he was given speech therapy as he wouldn't talk. But it wasn't until he was nine that he was finally diagnosed as severely dyspraxic - his mother read a newspaper article, went to his GP, who arranged for an assessment at Great Ormond Street children's hospital.

According to Fiona, Danny's progress through school has been "a constant, living nightmare. I've had to fight all the way. I dread the phone ringing. ..if I hear a teacher's voice, I think, 'what's he done now, what's going to happen next?'"

In primary school Danny would refuse to get dressed after PE and run around naked - but the educational psychologist said this was "normal". He hid at playtime because he couldn't cope with the playground; his teachers told him he was "very naughty". By seven his handwriting and reading were clearly adrift.

His mother spent two years harassing the local education authority and threatening legal action, before Danny was finally statemented. Meanwhile he was bullied and ostracised - for a year no one would partner him during country dancing.

His statement entitled him to an hour-and-a-half of help a day but the help was not specialised.

Following more pestering from his mother, he was given a laptop computer - but not taught to type. In his penultimate year in primary school his teacher admitted she couldn't cope with him.

The bullying got worse, he retaliated, the school labelled him a troublemaker. His mother organised an occupational therapist to speak to the staff but this was not taken up. One day Danny was found at the gates attempting to run away.

Deeply worried, his parents pleaded for a place at a small village school, Beenham County Primary near Reading in Berkshire. The head agreed to take him if the local authority offered 10 hours of support a week (actually they offered nine-and-a-half but the school relented).

"It's not perfect, but the teachers do listen, they've read everything about dyspraxia, they're professional and sympathetic," says Mrs Holloway. Indeed, the head helped her fight for a statement which entitled Danny to 15 hours of support a week.

Next year, however, Danny will go to secondary school and his mother believes without full-time support he will be lost.

"There are 90 teachers and 1,400 kids. I'm frightened - how am I going to teach them what they need to know about dyspraxia? The minute he gets himself a bad name or upsets a teacher, they'll want to dump him in a special school. Yet he's highly intelligent, his teachers admit that, it's just that he's trapped by his body. The trouble is, he looks so normal."

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