Special days

13th February 2004 at 00:00
You can't put a price on a welcoming smile, says Maria Corby

"So it's your curry, Maria? Thank God you've come for it; it smells bloody awful." Nigel, the corporation lost property man, began filling in my form; there was no need for him to ask my name and address. This incident, some 30 years ago, was the first inkling I had that my brain just didn't function well in some areas and that I had learning difficulties. There were other clues; leaving curries on buses is one thing, but I leave things everywhere. I leave cabbages in parks, bicycles in museums and corkscrews in the library.

My loved ones are naturally concerned about my difficulties. "You drive me barmy!" shouted my husband one day when I'd lost the Eric Clapton tickets or something. "How am I supposed to put up with this?" "It's all right for you, Mike," I yelled back. "How do you think I feel?" My husband wasn't pleased. His name is Rob.

Luckily for me, the things I can do - getting on with people, communicating effectively, knowing all the words to the sausage song - have meant that I've managed to sustain a career despite my difficulties. I always knew that people could be gifted in some ways and have difficulties in others.

I've noticed successful businessmen who are surly and uncommunicative, gifted musicians who can't pour a cup of tea, and talented sports people who think they've finished a book when they've joined all the dots.

What I've come to realise is that our talents lie on different scales and each scale is as important as another. I know someone who smiles when she sees me. Though she can do little else, she is surely higher up the "human response" scale than the millionaire recluse or the executive who scowls at everyone, and surely the "human response" scale is as important as the "money-making" one. So the next time the bank manager hauls me over the coals because my maths is a little out, I shall look her in the eye and ask if she knows all the words to the sausage song. And the next time I'm exasperated at 13-year-old Louise who is having trouble matching her colours, I shall remember that she gives me a big smile, every morning - which is more than I sometimes remember to do for my family and friends.

Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym

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