Words apart

24th January 1997 at 00:00
Jonathan Butt on coming to terms with dyslexia

I was first aware that I had a learning problem 10 years ago, when I was taken out of class to learn my alphabet. I was in my second year at infants' school and my mum had asked the headmistress to find out what was troubling me. The teachers there were very helpful.

Even at infant school my mates were always teasing me about my spelling and reading. They thought it was funny and didn't realise that it was serious. When I went to junior school I had much more help with my spelling and other things, but I felt very alone and different from everyone else.

I hated being teased, but it was not as bad as my own feelings of frustration. I felt empty and thought that I was stupid and thick because I couldn't do what other people in my year were doing. Then I met some older children who had learning difficulties and who helped me understand what was wrong.

Although I would feel frustrated and angry in lessons, I didn't thump people because I've never been violent. I would just walk out of class and go to see one of the special needs teachers. They knew it was like my safety valve.

If I'd had a bad day I would go off on my bike after school and ride for miles. The next day I wouldn't want to go back to school as I was afraid of what people would say.

By the time I'd had help for four years, I had started to work out what I was good at and not so good at, and the word dyslexia had been mentioned. I was good at making and fixing things because I was good with my hands.

I knew most things about the computers we had at school, and if something needed fixing the head would ask me to do it. I used to help demonstrate the IT on parent's evenings. Once we made one of the computer screens into a TV by changing the aerial. When I was asked to do these things it made me feel good and gave me encouragement to carry on.

It was a long, hard battle to get my statement of special needs from Avon education authority. It took many letters, phone calls and visits to several directors of education. My mum, the special needs teacher and the headteacher of my junior school, went to many meetings and found out as much information as possible about dyslexia, so we were well prepared. I was kept informed, and attended a lot of the meetings with my teachers and my mum, which I considered important.

At the final meeting - after my mum had written to Kenneth Clarke, who was the Education Secretary then - the director of education told her he was prepared to give me an extra half-an-hour on my allotted time, because she had put forward such a good case, and fought long and hard, when most parents would have given up.

Apparently, I was extremely fortunate to obtain a statement. I think that's unfair and sad - many children were unsuccessful because they did not have anyone to fight for them.

When it came through I was glad in a way, but sad in another, because it did prove that I had a problem and that there was something wrong with me. And it didn't say anything positive like, "Jonathan is good at maths and technical things".

I didn't like my first secondary school. They treated everyone who was dyslexic as if they were exactly the same and they didn't try to understand you at all. By that, I mean that special needs teachers should teach the individual and not just the problem. They put me in the lower sets for everying, even maths and science, and I just got fed up and became disruptive.

At Chipping Sodbury School things are much better because the learning support staff work as a team, not only on improving the three-Rs, but also boosting your self confidence. They do not leave you at the end of the lesson if you still need help and are willing to help after school or at lunch times.

To someone else who was dyslexic I would say take all the help that is offered and don't worry about what your friends say. Don't be embarrassed by in-class support. I'm not, as it's better than being taken out of lessons and not being able to do the same work as everyone else.

Drama is a good subject to do because you can express your feelings and emotions without writing it down. English literature is harder because you have to explain it all on paper. Don't just work hard at the subjects you are good at, work hard at everything.

After school I hope to go to agricultural college and study for a Higher National Diploma in forest management which I may then convert to a BSc degree. In 10 years time I see myself working as a forest manager for Fountain Forestry, or one of the other big companies in America.

Now I am older I realise that there are many others like me. I no longer consider myself "thick and stupid", but as someone with a learning difficulty that can be overcome with help.

I know I will be able to succeed in whatever I choose to do with my life providing I work a little harder. I don't think there is anything I can't do because I am dyslexic. You've just got to work harder than anyone else; if you do then you can get there.

Jonathan Butt will take nine GCSEs at Chipping Sodbury School in south Gloucester this summer and then intends to study A-levels

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