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How disability has changed my educational experience
I’m Natalie, I’m 21 and I have dyspraxia and mild cerebral palsy. I blog about my experiences as someone with dyspraxia/CP, which can be found at The Blog With One Post. I’m a psychology student and will soon be starting my Master’s.
Having been in education for the past 17 years, I can certainly say my experiences have been different to those of others. Some of the areas my dyspraxia and cerebral palsy affect are my balance, coordination, fine and gross motor skills, concentration, thought processing and fatigue. My primary school didn’t know much about dyspraxia at all (and I hadn’t been diagnosed with CP at the time), so I didn’t really get any support during primary school. Thankfully my secondary school were much more understanding and I was given various extra support including extra time, a laptop and rest breaks for exams. At university I have been provided with a variety of equipment through DSA, such as a voice recorder, arm rests for my desk and assistive technology (notetaking software, mindmapping software, speech-to-text software and text-to-speech software).
So firstly, there’s the direct effects of my disability on my educational experience. For example, having difficulties with handwriting meant that I used a laptop to make notes in lessons at school. A slower processing speed meant that I would take longer to complete homework than others would. Struggling with fatigue (particularly during sixth form) meant that I would often come home from school and not be able to concentrate on homework/revision at all, adding to the concentration difficulties I already have as a result of dyspraxia. Any subjects involving coordination or good motor skills were also a huge struggle – P.E., music, art, textiles etc.
Secondly, there are the resulting effects of having a disability in terms of my educational experience. For me, many of these are due to having a hidden disability (although I have ataxic cerebral palsy, it is very mild – and dyspraxia is a hidden disability). At the start of a new school year I would get my laptop out in the lesson and would be faced with questions asking “Why are you using a laptop?” , “Will you be using it all the time?” – not just from peers but from teachers too!
Luckily my school had a fantastic learning development department, so if I had any problems such as this I would go to the SENCo’s office during break and lunch times. Whilst it was reassuring to know that issues such as this would be sorted, it also meant that I would sometimes miss bits of break and lunchtime. Similarly, at university I would sometimes spend breaks between lectures attending my one to one study support sessions (I have this support provided via Skype now which works much better for me).
My dyspraxia also affects me socially – for example, I find it harder to make new friends and I struggle to keep up with conversations in big groups of people. This affected me a lot during both primary and secondary school. Thankfully, during my more recent years of education – sixth form and university – my friends have been really understanding.
On the other hand, having a disability has certainly changed my educational experience in many positive ways. The fact that everything takes me longer to do than it does for others has made me determined and hard-working. Having a disability has even influenced my career path! I’d love to become an educational psychologist and hopefully change how others experience education in a positive way, helping to ensure people have the right support in place. Without going through education with a disability, I certainly don’t think I’d feel as passionate about this as I do. Whilst having a disability has made certain aspects of education more challenging, I definitely wouldn’t change it due to the positive effects it has had.
Let us know what your experiences are! Aside from the struggles you may have had, has disability impacted your educational experience in a positive way?