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Archive for July, 2014

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Dyspraxia and Being an Education Assistant

I trained to be an Education Assistant 3 years ago. I wanted to help children who were having difficulties at school for whatever reason.Sometimes that extra time spent with a child can make the difference between success or failure. Children with learning disabilities are not stupid. They just have extra challenges that children with neuro-typical brains don’t have. Sometimes they just need to be shown a different way or more times than the rest of the class. Some things they will never be able to do quite as well as their peers  but with extra help they can improve. Other things they will achieve with extra help. Either way they need patience and understanding to achieve the best they can possibly be.

I decided to become an Education Assistant after helping voluntarily at my daughters school for 2 years. I spent 2 days a week in my daughters year 6/7 class. The following year when she moved up to the next class , the classroom teacher asked me if I would continue to help her even though she was no longer teaching my daughter. I helped one day a week for another year. Both the classroom teacher and the Headmistress of the school encouraged me to train as an Education Assistant and they gave me a very good reference. I would help the children with maths problems they didn’t understand and reading out spelling words. I also helped the teacher with marking tests. I did some photocopying  and recorded and filed test results. I got on well with the children and they would often chat to me. My dyspraxia was not really a problem with children of this age. I didn’t need to do any cutting out or drawing because children of this age can do that for themselves. I must have done a good job as I am sure they wouldn’t have encouraged me to get formal qualifications if I was useless. unfortunately most Education Assistant jobs are not with this age group.

I applied and was accepted into TAFE the following year.I had no problems with the academic work. I did have a few issues with binding books and creating puppets. They were only mild difficulties until I came to the work placement part of the course. I had to work between 2 year 1 classes. Helping the children with reading maths etc was no problem. I was a little slow on the photocopier but I did manage to do it. The problem was when you are an EA in a lower primary or pre-primary class you often have to prepare activities for the teacher. This often involves drawing or cutting. On this occasion it involved cutting. I had to cut out 60 koalas for the children to do an activity. I was concentrating so hard my head was hurting. I took longer then I should and sadly the class Education Assistant had to tidy them up when I had finished. It was very disheartening.

I was very lucky in my placement however. Unusually both the teachers and the EA understood dyspraxia. They were very good and didn’t get angry with me. The main teacher was very good . Although she was always aware of my limitations she would push me to try things I didn’t think I could do. One of these things was painting windows. When she told me we were going to paint a rhino and a leopard on the classroom windows in each room. I would do the rhino in one room and the leopard in the other. We did use some cheats and what the EA showed me to do was very clever. She traced a picture of a rhino and a leopard onto the clear film for an overhead projector. We blue tacked paper to the outside of the class window to block the light. We collected the overhead projector  from the science lab and projected the image onto the window. Then standing on a chair I had to draw around the outline with a marker pen. I wasnt entirely comfortable standing on the chair, but it was only a child size chair so it wasnt to bad. I then had to paint the rhino and leopard. It was a far from perfect job but the kids knew what it was. I was so happy I took photos to show my kids because for me that was an achievement.03062011(001)

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Sadly most Education assistant jobs are in these lower grades were they can be utilised to help the teacher with activities as well. It is a pity because I am good at maths and was fine at helping the children who were having difficulties. I could offer a child with special needs an understanding that someone with a neuro -typical brain can’t. I have been that child in fact when I go to TAFE I am still that child. Like anything in life we can all be sympathetic to someones situation. But you only truly understand how something feels if you have lived it your self. If I could get a job in an older classroom I would be fine but as most jobs continue to be with younger children were I need to be able to cut etc, I have no choice but to look for a new career.03062011(001)

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The Greatest Gift Anyone Ever Gave Me

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Growing up I was a very clumsy child. I would walk into things, drop things and knock things over. I remember we often used to walk barefoot in those days and my big toes were always bleeding because I would constantly stub them. In most families the older siblings help the younger ones. In our house my younger siblings helped me.

At school I was the child who couldn’t skip, couldn’t catch a ball or play hopscotch. I was always IT in Chasey because everyone knew they could catch me. I was the last child to be allowed to use a pen because my writing was so bad. At sport I was always the last child picked because nobody wanted me on their team. even the over weight children ( rare in those days) were picked before me.  I was frequently told I wasn’t trying when I was trying my best.

I was teased relentlessly because I was the freaky kid who couldn’t ride a bike or tie her shoe laces. I was 13 and my friends would still have to tie my laces up for me. I learnt to ride a bike at 12 but not very well. To this day I would rather walk because riding a bike is just to hard. I would sit on the sidelines and watch because if I tried to join in I knew I would fail and be laughed at.

My self-esteem plummeted. If you are told enough that you are stupid Or useless you believe it. So many times I heard why can’t you try harder. People would get frustrated with me for knocking a drink over or making crumbs everywhere while eating. I became shy to the point that I was afraid to open my mouth. So much so that if I was asked a question in class I would burst into tears even though I often knew the answer. This of course got me teased even more.

When I was 13 my mum bought the Women’s Weekly because a pop star I liked was in it. There was an article in it she read about “the clumsy child syndrome” . The article was describing me. She said it never occurred to her there was anything wrong with me, and that this was just the way I was. My mum took me to the GP who got me to do a couple of things like balancing on one leg. (Which I couldn’t do). I was referred to Princess Margaret Hospital and told yes you have Clumsy Child Syndrome. ( now known as dyspraxia or DCD)

The diagnosis didn’t really change anything. In those days there was no help for special needs children in school. I was given a few months of Occupational Therapy which didn’t really make much difference. All I was told was you have  an eye hand co-ordination difficulty and we can’t do anymore for you. Get on with your life. Of course there is so much more to dyspraxia then just  motor skills. Nobody told me that my other problems like not being able to multi task or being disorganised where part of what I had. Perhaps if I had known it may have helped my self-esteem more  but I would be well into my adult life before I discovered it.

I met my ex husband when I was 18. I was  very shy and lacked confidence. When you have spent your whole life being unable to do things and being told you are stupid, you just accept it as true. Poor self esteem had left me vulnerable to bullying and manipulation.  In 2006 he left me with 4 children aged between 2 and 13. I was scared because I truly believed I wasn’t capable of anything and I now had these 4 children completely dependent on me. I soon discovered  I was a lot happier without him. One day I was in Millers with my mum and the shop assistant said to me how different I was. She said to me how she always used to see me with my husband and I would be looking at the floor. A few people had said the same thing to me but when a stranger said it to me I knew it had to be true. I used to avoid eye contact with people because I had been told nobody liked me and I believed it.

In April 2008 my cousin told me I should try Facebook. She said it was good fun. After a few weeks I decided to add an application called Are You interested. I wasn’t interested in a relationship ( in fact it was the last thing I wanted) but it was a good way to meet people from all over the world to talk to. I wasn’t the only one using it for that reason. A lot of people were using it to find friends. But I was so shy I even found it difficult to talk to people online. I remember the first guy that tried to talk to me. The conversation was painful and very one way, with him asking all the questions. I wanted badly to be able to talk but I was just so shy I couldn’t do it.

On August 4 2008 I woke at 6 am and turned Facebook on as usual. A man I had recently added as a friend said hello and started a conversation. He asked if I had a MSN account  so we swapped over to talking on MSN. There was something different about this man immediately. I remember him saying to me that I was really funny because I didn’t ask any questions. I wanted to but I was just too shy. Usually I tell people I need to go when it is time to get the kids out of bed but this morning I remember helping my son put his shorts on with the keyboard balanced on my knee. I remember when we did say goodbye I was frustrated with myself. You really blew that I said to myself . You are so stupid not saying anything . He is never going to talk to you again.

But I was wrong . The next morning he spoke to me again  and every morning after that. Eventually I was getting up at 4 am so I could talk to him before the kids went to school. He soon started telling me off if I said I was stupid or I was sorry all the time. I didn’t even realise I was doing it. He said I wasn’t to say I was sorry when I had done nothing to be sorry for. I had been conditioned to think everything was my fault so that was what I believed.  He told me I wasn’t to say I was stupid because I wasn’t. Every time I would say it he would tell me not to. He told me he didn’t  like me to say it because I wasn’t stupid. I would always say I was sorry because I was used to being told everything was my fault. He encouraged me to do things I didn’t think I could and told me to have more confidence.  . He believed in me  and through that I learnt to believe in myself.

A couple of years later when I thanked him he said to me that he didn’t do anything. Perhaps what he did wasn’t huge in the scheme of the world, but for me and my world it was massive. Yes anybody could have done it but they didn’t. He cared and took the time to help me feel better about myself. When he saw a vulnerable  woman lacking in confidence  he didn’t try to manipulate or bully me like other people had done. Instead he tried to encourage me to feel better about myself.

I began to grow a little in confidence. If this incredibly clever man ( he speaks 3 languages and can speak a little of another 3 and has 2 university degrees) thought I was worth something then maybe I reasoned I was. One day I was talking to my cousin on facebook and she said to me “is this really my cousin Sharon” .”why ”I said. She told me that she usually had trouble getting me to say anything much.  I had been so shy that even talking to a cousin I had grown up with was difficult. Now at least I could hold a conversation.

In 2010 I arranged to meet another cousin for coffee. We hadn’t seen each other since her nieces birthday party in December 2005. She couldn’t get over how much I had changed. I remember the party well. I wanted to talk to people but I just sat there as usual saying nothing to afraid to open my mouth . Now I sat and chatted normally. I still couldn’t give a speech in public but I could have a conversation without fear.

In 2012 I finally met this man in person. I was nervous but very excited. I can’t describe what a strange feeling it was. We knew each other so well and I had told him things I had never told anyone else. Yet we were strangers in a way because we had never met. I didn’t need to worry , I felt comfortable with him immediately. That first night he asked me to make him a promise. He took his glasses off as he wanted me to look into his eyes and see that he really meant what he was saying. I want you to promise that you wont say you are stupid or fat,he said. ”Nobody else is allowed to say it either because it isn’t true”. He told me I was pretty and smart and  had to be more confident. I was incredibly touched by this. The 9 days I spent with this man were the happiest of my life. For the first time ever I felt as good as everyone else. For me it was like being let out of a cage.

I came home a different person to when I left. For some people in my life this was a problem at first. If there was a difference of opinion they were used to me backing down and agreeing I was  wrong. I was still willing to listen to the opinions off others but if I still didn’t agree with them I was confident enough to say so. Eventually they got used to it and accepted the change in me.

You are probably wondering why I am telling you this story and there are several reasons. Through living his I have realised how important self-esteem is. I accepted being treated in ways in the past that I would never accept now. We must build our children’s self-esteem so that they will grow up feeling good about themselves and not accept less than they deserve. We must think before we speak and tell them what they do right and not just what they do wrong. Anyone with low self-esteem is vulnerable to those people who like to manipulate and bully.We have all read how if you tell a child they are naughty or stupid enough then they will believe it. This is true for adults as well. However if we tell them how clever or funny they are instead then that is how they will see themselves. I would not have accepted the way I was treated if I had felt good enough about myself to know I deserved better.

The other thing I have learnt is just how damaging that self talk in your head can be. I wasnt even aware I was doing it until it was pointed out to me. The words in our own heads can be the most damaging of all. If you find your self thinking negative things stop and think of something positive about yourself. Now when I catch myself saying I am stupid, I remember my promise. I believe when we make a promise we must keep it. Now I remind myself that I am not stupid, my brain just works a little differently to most peoples. Then I remind myself that I must be more confident.

Sadly shy people are often mistaken for snobs when it is exactly the opposite.  Sometimes they just need some words of encouragement or someone to believe in them. We are all capable of doing what this man did for me . You may not change the world but you could change someones world.

I know there are many things in my life that I would not have achieved if I had not met this man including writing this blog and representing my son at the Industrial Relations Tribunal.. Perhaps you can’t understand what this man did for me just by believing in me. I don’t think he does either. Maybe you must have been in that place where you truly don’t believe you are worth anything or anyone would ever like you to truly understand. It is a horrible place and if  by writing this I can inspire just one person to be saved from it then it will have been worth it.

This man gave me the gift of self belief and self esteem. It is the greatest gift anyone has ever given me. Greater then anything money can buy and I will never be able to thank him enough for what he did.