Naughty or Neurodiverse?

Don’t know why your child appears ‘hyper’, ‘unruly’, ‘lazy’, ‘clumsy’, struggling with literacy, stressed, or overwhelmed at school and/or at home?

I know and understand that child well!

I was that child who had no idea why I functioned in that way! What’s more, no one seemed to have an answer or any solutions to the challenges I faced- NO ONE!… the school, my community, my family, my friends, society! They unwittingly made it worse due to their lack of awareness of neurodiversity.

Thankfully, I now know my behaviour was not because I was naughty. It was my way of expressing how stressful I found life in general, being constantly told that I was just being naughty or difficult. I carried these words and beliefs into adulthood.

“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice” Peggy O’Mara

In this blog, I will share my journey from being an undiagnosed neurodiverse child to becoming a dyslexia tutor and advocate for neurodiverse children and their parents. Following my early experiences, I have made it my mission to offer hope and guidance through the neurodiversity maze, to parents of neurodiverse children.

Square peg in a round hole

As a child, I always felt different but didn’t know why. I didn’t fit in with the other children in my village who naturally excelled in ballet and other activities. I was known as the class clown and struggled to make things like a Doogle (Magic Roundabout) out of a toilet roll with wool at nursery. While other children were praised for their creations, I felt mine was compared to my classmates. I loved cooking, but my cakes always turned out like cow pats. All the other girls looked sweet, neat, and girly, and I looked a mess with my socks halfway around my ankles. I longed to make the creations on Blue Peter but never bothered, as I knew they would be a disaster!

I felt inadequate and inferior to my peers, and this cast a shadow over my whole life. These experiences made me feel lost and socially isolated in my family and community. The stress manifested via my immune system causing psoriasis and sinus issues that led to teasing from my peers and harsh judgments from teachers. Growing up was very confusing and disorientating; what made it worse was that I had no idea why, and there was nothing I could do to change my situation!

…Why did you do that you careless girl?

When I was ten, I was rushing to catch the school bus because I was afraid of getting in trouble if I missed it! It was a snowy day and as I ran across the road, I was hit by a white car I hadn’t seen. Thankfully, I only grazed my knees, but my teacher scolded me in front of my classmates for being so ‘stupid’! The whole school later learned about this ‘shameful’ incident, and the head teacher used me as an example of what not to do. I felt humiliated and shamed!

I also struggled with clumsiness and poor hand-eye coordination, which the teacher would point out in front of everyone making me feel embarrassed. She made me re-write my poetry ten times, and my weaving attempt was a disaster, despite having ancestors who worked as weavers in Lancashire mills. Another pupil held it up, commenting on ‘Judith’s progress!’

Tears behind the clown…

As a teenager, I struggled academically and felt inadequate compared to my classmates. Despite knowing all the answers verbally in class, I received a C in geography and struggled typing on a manual typewriter. I even attempted needlework but felt ashamed of my inferior results. The stress I felt worsened my psoriasis and caused stomach migraines and nightmares. I was ungraceful and unladylike in my movement, and I felt very exposed and conscious of it. I didn’t think I had much to offer to fit in with my peers, so I leaned into my ability to make people laugh and became the class clown playing on my ‘antics’.

As a young woman, whilst all my friends appeared to have their career paths mapped out, I lost several jobs and struggled to find meaningful work and a career. This compounded my feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy and caused depression. To make matters worse, I lost my first baby at 4 days old, which affirmed the belief I couldn’t do anything right.

One newspaper article, one life-changing moment!

When I was 26, I read a Dyspraxia Foundation article. Reading this prompted me to get a Dyspraxia assessment resulting in a formal diagnosis and occupational therapy. It was a huge relief to chat with people who finally understood my challenges.

This kickstarted my healing journey. I felt so grateful to have finally found help and support that I decided to share what I had learned about Dyspraxia to help others improve their quality of life and shared my experiences in several publications and on television.

As a result, I received many letters from others who had had similar experiences, which led me to transform my difficult childhood experiences into my life mission.

Labelling vs Mislabelling?

Over the years some parents have told me they don’t want their children “labelled”. As an undiagnosed ND child, I was regularly mislabelled due to a lack of knowledge, and this affected my mental health and self-esteem. For me to have had a correct label would have been life-changing, as it would have led to me receiving the right help and support and made me feel that I wasn’t ‘lazy’ ‘clumsy’ ‘scatterbrained’ or a ‘difficult’ child, just a child with ‘difficulties’ who needed additional support!

Receiving life support

Alongside my ongoing challenges with Dyspraxia, in my 40’s, I was also diagnosed with related conditions, Dyslexia, ADHD, and ASD. That’s why I refer to myself as a neurodiverse woman!

From that point onwards I fully understood why I struggled so much as a child and was able to continue my journey with additional help and support. Utilising this support, I was able to train as a Specialist Dyslexia Tutor and an AD(H)D coach. In 2008, I set up my own business, The Extra Dimension and since then, I have supported hundreds of neurodiverse children to lead more flourishing lives.

At the grand old age of 52, with the help of the student disability allowance, I was able to attend university and achieve a Post Graduate Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology, which I never dreamed possible. I am so grateful for Ceri Sims’s belief in and acceptance of me in my first year, during which I developed the ability to focus and build on what’s working/going well, amongst other excellent life-enhancing skills.

What my journey has taught me!

I have learned since being diagnosed, that while knowledge and understanding are improving, it is still patchy. It saddens me today that some children are still being mislabelled as ‘lazy’ or ‘unfocused’ and punished for their behaviour, receiving unnecessary detentions, or not earning their pen license because they often find writing challenging. To me, this emphasises the need to raise awareness and offer further training to educational professionals, highlighting the challenges neurodiverse children face daily and how to address this.

I long to see the day when all children, but especially those who are neurodiverse, go to school to learn and develop their unique strengths and personalities alongside their more formal learning. I would love to see the curriculum updated to include more emotional and social skills and more opportunities for developing creativity.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

My journey has led me to develop skills I didn’t even know I had!

Curiosity and love of learning

Having found the answers to my childhood challenges, I developed a determination to identify any issues and find practical solutions for myself and others.

Patience and understanding

I know how damaging other people’s misunderstanding of neurodiversity can be, and the impact this can have on confidence and self-esteem, even if they meant well. This has helped me to become more resilient to other people’s attitudes towards neurodiversity. I now use this knowledge to show empathy and understanding to my students.

Kindness, compassion, and gratitude

When I was growing up, I didn’t feel that I received the same kindness and compassion shown to other children around me. Over the years, I have developed kindness towards myself and to others to compensate. I have also studied and developed an attitude of gratitude. I value anything positive and validating and I appreciate anyone who takes the time to hear my story.

I’m also very grateful to all the parents who have entrusted me to help and support their children in developing and improving their literacy despite being neurodiverse myself.

Humour

This is another strength that has emerged from being a neurodiverse woman. Living with Dyspraxia is challenging, and my difficulties with working memory planning and organising have sometimes caused me to have comical moments. It has taught me to laugh at myself and make people laugh.

So, despite the challenges along the way, I believe I have learned many valuable skills that have enhanced my life and the lives of many neurodiverse children and their parents. I look forward to continuing to build on and share helpful information to guide parents of neurodiverse children on their journey to a brighter future.

If you want to learn more about how I help young children thrive I’d love to hear from you.

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