Pug diaries -Too clumsy for words Рdumbing down dyspraxia part 2 

Having had a lot of heartfelt feedback about my previous blog on dyspraxia I thought I would try to expand a bit further. 
Let me start by saying that in my experience we live in a society that labels . 

  

My beloved mother was a nurse and worked for most of her career in elderly care. She taught me that when we look at an elderly patient we only see what is in front of us, the frailty, the dementia, the illness. We called them ‘geriatrics’ or even worse ‘gerries’. We see what’s on the tin but we don’t see the contents inside. We don’t see the person that has been , nor the richness of the life lived. The best advice my mother gave me in this respect was to talk to older people, but more importantly to listen, to appreciate their histories, their place in the world and hear the tapestry of their experience. They are not a caricature sketched in the lines of old age . They are multi dimensional and once we see them like that we respond to them differently. In my experience she was right . 
I came across this great photo recently and it encapsulates what I mean . 
 

The same applies to people with disabilities . There is a danger that we see the disability not the person. I have a good friend who is a doctor. He is also profoundly dyslexic. I wouldn’t know that until I saw his written word because he is highly intelligent, articulate and has many interests that he pursues successfully. He is also an excellent doctor but he just can’t spell for toffee amongst other dyslexic limitations. He is also highly quirky, interesting and a tad eccentric and all for the better. 
My son Jamie is dyspraxic but he isn’t ‘A’ dyspraxic . He is a vibrant, intelligent, loving and capable young man with a wicked sense of humour and an immense talent for music and languages. He has a functional condition that he has to work hard to overcome to be able to live the life that he wants without hinderance, but it does not define him . It’s simply one facet of who he is.

   

 This is an important perspective because I have never presumed that Jamie can not do something because he has dyspraxia. It’s very easy to overcompensate and not allow someone to stretch their boundaries . We kill with kindness. That said, I have always understood when he tried and couldn’t do something or couldn’t do it well, but I always encouraged him to try . 
So, he had a couple of years horse riding as a small child . I didn’t know that he was dyspraxic at the time but I knew that it takes coordination and confidence, particularly for someone with sequencing and motor skills difficulties, and I knew he had these. 

He loved it. He wasn’t particularly going to be an Olympic equestrian but by the time he moved onto other things he could competently canter round the ring and go over small jumps. 
He also did judo. 
Now, you may not know that a common factor in dyspraxia is hyper extension of the muscles and upper body weakness. From the banal frustration of not being able to get the lids off jars to learning how to throw someone to the floor in a complex sequence of judo moves, this was undoubtedly a hindrance to him and has always been so. But he did it and got a few brightly coloured belts to his name and it improved his confidence and coordination, though he still struggles to get the lids off jars!

When he announced at the age of 8 that he wanted to learn cello I was horrified but only at the sheer thought of having to lug this huge ungainly bit of kit around, I didn’t think he couldn’t do it, I just wished he preferred trumpet, violin or some such other more manageable musical passion. Later when I knew he was dyspraxic I was incredibly proud to see him develop as a skilled cellist taking his musical grades and passing them with merits and distinctions . 

He didn’t particularly like written music theory. Those in the know about dyspraxia will be aware that complex patterns can appear to be just a sea of dancing shapes and in Jamie’s case basically getting in the way of a good tune, but he understood it as a means to an end – his beloved music. So, he slogged at it and got his grades and can competently sight read, manage music scales and is a pretty good musical arranger. Who would have thought it when I watched him fighting with a jigsaw or a piece of Lego getting more and more frustrated at the jumble of unrelated shapes and colours in a tangled mess in front of him!
I tell you these things not to boast about him but to set a context. 
My father told me that you can do anything you want in life if you want it enough. I have always told my kids the same. It might not be easy . There are always obstacles, but if the passion to achieve something is there, it can be done. I think both of my kids have proved that in many ways and I think that part of that is our collective determination to avoid labels and look at the whole person not the ‘condition’ or the limitation. 
Sadly, not everyone sees this the same and it has not always been easy to gain the understanding and acceptance of key influencers who could and should have made a difference. Where Jamie had supportive understanding mentors, he excelled. They brought out the best in him and celebrated his talents rather than his limitations. In his case the proof is definitely in the Languages, English and Musical pudding. 
However, I recall at one famous parents evening, a particular teacher saying to me that Jamie couldn’t be bothered to make an effort because ‘everything came to him easy and always had’. I burned with the humiliating way this was said undermining Jamie’s confidence further in a topic he actually loved, but just couldn’t get the results. I was most incensed however because Jamie never had it easy. Because of his difficulties, he had to work to overcome obstacles and everything was a challenge, particularly where numbers or formulae were involved. The injustice made my blood boil. The battle was unequal. 
Jamie’s coordination problems were not all down to dyspraxia . He was pushing six feet tall when he reached his teens and long gangly limbs and poor coordination are not a great mix. Then of course the onset of acne and teenage weight gain, coupled with a growing awareness that he was gay did not make for an easy life. He was the perfect fodder for bullies and I am convinced to this day that this is what honed his talent for acerbic wit and cutthroat responses. He might not have been the muscle on the pitch but he could win any battle of words. He is also the champion of the underdog. He can’t abide bullies or injustice and no doubt from his own experience isn’t backwards at saying his piece about the things he feels strongly about. 

Looking at him today you would never know these parts of his tapestry but they are part of the fabric that makes him the person he is today. 

  

Of course dyspraxia is not all about coordination. 
Autistic spectrum disorders manifest themselves in many and quirky ways . Often people who are dyspraxic have hyper sensitive skin, particularly on their scalps and dislike having their heads or hair touched. Jamie is no exception, but also hates his neck being touched to almost phobic proportions.
Rituals become part of every day life. Whether it is turning around twice before sitting down, or doing things in a certain sequence, the need to control and organise to survive either results in, or exacerbates, already inherent obsessive behaviour patterns. 
These are not big issues that should hold someone back . We are all different and I, for one, love quirky people and Jamie is definitely quirky. It makes for an interesting myriad of changing patterns and colours but we all have things that add layers to our personas and the world would be a less interesting and greyer place without these subtle differences. 

   
   

My daughter for example, always puts the knives and forks out the wrong way round. This has never held her back, she isn’t dyspraxic, it’s just one of her quirks and I’m sure it won’t stop her being a top class doctor when she qualifies. She will, however, have to remember her right from her left but we won’t hold that against her. 
  

Labels are for jars not for people. 
I want to know if it’s lemon curd or strawberry jam because I like one and hate the other. People are not quite so straightforward. You wouldn’t know that Jamie was dyspraxic at first sight and you might not ever have known if he hadn’t shared his story. The important thing in knowing is not to label him but to accept that in his particular combination of neurones he has some things he has to deal with that are different from many other people, that he has to work hard to overcome these, but that it is not who he is, simply how his particular systems of connecting wires and levers works.  
When we label we limit. Sometimes, as in Jamie’s case, we have to label to get the right level of assistance and support in those formative years but that should be a quiet well oiled mechanism to gear up useful action and reaction, not a neon sign shouting ‘different’ 
Jamie is absolutely not ‘A’ dyspraxic.
He is gifted and talented, intelligent and quirky. He has a myriad of achievements and many skills. There is little that phases him in life – as long as he doesn’t have to tie his shoelaces quickly! 

  

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Pug diaries -The tale of the disappearing rabbit and other strange events

In my pug wanderings this week there has been a definite theme of survival of the fittest and it’s brought to mind the sort of ‘shower thoughts’ about life, love and philosophy – you know the ones where you have arguments with yourself and plan what you are going to say about something or what you wish you had said because it never comes out that way in reality?

  
Well, it all started with the poor little hedgehog that clearly had a battle with a car and lost. I first saw this sad picture three or four days ago and noticed today on my walk with Princess Peggy, that it still lies there to all intents and purposes intact, but definitely dead . That set me thinking, because yesterday on my early morning pug wander, I saw a wild rabbit mangled into a very odd calamity of tangled front and back legs lying in the middle of the road and clearly having breathed its last.
  

On my way back from our constitutional however, the rabbit had moved and unless it was supernatural forces at work, it certainly could not have been of its own volition. That said, moved it had, to the side of the road and lying in a different position with a trail of unpleasant insides behind it. 
Suddenly in front of me, a couple of magpies swept down, having patiently circled above us unseen like buzzards. Watching them I realised that the little corpse had been dragged to the side of the road by the local carnivores, who clearly did not want to follow in its unfortunate footsteps, so pulled their prey to a safer place to eat at will 
Sometime later, the time for afternoon pug fest was upon us and I casually looked at the spot to see that the little carcass had gone altogether. This seemed hard to credit. I would at the very least have expected to see remnants of some kind. Then catching my eye, was a very neatly ‘french trimmed’ set of bones way over in the field where they had been casually taken as carrion and picked quite clean, all in the space of a few hours. 
This sad little tale led me to think about our passion for rabbits and dogs and horses and other animals and the angst we rightly feel when they are treated with cruelty, abandoned, run over or stolen. 
The Yulin scandal has in itself alerted the world to the plight of common cats and dogs when the time for traditional eastern delicacies comes around. I understand and sympathise with the outcry, but wonder why we distinguish between those we cherish as pets and those other animals for whom we do not have the same regard and in effect live comfortably with double standards side by side. 
Now, before I continue my ramblings, let me clear something up.
I was a vegetarian for 11 years and have been verging on the vegetarian for most of my life. So, knowing this fact may lead the reader to presume that I write this with a bit of leery eyed ‘new age ‘ prejudice.
Not so. 
My vegetarianism was entirely to do with a lifelong dislike of many meat products and nothing to do with the ethics of eating other living creatures. I believe we were born to eat a wide and varied diet and developed to do so as hunter gatherers. I personally however, quite simply like fruit, veg and carbs much more than I like meat but in the end, a bacon sandwich did for me and I do now eat meat in moderation, if I can face it, or be bothered, which more often than not I can’t.
So, in those shower thoughts I muse as to why it is that it is ok to eat pigs or cows but not cats or dogs. Why do we feel very little for a wild rabbit mangled by the roadside, or a flattened hedgehog which was just too slow on that lazy summer evening, but freak out when the domestic rabbit escapes from its cage to a similar fate, or when we see rabbit on the menu of our favourite restaurant 

  
In Peru we know that guinea pigs are a delicacy but in our house they were beloved pets full of personality with almost human like qualities – we could no more think of eating Domino or Bailey – they were fully fledged family members! Similarly our little Sherbert, accidentally dropped onto his head at birth due a mishap from which my son Jamie has never recovered, was simply the quirkiest and most lovable, if somewhat intellectually challenged little rabbit in the world.
   
    
 
But it is true whether we like it or not, that there is in all things a degree of evolution that leads us to forage for what we need and to eat it. I know that we could live a life without meat and survive, but we won’t. It simply isn’t generally in the majority of our natures. We can, however, live a life with meat that doesn’t involve cruelty and does not enrage those, of which I am one, who prefer that we don’t kill other living things for our pleasure 
So, at one end of the spectrum, to see a hunter grinning inanely over the dead body of a newly killed giraffe, its life extinguished in the whisper of a moment in the name of sport, frankly makes my blood boil. I accept however that we breed cattle for meat and provided we look after them well and give them a good quality of life, I think I can live with that – it seems to fit into the proper order of things. 

  

Having worked on a battery farm as a very young girl, I simply don’t ever want to eat anything but free range eggs. If you have any doubts, do a couple of shifts on a battery farm, there is absolutely no glory for the human race in the way those chickens are treated. It’s appalling.

  

I suppose what I think I’m getting to, is that there is a fine boundary between the natural way of things and killing for pleasure.  
A local cat killed our lovely rabbit but left it largely intact just for a bit of wicked feline fun. It made me murderous and I’ve often been tempted to swerve when I spot it sitting smugly at the bottom of my drive and take the ultimate revenge – but I don’t have it in me and in the end if I did that would reduce me to the level of the callous hunter myself, so I turn the other cheek. 
 Killing a beautiful animal for a trophy or some extreme apothecary to increase one’s libido is just beyond the pale. I can not and will not ever understand it.
Breeding animals for basic foodstuff however, is the natural order. How we do that leaves us to be judged as to whether we cover ourselves with honour. If the Yulin festival involved pigs or sheep would the western world protest so much ? I abhor it, but that’s because in my head cats and dogs are domestic animals but they may be basic meat products or delicacies elsewhere in the world alongside Guinea pigs, deep fried crickets and many other unmentionable things that don’t tempt my palate. Irrespective of that, the way those dogs and cats are treated shames the world – it is barbaric.
When I was little, whilst I disliked most meat, I adored rabbit gravy on pancakes followed by rabbit stew. I did not like the fiddly bones but the meat was sweet and melted in the mouth. My daughter Caitlin, a lifelong rabbit lover, cannot bear the thought of eating her pet, but happily eats most other meats and is undoubtedly a carnivore of the first order. 
So when I ‘shoo’ the local cat away from the bird table, I do so to protect the birds which I love to watch and encourage to feast for my pleasure. But in the natural way of things, that’s not my job . Just as in the same way it’s not my job to protect the worms from the birds or the flies from the spider. These things are part of a delicate balance and it’s not for me to yank the precious food chain and weaken its intrinsic links.

Just like the rabbit as he disappeared swiftly into a pile of cleanly picked starch white bones-he was not killed by the magpies, but they wasted and wanted not in his honour and that is the way it should be in the natural order of the world. 
Now back to my cheese sandwich ……. 

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