Danny, despite his speech difficulties, has an interesting turn of phrase. He’s just 10, and yesterday we had our first tutoring session of the new school year together.
“So what’s been going on in your life over the summer?” I asked.
“Dood stuff!” he announced, proudly. “I had my birthday, and I dot a digital damera and I’m detting a laptop soon!”
He must have noticed my raised eyebrows. I know his family’s financial situation isn’t great.
“The laptop’s from a jarity,” he explained. “I don’t know what ‘slexia is, but my mum wrote to them and they’re divving me a laptop so I can do my homewort.”
“Well that’s brilliant, Danny,” I enthused. “Aren’t you a lucky boy!”
Lucky isn’t really the word that springs to mind when you first come across Danny. The youngest in his year group, he does daily battle with all aspects of academic study at school. Words appear to fly around the page and refuse to lodge in his memory; numbers resist all attempts to become bonded or otherwise related to one another. Several speech sounds remain stubbornly inaccessible to him, despite years of therapy, and his tendency to writhe, fiddle, daydream or mumble his way through the interminable school day must have driven many a teacher to distraction.
Despite all this, Danny remains a cheerful child with a gift for optimism and humour. He’s one of the many special young people who have so much to share with those of us who are willing to embrace different ways of learning and being.
“Do you really not know what dyslexia is, Danny?” I asked, despite my personal aversion to the term. “Would you like me to explain it to you?”
‘Explain’ is one of his trigger words. I should have remembered.
“No,” he replied hastily, “I thint I remember now. It means I darn’t learn properly.”
Well that set off one of my own triggers! I drew a quick cartoon brain. I drew two dots and a straight line representing stimulus and response between two points in a neurotypical brain. Then I drew the response to a stimulus in his brain – all manner of weird and wonderful connections firing off simultaneously and the resulting wavy synaptic line that connected them all in new and exciting ways.
“You learn DIFFERENTLY Dan,” I told him, as I traced the routes on my drawing with my finger, “and if the teacher wants a quick answer, that’s difficult for you. On the other hand, if she wants an original answer – one that no one else would think of – then yours is the perfect brain for that.”
He looked slightly hopeful but sceptical.
“What are you like at computer games?” I asked.
“Brilliant!” he grinned. “I’m the best in the family. I tan beat everyone.”
Several minutes of sound-effect laden role play followed as he demonstrated his prowess at Mario with an imaginary DS.
“I’m not surprised,” I told him. “Your brain is perfect for that. It can keep track of all the different things going on at once – the number of lives and energy levels, the route you need to take, dangerous enemies and obstacles… All those bits of your brain that work at once can handle that far better than most ordinary people.”
Danny seemed happy with that, so we turned to some of the work I’d prepared – the gentlest of introductions to algebra, such as
9 + ? = 13 or 15 – ? = 10
Danny stared balefully at the page for a moment, then rose in his seat, peering down at it with great disdain.
“Dwestion Marts!” he announced with gravitas. “My arch enemy! I hate you, Dwestion Marts! You never reveal what you are hiding! Durse you to hell forever!”
And that’s the way it goes – a typical weekly session with Danny, the boy who can’t perhaps answer the question, but has penetrated to the heart of its intrinsic essence with a clarity the rest of us can only gasp at.
How utterly dull our world would be without the likes of Danny.