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Dysgraphia Interview

This is an interview between Hardi—a dysgraphic English learner and longterm EnglishClub member—and EnglishClub administrator Tara Benwell. While doing some research for EnglishClub’s Learning Difficulties pages, Tara posed a question to all members of MyEnglishClub. Hardi, one of the original members, responded and an informal interview developed. Hardi has given EnglishClub permission to publish this personal account of what it was like to grow up with dysgraphia in Estonia.

Tara: How are students with learning difficulties treated/taught in your country? Do you know someone with dyslexia?

If you're a teacher, have you ever taught a student with dyslexia or another learning difficulty?

HardiHardi: Well, I'm dysgraphic. I got it diagnosed in second year of elementary school. I remember, I went to somewhere, into another school to a specialist who tested us. There were some other kids too from my glass. Don't remember, if the whole glass went there to test, since we each went there separately with parent. My dysgraphy was not very bad at beginning, but it went really bad on fourth grade. To that time, I wasn't able to write correctly at all. I think I could not write even my own name correctly. The school wanted to transfer me to a special school, that is for kids, that have learning difficulties, or something that kind, but since I did not want to go, they could not do the transfer, without my parents agreement. Teachers did grade me differently, but it was not much use, since I was so bad at everything, that they could not give me anything above average. But even average was fraud. If they did it right, it should have been only bad and very bad. So I suppose, that in my country kids with learning difficulties are treated acceptably well.. probably. Just that some teachers are annoying jerks. Actually, many kids use speech/language therapist's service in school to get different grading. I had to go to therapist for two times of week, instead of the glass of mother-tongue... There was something like 10 other kids too from my glass, that were attending the speech therapists Mother tongue glass.... But most of other kids, where there just to get better grades.. Not that they really needed therapy, but it was that the teachers can grade those students differently, who go to speech therapist.

Tara: Hardi, thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience! I found it very interesting to learn that your condition worsened after fourth grade. I also found it fascinating that parents whose children did not have learning difficulties abused the system so that their children could achieve higher grades. Would you mind answering a few questions? Did you/do you find it easier to type than write? What happened when you went to high school? Did you still receive extra help?

Hardi: Hi Tara. I don't mind your questions. It's easier to type on computer, than handwriting. In computer it's easier to fix mistakes too. I did not go to high school. I was too fed up of all the school system, to continue my education. My writing skill probably worsened to the time, I reached to fourth grade, because my overall health was worsening. I got diagnosed diabet at fourth grade. Diabet causes deficiency of B vitamins that are important for peripheral nerves and also brain it self too, also too high/low blood sugar is not good for concentration and/or brain work. After I started to receive treatment for diabet, My hand writing gradually got better.. But not enough. Probably my diabet was not compensated enough well to get better fast. And also I should have eaten more vitamins. I think that for now, my witting is somewhat back to how it used to be, when I got first diagnose of dysgraphia.

Tara: So, it seems your diabetes was related to your dysgraphia. I'm interested in how you were able to learn a second language. Did the dysgraphia and diabetes make it more difficult for you? Did you learn on your own?

Hardi: In school I had to chose between Germans and English as for second language. I did chose Germans, since I thought that Germans is easier. English pronunciation is too crazy. Well, actually second language was Russian for us, the Germans was third. But I can't speak, or understand too much of Germans nor Russians. Only some simplest things like. Hello, Thank you and etc. English in fact, I haven't learned at all. It did come by itself. Just by using Internet, playing computer games... U could say, that computer taught me. Only thing, is that it taught me wrong. In more specific, it taught me what characters are used to write words, but it did not taught the English sounds of characters.. It did not taught how to pronounce in English. So I actually can't speak English well, if I do - it would be something very different from English u have used to hear. Well, I guess all foreigners have been troubled by the English writing system. That they don't write words as they sound. And that some characters are pronounced in too many different ways, in different words... But now there actually exist a Simple-Fonetik Dictionary to make it easier for foreigners like me.. Because it's written by an American Estonian, who have used Estonian phonetic for it. It would probably be easier for me to learn it by using that dictionary. But I've already learned it wrong way, and I'm lazy, and unmotivated to start it all over anyways. Beside, that dictionary is not free. So yeah, until I don't need to know how to speak English, to use Internet, I'm not going to strain my self for learning it.

Tara: You are multilingual! It is hard for me to believe that you only learned English via the Internet and video games. It would be interesting to see what your handwriting looked like when you were young. Do you have a writing sample we could see? (Something that shows what dysgraphia looks like?)

Hardi: I think I don't have any good bad writing example to show you. I always hated writing, so I normally write as few as possible. And it seems that I've thrown away all my school conspectuses and such, already a long time ago. Makes sense, seeing them would probably just make me feel depressed. And the only ones that I would want to keep...teacher stole them. Those that had like 180, or more mistakes per a dictated writing.All marked/fixed with red and commented by the stupidly crazy teacher. Who seems like did not want to understand when to give up.

Tara: No problem. I always hang on to too much stuff from my childhood. I wonder how many other people have no handwriting samples from when they were young. How is your handwriting now? Would you share a sample?

Hardi: Tara, of course I could make a example of my current hand witting, but since I still don't feel too comfortable about it. I rather won't. Sometime ago a friend from here, sent me a post card and I decided to reply to her. I thought, that it's no big deal. Writing a line or two is easy as cake. I first wrote it with lead pencil, so that I can erase and fix mistakes. Also that I can see how to fit the text to card.. that I would not need to cramp the text together when space runs out. Unbelievably it was more difficult, than I expected. I erased the recipient address something like five times, before I got it right. Well it was a Japanese address. So I could not remember it well, had to recheck it's spelling several times while writing. The main difficulty for me, is that I just skip characters, especially when writing by using these big characters.. like the ones that u probably have on your computer's keyboard.. at least in case when your keyboard have US layout.. When I write in the regular continuous/joint characters handwriting method.. I don't skip so much characters, but...

Truth is, that I write so rare, that I have difficulties to remember how to write some characters.. Even these big capitalized characters. I might need to look some examples to see which way some of them were written. Probably the N, Is a problem, maybe S and Z too.. but especially N... When I was kid I sometime wrote D and G and some other also mirrored. Since I could not recall which way they had to be... Especially after long summer vacation. Well, some characters I have written mirrored also when writing in that continual handwriting method, where several characters are joint into one stroke... One "n" I know I wrote mirrored not so long ago.. But It was mouse writing to a greeting card I posted to someone's page in here at EC... let's se it was at 16:40 on first December 2009. at Yummi's page :P I remember, I was trying to remember. In which way it should be, but was confused.. then, I thought maybe it was drawn in same order, like "a" That for "n" I first need to draw a arch like stroke, and then turn back straight up to make a vertical double.. no almost triple stroke.. It was difficult to draw that way and all, but... it did not look right.. I still drew it like that. Ha ha ha. But seems I had only that first n drawn wrong. Next ones there were already right, without thinking.. And that first one was so drawn too, that when you don't know to suspect that it's drawn wrong, u won't notice.. I hoped no one will notice. Well I my self noticed it straight away, when I saw it little latter in there. But when I was writing it, I could not tell that there's something unnatural.

Tara: Your description is better than a writing sample! It's also interesting that printing is more difficult for you than cursive. Thank you so much for helping us understand dysgraphia from the perspective of someone who has struggled with it. I've learned so much from you!

Hardi: Good to hear I could be little useful. Since u said it was interesting, I write more. My dysgraphia might not be very classical case, so it might not help to understand the dysgraphia too well, but as a example of a person with the writing difficulties. I might be a good specimen. When I was first visited the specialist (speech therapist). The specialist said to my dad to bring me to psychiatrist, since on her opinion it was psychical problem. So we went to psychiatrist with recommendations from therapist, but for my surprise the psychiatrist was not interested about my writing at all. She only asked to you hear some voices inside your head? Is someone who actually doesn't exist tell you to do something.. Do you sometime see something, that u know, that actually doesn't exist... I did not hear any voices in my head, so I told I don't.. She said to come back next week.. And then next week she again asked the same questions, but I don't remember having any discussion about my writing problems with her. So, maybe specialists could not determine the exact problem I had. But after a while I have told, that I have dysgraphia... Most I actually liked to go psychologist. The psychologist was nice lady not like most of the speech therapists were. I went something like 3 times to psychologist. But I think I was not too interesting to her.. too normal. So they stopped my visits to there, saying, that I don't need it.

.....People have difficulties to take you seriously, when you make such writing mistakes like I do. They think a person who makes such errors, must be something.... below.. maybe idiot. They look down to you. Especially Estonians. I almost don't use Estonian social media in Internet. Sometime when I post some comment to some Estonian on-line news. Then sometime, some other readers start picking about my writing. They may say, "First learn how to write, then come back." They may also ad "It's embarrassing to read." Or if I write something that they actually like, they may just say "Well, it's all very interesting and true, but you make so stupid mistakes, that it's hard to take you seriously." Well, although I know to expect such things. It still makes me boil with madness.. They usually don't pick fight with foreigns, who make typical mistakes for foreigner Estonian language learners. They understand that foreigns might have difficulties with Estonian grammar. But when someone like me, switch "p" with "b", they don't understand how it's possible.. It's difficult to find those mistakes by my self, when rereading a text, that I just wrote. I could find syntax errors. But the switches between those specific consonants (kgc, pb, td). It is hard to notice them in fresh work, that is still fresh in your head. When read in next day, I usually notice the errors. But not always. In English I have for now memorized. "pig" and "big" So I pay attention in there when writing. I likely don't switch between those two words anymore. also "cross" and "gross", I already know, which is which, without dictionary's help. But since I don't know correct English pronunciation. there's still many words that I need dictionary help to know which character I need to use. have no The spell checker won't help in there. For spell checker, both "P" and "b" would be correct.. But I think, that I already write much better in English than in Estonian. Or maybe it's just that for English I use the spell-checker's help. I haven't installed Estonian speller to my computer, since I need it less, and I don't know how to install it so, that I could use them parallel on Linux.. and switch between of them on fly. One word that I still rely for spell checker, or dictionary, is necessary. I can't remember whether it was neccesary, neccessary, or necessary. I always write "neccessary". But really, just by writing with spell checker, I've got better.. I think. But there's still a lot of words, where I make mistakes.. writte instead of write and moore instead of more and so on...

Tara: Thank you for opening up to us about your learning difficulty. You have helped me learn so much about dysgraphia. You are not the only person who has to look up words like necessary! I often double check words that have double letters. I've never been a great speller.

Written for EnglishClub by: Tara Benwell