What happens when you call a child ‘slow’

I’m sharing this because I think it’s important. We see so many professionals and parents talking about learning difficulties but not enough from the child’s perspective. I’m going to take a trip down memory lane and try to describe what it was like for me. You never know, this ,might help any parents out there worrying about their child, if their “normal”, if they are developing as they “should.”

I couldn’t dress myself until I was 8. I couldn’t wash my own hair until I was 14. I never fully learnt how to tie my shoelaces. I’m 28 years old and I still can’t hold a pen/pencil properly. That’s not easy for me to admit but it’s the truth. I was brought to endless consultants, doctors, psychologists to try to find out what was “wrong” with me. I was eventually diagnosed with ADD and slowed cognitive functioning, to be honest , I think they got that arse ways and may have missed out on the big Dyspraxia sign over my head with flashing lights but anyway they did get one thing right. They used to always say this – Things that should be easy, Nicola finds difficult and things that would be considered difficult, Nicola finds easy – probably the most accurate thing anyone has ever said about me. To this day I find that statement to be true in every aspect of my life. I’m just a little bit backwards. If you can understand that one thing about me, I start to make perfect sense.

Even emotionally, I’ve gone through some pretty rough experiences in life from Schizophrenia to sexual assault, my Mam died, my brother died along with a whole host of other bad shite which I won’t get into now. I’ve used my experiences to help others and raise awareness for mental health on days where I was suffering severely myself but put a smile on my face anyway. There’s been days when my mental health has been catastrophically bad but I still got up and gave a talk to a large crowd of people or did the media interview in front of thousands of people. I stood up at my mother’s funeral and read the eulogy I had written for her. Most people would find all that quite difficult, I’m a strong and resilient person. Now the easy part? I lose my absolute shit when something small like going to the shop is sprung on me all of a sudden. Getting a flat tyre, losing my keys, forgetting something will send me over the fucking edge. Everyday inconveniences and tiny insignificant problems drive me to full on emotional meltdowns. I’m the type of person to literally cry over spilt milk. Overreacting and being a drama queen are hobbies of mine.


So yes, I can’t hold a pen properly, I’ve mastered holding it absolutely arse ways and yes noticeably, as in, people will comment on it but my hand writing is really neat now so hey it works. I hold everything in a funny way. I eventually learned how to wash my hair and dress myself thankfully. I never did quite achieve a gold star for shoe lace tying, a five-year-old would do a better job than me but I can kind of do it on a good day. I learned how to tell the time on a 24-hour digital clock; years before I could use a 12-hour round clock face (an example of the easy-difficult backwards thing). I fall a lot and walk into everything. Hand-eye coordination, or let’s be real any kind of coordination in general will never be my strong point. It was my motor skills, particularly of the fine motor variety that I have always struggled with. All this growing up and not being able to do the most basic of tasks happened in the 90s. These days learning difficulties in children are taken far more seriously and are better understood than back then (even though there’s still a long way to go.) Now I had A LOT of very good teachers. But they weren’t all so understanding. I had one teacher who thought repeatedly whacking me across the knuckles with a ruler was a sure fire way to get me to hold a pencil properly. (Guess what bitch, I still can’t do it and still living my best life anyway.)


All the times over the years, I was called stupid or thick or useless by adults (or children) drove me to believe that was exactly what I was, thick, stupid and slow. It’s all I ever would be. The same people would then ask me why I was so shy and lacking in confidence?

I always thought I was useless. Useless is a word that really gets to me still. Whenever I hear a child describe themselves as “useless” it breaks me. No child should ever think they are useless. My point is, as adults, we need to learn how to be patient with children. If something doesn’t come easy to a child that’s ok. And most importantly, no child wants to be bad at something. It used to break little eight-year-old me being told I wasn’t trying hard enough when I was doing my absolute best to push through this invisible wall that stopped me being like everyone else my age. I would be up half the night crying myself to sleep worrying. I was also obviously struggling with those pesky voices in my head, but one battle at a time and all that. I’m not writing this for sympathy. I am well and truly over it all. Most of it is genuinely just funny now.


As I said before, I have learned roundabout, backwards ways of doing things and I’m getting through life just fine. I had speech therapy, talk therapy, alternative treatments, extra help and resource hours in secondary school. I hit a major bump in the road when my Mam first got really sick, she used to help me with a lot more than most mothers would have the patience for but in a way, it did me good as it forced me to overcome difficulties I had always depended on her for. I’m putting this out there simply because I have a voice and a platform to share what growing up with learning difficulties is like from the other side. Children may not have the vocabulary to tell you how they are feeling or why they find things hard but the important thing is that you just try to put yourselves in their shoes. Everyone learns at their own pace. There is no such thing as a child who simply doesn’t want to learn. “Every child has a different learning style and pace. Each child is unique, not only capable of learning but also capable of succeeding.”- Robert John Meehan

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