Learning fast

Fourteen-year-old John has moderate learning difficulties which
cause him problems in making himself understood and understanding
what other people are saying. He attends a mainstream school in
Manchester and copes well with the work. What he doesn’t cope with
so well is the bullying.

He explains: “It started at primary school nine years ago and has
gone on ever since. I’ve had all sorts of things happen to me, I’ve
even been set on fire. I’ve told teachers about it but they are
always busy and say come back later. Then when I go back they say
it’s too late. Only one teacher has helped me, he’s spoken to the
bullies but no one else has done anything.

“I’d like the bullies to be kicked out of school. I don’t know why
they bully me, I don’t know if it’s because of my disabilities but
I’ve never told the other kids at school about my disabilities.
Probably they just bully me because they can.

“I’ve started harming myself because of the bullying and the fact
that I’m not being taken seriously. I feel that if I do that I am
sorting it out in my own way. I’ve tried not to let it get in the
way of my learning but it’s hard.”

Away from his problems at school, John is happy with the health
care he receives and has recently started seeing a speech therapist
who he says is very good, although he doesn’t know why he has had
to wait so long to get help with his speech problems. He is also
getting help from doctors and a psychiatrist for his self-harming
and is confident that with their support he will be able to

John gets a lot of support from his family. His parents are
divorced and he lives with his mum but his dad plays an active role
in his life. “When my dad lived at home he used to drink a lot and
that used to affect me, he would smash doors and windows at home,
but it is better now, he doesn’t drink so much. I still see a lot
of my dad, it doesn’t really feel like my mum and dad are
divorced,” he explains.

John, a keen song-writer and Manchester City fan, is one of the
regular members of a weekly activity group for young people with
learning difficulties in Manchester. The group receives funding
from various charities and statutory sources and is largely staffed
by volunteers. Young people are able to take part in drama
workshops, arts and crafts, music and writing projects. Day trips
are organised but can be problematic because transport costs tend
to be so high.

Thirteen-year-old Karen has Down’s syndrome but that doesn’t stop
her from leading an active social life. She loves meeting new
people, learning their names and what they do and introducing them
to other people.

She says: “I like coming to the group and talking to the
volunteers. I’m a big girl now and I can do lots of things on my

Karen enjoys going for respite care on a regular basis, which gives
both her and her family a break. The respite carer who looks after
her plays an important role in her life. Karen says: “I stay the
night there and I like it. She has a son who is my friend and a cat
I can play with. And she came to see me when I was in a

Karen attends a school for children with special needs and enjoys
swimming and drama. She says the teachers are very good and help
her with her school work if she gets stuck. When Karen is in a new
or strange environment she often gets very anxious and scared. A
health worker has recently started coming into school to help her
with this and Karen likes working with her on a one-to-one

Paul, aged 14, is a keen Manchester United fan and enjoys bowling,
drama and meeting friends. His learning difficulties are compounded
by housing problems. He has a large family and says it is
overcrowded at home and he doesn’t like sharing a bedroom with
several other members of his family. “I don’t like bedtime, it is
difficult and it makes me upset.”

He says he finds his special school boring, he finds writing hard
and he sometimes gets into trouble. He gets worried when he can’t
do things but says one particular teacher at school helps

Paul sees a doctor regularly but has negative feelings about health
professionals. He says: “Doctors wind me up, the things they say,
how they are.”

Sixteen-year-old Caroline enjoys singing and drawing with her
friends at the activity group. She has learning difficulties,
hearing problems and diabetes. She says: “It means I find some
things hard, like writing and maths. It makes me feel upset when I
can’t do things. My mum helps me but I’d like the teachers to help
me more.”

She sees doctors regularly for treatment for her hearing problems
and for managing her diabetes. She has regular injections and takes
tablets to control her blood sugar levels. She admits it is
difficult not eating chocolate or having fizzy drinks like other
young people but she now manages her diabetes well.

Sukhi, aged 16, who has learning difficulties and suffers from
epilepsy, enjoys meeting other young people at the group and
appearing in music videos they produce. Her epileptic seizures have
only started recently and have so far all happened at school.

She says: “I’ll be doing something or talking to a teacher and then
something happens to me and I have to go to the hospital. The
teachers help me, they are good to me when it happens but I have
missed some school. The doctors and nurses at hospital give me
things to make me stop having the fits but sometimes they don’t
explain what is happening.”

Names in this article have been changed to protect

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