Naturally at this time of year people tend to think about their childhoods, and I was prompted to think about mine yesterday by a ‘ticcing fit.’
Last night just as the ‘fit’ was ending I noticed one of my fingers waggling ferociously backwards and forwards. Given how much wriggling the rest of my body does this shouldn’t have been surprising, but seeing and feeling it reminded me that it was something that used to happen in exactly the same way when I was about eleven.
I used to have fewer and less noticeable tics when I was a kid, but I remember finding this finger-waggling particularly odd mainly because it felt so automatic and unstoppable. I even remember telling a physiotherapist who was treating an injury to my arm about it, but she wasn’t interested. After a few months it stopped and I’ve not thought about it since – at least not until last night, when it started waggling again.
This wasn’t the only strange recollection invoked by the ‘fit’. Another was about my feet. They’d tensed up, which led Leftwing Idiot to try tickling them. He was surprised by my lack of response even during a ‘fit’ and asked me if I could feel certain bits of my feet. Though I knew he was touching the soles, the sensation wasn’t very specific and I couldn’t tell exactly where his finger was.
This too was a very familiar experience. I told him my family have long believed that I have poor sensitivity in my hands and feet. This was first noticed when I was about seven by a physio who was assessing me because my first primary school was concerned about my co-ordination and how I moved. She suggested my parents rub my hands and feet with an electric toothbrush, which my dad dutifully did for years.
I’ve never quite been convinced about this lack of sensitivity, mainly because I’ve never known any different. Although on holidays I’d always get back from rock-pooling with the soles of my feet in shreds because I’d not noticed them being cut by sharp stones.
My mum didn’t like the idea of me being medically labelled but she was concerned enough to take me to see a neurologist. He told her I was just a clumsy, uncoordinated child. I was already very aware that I moved and behaved differently from my school friends and I even started the ‘Clumsy Cleo Club,’ named after a character in a story tape I loved.
But it wasn’t as simple as just being clumsy. I was chaotic and hard to teach and had a diagnosis of dyslexia and dyspraxia. My first school struggled with my behaviour and when I was about eight they said they couldn’t meet my needs. They told my parents that if I stayed at the school they wouldn’t move me up to the next class with my peers.
My mum took the decision to move me to a different school. The new one specialised in teaching children with learning and behavioural difficulties, supporting them back into mainstream education. They gave me specialist input and support, and carefully re-built my confidence and although I was only there for two years, this school transformed me.
Tourettes wasn’t known about much when I was a child, and with hindsight it’s clear there were some things I did or said when I was young that were clearly tics. But my parents were very accepting of my strange behaviours and didn’t want them medicalised. I once asked my dad why I did certain things or found particular things hard, and his explanation was that I was just, ‘Wired differently.’
I’d not talked in detail to Leftwing Idiot about all this until last night when my memory was jogged by a waggly finger and a scrunched up foot.
“Lights, camera, Christmas.”