Good Advice

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Growing up Claire

By Claire Steep 

As I grew up, it was thought that I would be blind. I had no line of centre, no depth perception and no understanding of where I was in space. I also had no visual memory. Moreover, I had no sense of direction and no fine motor skills. 

It sounded dire.

As it turns out, I’m not blind. I do have a visual memory—I mark my routes between places using landmarks. I remember not only where they are, but can find my way to a place and back again by them. I even have a sense of direction, though none of my family seems to believe me. And my satin stitch rivals that of the grandmother who taught me; my fine motor skills are perfectly serviceable when not being asked by an occupational therapist to cut with right-handed scissors.

That same occupational therapist is the reason I sit with my body angled to the right of my desk. This, by the way, does nothing except put a crick in my side. But don’t ask me to draw any straight lines: I admit to not having a “line of centre.” Consequently, all my art projects have been crooked and I sometimes walk into the odd post.

My abilities are miles from those on that list the doctors reeled off years ago.

How could they get it so wrong?
The fact is, the doctors were doing their best. At ages six, eight and 10, I lacked the vocabulary to self-advocate. It was natural that my parents should take what the doctors said about my eyesight as gospel. Or it was until I began to disprove most of it by sheer accident. My mother’s line became: “She insists on being normal!”I usually countered with “I see normally!” (Whatever that is.)

It turns out that to be an active, imaginative child, you need neither to draw a straight line nor be fully sighted. Catastrophe averted. Admittedly, my eyes are a curious case. They sit on a strange place in the sliding spectrum of vision: Of average quality and short on quantity. But it wasn’t and isn’t just me insisting on being “normal.”

Growing up, I was close friends with a young girl whose brother had cerebral palsy. All through high school he and I swapped notes on the Cambridge Latin Course. I’ve met many a classicist since: None parses a sentence as well as he does. Another friend, also partially sighted, went on to study at Oxford. She has yet to write the book on Anglo-Saxon church history, but only because life is busy and books take time.

Disability doesn’t have to be limiting
Children are surprisingly adaptable. Take it from someone who drove her eye doctor crazy by “cheating” on her eye test for years, courtesy of right-field hemianopia.

When obstacles crop up, many of us have learned to meet them head on with vim and determination. We defy them to defeat us and, on the whole, succeed—despite the opinions that sometimes surround us.

That is, unless, you insist on having me draw a straight line. But funnily enough, as life skills go, that’s not one I’ve ever needed.

Claire Steep read English at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, for five years. She blogs about books and music at choristerathome.com, and is currently a communications intern for Abilities Magazine.

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