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Louise, age 23

I acquired right-sided hemiplegia aged 24 hours old, when I suffered a haemorrage during heart surgery! (Which was otherwise successful).

At first, my parents were told nothing of my disability until a health visitor mentioned it matter-of-factly when I was around six months old in answer to my parents' queries as to why I didn't attempt to crawl.

They were told that there was no cure, and no way of knowing how severe my disability would be. In fact, the physical manifestations are comparatively mild: I used to have a wonky pelvis due to putting more weight on my stronger left leg and therefore walked with a fair limp, but an exercise therapy programme with a charity called BIRD (Brain Injury Rehabilitation and Development) corrected this, as well as giving me more dexterity in my right hand, where my condition is most obvious. Left to its own devices, my fingers will curl up into a fairly tight fist, or occasionally seize up on my chest or shake uncontrollably. However, I have developed more control over it recently (I'm typing with 2 hands, just about!)

My handwriting is appalling and very slow, and it hurts my eyes and left hand a lot to write more than about half a page, so I have had extra time and the use of a computer for all of my exams since I was 15.

In class I was always behind with writing notes, especially copying from the board and before my BIRD therapy, had huge problems with balance and co-ordination.

Every single morning for 14 years I would wake up and feel sick for an hour or two before my visual perception attuned itself with my brain. Within three months of beginning my treatment with BIRD however, this stopped completely and has never returned.

I also had huge issues with confidence and ability to concentrate in class. My teachers also noticed a dramatic improvement in this, although it can still be an issue at times (or maybe I'm just a lazy student hehe!)

From being in the failing English class when I left primary school, I was in top set by Year 9 (when I started with BIRD) and got As in it for GCSE, along with Bs in maths and science, unthought of when I was 11! In fact, the one GCSE I sat a year early (compulsory to do so at my school) was also the only exam I handwrote, and got an A.

In my A Levels, I achieved 1 B and 2 Cs at AS and 2 Bs at A2 Level. One of the biggest issues that still plagues me is a pretty rubbish sense of direction. Although I learnt to drive (an automatic) when I was 17 (It took 10 months, but I did it) I then had the problem that I constantly got lost (I couldn't even picture the route from my house to the school I'd been attending for six years- still can't!) This caused a lot of stress for me as most people simply couldn't understand why I could never find their house, or had to ask directions each time I attempted the journey. (Also, back when I started senior school, before I understood this about myself, it was also the reason I took months to learn where all my classrooms were, adding significantly to the stress of a new school in a new town).

The most amazing present I recieved was a SATNAV for my 21st birthday, as it meant I no longer have to ring my parents up in the middle of nowhere in tears because I'm lost and can't find my way home!

I'm now in my final year of a degree in Philosophy and Early Childhood Studies at a university in London. Although further heart problems last year meant I had to defer graduation to this summer, I am now happy and healthy and able to cope with everything that life throws at me (just about! Hehe)

Again, the issue of having no sense of direction was one of the reasons I found moving away to uni very hard, but I now know at the start of each term to make a scout of the campus to check where my lectures are before lectures start, and then to write down directions to them to stick on my bedroom wall. It means I'm usually useless if anyone stops me to ask how to find a certain room (even though I'd know how to get myself there) but I'm getting better at picturing routes in my mind to dictate to others.

Strength in my right hand is still not brilliant, and never will be, but I can carry plates and bowls without spilling their contents now, can pour milk into a cup without it going all over the bench and in the past two years have become much more confident as a person, meaning I enjoy uni life far more than I did when I was 18-19.

I'm on target to get a 2:1 for my degree and hope to do my post grad in 2010 to qualify as a foundation stage primary school teacher, after working in a school for a year after I graduate. Not bad for someone in the special educational needs class when she was 10, and bottom set for everything until she was 14.

Good luck to everyone in whatever you want to achieve in life! :)

March 2010: An update from Louise

I got my 2:1 degree, moved into a flat near my university, and have been working as a one-to-one teaching assistant in a local primary school since June 2009. I enjoy the challenge of working with children who have difficulties themselves; remembering the problems I had motivates me to help others.

The job still has its problems (organisation is a slight challenge) but I work with supportive colleagues who do their best to make instructions clear for me (often by writing them down, much easier for me to remember than verbally!) and the children seem to think I'm alright :)

From a pretty tough start, I'm not doing too badly I think, and I'm starting to consider postgraduate study, perhaps in occupational therapy, or religion (for the fun of it!)

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