Thursday, 10 December 2009

Susan's story

That's her story
Other narratives are possible

Judit Szathmáry has published something on her blog by the actress and dyslexia-campaigner Susan Hampshire:

I read Susan Hampshire's autobiography soon after it was published. Without wishing to detract from the problems and the distress that she undoubtedly experienced, I have to say that my major conclusion from reading this vivid and detailed account testimonio was that these were the systemic outcomes of undiagnosed and unaccounted middle-ear hearing loss.

In other words, both the underlying physical difficulty and its psychosocial effects were eminently remediable if properly understood and dealt with.

The notion of some sort of irremediable central deficit with direct, unmediated consequences at the psychological level was very likely a further deleterious factor in her emerging developmental mix. You can see this very clearly in her own lucid (if uncritical) account.

All that was a long time ago, at a time when I used to agitate against the then only-just-emerging-into-respectibility notion of 'dyslexia' . I published several articles in 'the literature' arguing the, to me, very obvious position that the 'hidden disability' in question was a product of learning, a dysontogenesis, a distortion of development. No matter, the world (at least the British world) wanted mysterious, 'neurological' incurabilities. What a dreadful idea for children, parents and teachers to have widely and authoritatively presented them. What a context for pedagogy, upbringing and education!

Now we have 'dyslexia' (and all its chums) coming over the walls from all sides, and Ms Hamphire's efforts over the years have played no little role in contributing to this.

Judit does not explain the moral that we should draw from Ms Hampshire's story.

If people wish to judge this for themselves, it is an interesting exercise to try. Inexpensive second-hand copies are readily available (cheapest paperback spotted: $0.02) through the usual sources.


Hampshire, S. (1981) Susan's story: an autobiographical account of my struggle with words, London, Sphere Books


  1. What's this to do with conductive education?

  2. Andrew, your amazingly long link to your comment on Judit's blog posting can very easily be shortened.

    With you can "shorten, share and track clicks on your links"

    Or visit
    which does much the same, although I use the former.

    A button downloaded onto my tool bar allows me almost instantaneously to generate a short URL.

    As a bonus, it also allows me to post this short URL of something of interest directly to Twitter. A shorter URL on Twitter, of course, represents a character saving against the 140 character limit.

    My apologies for this short course in egg-sucking if you know this already.

  3. Anonymous, in "Modern English Usage" H R Fowler writes that the object of both parable and allegory "is to enlighten the hearer by submitting to him a case in which he has apparently no direct concern, and upon which therefore a disinterested judgment may be elicited from him."

    Whilst I do not for a moment think that Andrew was offering "Susan's Story" as a parable or allegory, he was, I assumed, inviting us as his readers ("hearers"), disinterestedly to reflect on an aspect or an interpretation of "Susan's Story" and to draw out for ourselves the parallels, instead of having them explicitly stated by Andrew as the author.

    I find myself quite often caused, by reading sometimes quite unconnected matters, to reflect on how the mainstream orthodoxy understands cerebral palsy and how, as a consequence, it goes about educating a child with cerebral palsy; to which conductive education offers an entirely different account ("narrative"). This I took to be one key to linking Andrew's reflection on "Susan's Story" with conductive education.

    Here's a challenge: today I read that slavery did not come to an end because we ran out of slaves. I wonder if you can see why this made me think of cerebral palsy, conductive education and schooling - and how important it is for us who have a different narrative to speak up together?

  4. Thanks, Norman (1)

    I shall tidy up that link forthwith and try to reember how to behave better in future.

    As ever, you intervention is most appreciated.

    As ever? See also:

    (with apologies for the length of the link!)

  5. Thanks, Norman (2)

    I am once more endebted for your intervention.

    I had not thought of this as an allegory or parable, though that is an interesting and useful way of looking at it.

    Ny own starting position was far more mundane, in that Conductive Education does not exist in a vacuum but in a world in which 'disability', both in its essence and in what might be done in response, tends to be construed simplistically and mechanistically.

    In this context CE will progress only so far if it fails to widen its front, and also fails to widen whence its arguments and potential allies might be found.

    Contemporary British concepts of 'dyslexia', 'autism' etc are not potential allies in this struggle but would fall within the category that that Maria Hari used to speak of as 'the enemies'.

    Allegory or material statement, however, I had thought that the point of what I was saying to be fairly obvious. Time was when I would have taken the tme to explain all this. Now, however, time is getting short. Increasingly over 2010 I shall speak to those who hear.

    There is, striking precedent for this in CE!