Catherine Loria’s Story
Interview with Catherine Loria, 97 and a half years old
1. When is your earliest memory when you felt things were a bit off?
2. How did you find school… were you ostracized?
3. What lesson and information would you like to tell others dealing with DCD and or Dyspraxia?
4. It has taken almost 100 years to know there is a name for your struggles. How does that feel? A sense of relief? Or frustration?
5. If you could turn back time and now know what you do about the disorder, would you have done anything different?
6. With amazing long term and visual memory, how do you foresee your great grandchild’s future based upon your experiences?
7. What do you wish you could tell your family members now that you know so much more and might have been laughed at because of the lack of education?
8. What has been your biggest achievement and biggest obstacle over the almost 100 years of living with a hidden disorder?
9. If you could talk to teachers, old friends, and acquaintances and tell them now some of the things you knew were challenging then but could not express what would you say?
10. Despite the challenges you faced, tell kids/adults and parents alike the great gifts you have had due to a complex disorder you are living with.
My grandma Catherine (everyone calls her Katie) was the 3 child of 12 born in 1915, to immigrant parents from Sicily. Her mother never went to school and her father, a shoemaker, had a little schooling in Italy. So when it came to sending their children to school, the parents couldn’t really help if any issues arose.
Grandma Katie knew something was off when she went to school and couldn’t pass the grade. Back then, a grade level in school lasted 6 months. At the end of 6 months, you had to pass the proficiency test to get into the next grade. What took everyone else 6 months to accomplish, took her a year. She had a hard time passing in that 6 month time frame and was held back in almost every grade. She usually could pass by the second time around. In the meantime, all her friends were promoted without her.
When I asked her what was hard, she said, “Everything! I would study all my words and the spellings for hours at night. I would test myself and have it all right and then by the next day, when I took the test, I couldn’t remember anything. I got a zero.” She has told me that story more than once. It is a source of pain and frustration for her because she didn’t know why this was happening and why she couldn’t remember. She said, “I used to hide under the bed so I wouldn’t have to go to school. I would stay there a few hours and then come out. I told my mom I had a sore throat.” She never could learn to ride a bike because her balance was off and she didn’t have the strength to gain the speed to stay upright. She thought she was stupid and dumb. She continues to emphasize this point as if it were true despite my reassurances.
By the time she was 15, she finished the 7th grade and had had enough. Although her teacher encouraged her to go to 8th grade, she decided to drop out of school and go to work in the factory, sewing men’s pajamas. She was too young to be in the factory and she lied about her age to get the job. When the union found out, her boss had to go to court with her and get a work permit. Luckily it worked out in her favor because she did not want to go back to school!
She enjoyed sewing in the pajama factory and found some success there for the first time, helping her large family out financially. Although she enjoyed the work, she sometimes had a hard time sewing in a straight line because her hands were shaky and didn’t have a lot of strength.
Social situations were hard. In school she was always the oldest in the class by a few years, so making friends was impossible. Luckily she had a big family and she says her brothers and sisters were her friends. Her older sister wound up joining her at the sewing factory, which helped her with making friends. I asked her what she found hard about making friends and she said, “I didn’t always know what to say, or how to start or maintain a conversation. I had the words in my head but they would come out jumbled and didn’t make sense.” She also said she had a hard time judging character. Sarcasm and jokes were hard to understand and she had a hard time following people’s stories and conversations. “So I would just stay quiet and I was very shy. I worked hard and let my sister Mary make the friends and I would meet people through her.”
She did mention she was good in arithmetic. Later in life she worked at a deli run by her husband. Sometimes he wanted her to work the front counter taking orders and working the cash register. That was ok until things got busy. She was not fast at all and would find it really overwhelming. She says, “Things would get going fast and I would just go black!” She would completely shut down. Luckily she had another sister, Grace, who could take over for her and she would go back to the kitchen and cook instead.
When I asked her what she thought her greatest achievement was, she said, “My family.” She had 6 children who grew up successful and all love each other very much. I suspect that each of those children have some dyspraxia and dyslexia to a certain degree, but no one had it as severe as Grandma Katie, until her great granddaughter Kaitlyn came along. Kaitlyn has taken after her namesake in all ways!
Another great achievement I pointed out to her is that she was determined to manage her disability with zero help. She taught herself to read better and to pronounce the words correctly with the help of a dictionary and pronunciation key. She could figure out ways around the things that were difficult but it was very hard each step of the way. When her husband died in 1969, she was faced with learning how to drive and living alone for the first time in her life, another sign of her determination and spunk.
She never would give up. She worked hard. She was and still is a great mother, grandmother and great grandmother. She is always compassionate, empathetic and patient. She could organize a household and was a great cook, taking care of everyone’s needs before her own. I grew up under her care many days, experiencing directly all these qualities. She has a huge heart full of love for her family.
As far as advice to others, especially to parents raising a child with dyspraxia, she says, “Don’t give up. Keep fighting for your child and get help. If a doctor or teacher isn’t helpful or listening to you, try and find another doctor/teacher who will listen.”
For kids and adults living with the disorder, she says similarly, “Don’t give up. Get help and don’t be embarrassed to ask for help.” She is very hopeful for her great granddaughter Kaitlyn who has the same disability. She is very happy and finds comfort that Kaitlyn is doing well after lots of hard work in OT/PT/Tutoring… She wishes she had had that help and encourages all to seek it out.
This conversation was really hard for me to have with my grandmother. I have always looked up to her and loved her so much with all my heart. She was a superhero to me. To hear she had such a low opinion of herself was heartbreaking for me and I remind her as often as I can how amazing she is. To manage a disorder like this for 97+ years not knowing what is wrong, and never losing hope, faith or love… wow! She is even more my hero today then ever.