I was diagnosed with dyspraxia at the age of 17. I, like many, had never heard of the condition, and was quite surprised once I began to research it in greater detail.
Growing up I had always been terribly clumsy, but this was usually blamed on the fact I was left-handed. I had gotten used to never being picked for team sports (I couldn’t blame anyone though – I wouldn’t have picked me either!) and could see the funny side of getting into weekly scrapes and so on.
So, what is dyspraxia?
The word ‘dyspraxia’ stems from the Greek ‘dys’, meaning ‘to have difficulty with’ and ‘praxis’ meaning movement. Dyspraxia is a condition which affects motor co-ordination in both adults and children, coming under the umbrella term of developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD). Dyspraxia can affect people very differently, and has nothing to with a person’s intellectual capability.
What causes dyspraxia?
There is little information about the exact cause of dyspraxia, however it is believed to be a result of some kind of disruption in the way messages are relayed to the body from the brain.
What are the symptoms of dyspraxia?
There is a broad spectrum of symptoms associated with this condition and a great deal of variation! Here are just a few:
• Poor hand-eye co-ordination. Difficulty with team sports (especially those involving catching a ball)
• Difficulties with driving a car and riding a bike
• Clumsy movement. Difficulty changing direction, stopping and starting actions
• ‘Accessory movements’ such as flapping arms when running
• Tendency to fall, trip, bump into things and people
• Difficulty in planning and organising thought
• Poor memory, especially short-term memory. May forget and lose things
• Unfocused and erratic. Can be messy and cluttered
• Tendency to get easily stressed, depressed and anxious
• Poor balance
• Difficulty in identifying sounds from background noise and a tendency to be over-sensitive to sound in general
• Prone to low self-esteem, emotional outbursts, phobias, fears, obsessions, compulsions and addictive behaviour.
Is there a cure or treatment?
In a word, no. However, personally what I find really helps is to try and keep as organised as possible, with a clear daily structure and routine. It may sound rather OTT to some, but we all get distracted from time to time and forget about what actually needs doing; a little schedule can be just the thing to keep you on track.
For me, learning to drive was a bit of a mission, and to be honest, although I am grateful I have a car and can drive, I do hate driving. I had my first lesson on my 17th birthday, and passed my driving test (after 5 attempts and 200+ lessons) at age 23! After the first 50 (of which I had to have 2 a week because with a 7-day interval I would forget everything learnt the previous week) my instructor told me I was the worst person she had ever taught and basically advised me to give up. She would mock my ‘cack-handedness’ and laugh when I couldn’t tell if I could fit through a gap – when it was apparently “obvious unless you are blind”. I eventually found an instructor who was kind, patient and spent time reading about dyspraxia so he could understand my problems more.
I am sure this rings true for many of you, and I often wonder if I had had dyslexia whether my first instructor would have laughed at that. I imagine not, because it is much better known and understood (in comparison, anyway).
Living with dyspraxia
I have worked for myself for over 7 years and admit it was initially a struggle to stay focused when I was used to having set working hours and a more specific working pattern. Now I structure my days in a timetable format, written the night before, which provides me with realistic, achievable, productive goals. This method was incredibly helpful in setting up my online PR coaching business.
I believe that this kind of structure is so beneficial for dyspraxia sufferers, as there is often a tendency to get easily distracted and go off on several tangents, all in the space of ten minutes! Although I can appreciate that other people without this ‘condition’ could also relate to it.
The answer may seem quite simple: prioritise and JUST DO IT. Yet, often this can be precisely the issue with dyspraxic people. That and the need for structure – the safety of a list and the pleasure of ‘ticking off’ and knowing things, no matter how great or small, are finally being achieved.
My dyspraxia is fairly mild compared to some people, and it hasn’t impeded my professional life at all, I openly struggle with practical things like driving, baking, DIY and sometimes walk into things (yes, really), but it has never held me back intellectually or academically – far from it.
You have to have confidence in yourself, whatever the problem or condition. It sounds cheesy, but if you don’t support yourself and cheer yourself on no matter what, how do you expect other people to do so?
I am not defined by dyspraxia, it is just one small part of me.
I think there are many people who are in similar positions, and I have an overwhelming belief that these types of ‘difficulties’ need to be better known and in the public domain, so people are aware that just because a condition is hidden, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.
We need to raise awareness of dyspraxia at school and in the workplace so people do not feel mocked, worried or ashamed that they are struggling a little bit more at something than their peers.
Today, I would like to invite you to have faith in yourself. That one thing you always tell yourself you can’t or shouldn’t do in case you fail? Well… I think you know what to do, don’t you.