Have you ever been frustrated when people tell you that you use your dyspraxia as an excuse to get out of gym class? If you have I understand your feelings, since I know too well having dyspraxia myself. It’s a very misunderstood disability. While gross motor skills are the most common deficit for many, it is just one area of a person’s life that can be affected.
One of the hardest things for me growing up was lunchtime. My mom would have to pack me soft food as I had a high-risk for choking. While I knew how to swallow properly, with my dyspraxia my brain could make an error in the process and consequently I would be unable to swallow right. I understood why we had to be careful with what I packed for lunchtime, but it was still very frustrating. Thankfully as the year went on and I learned to manage it, I was able to pack more crunchy and chewy foods that other kids would eat at lunch.
Like many with dyspraxia, coordinating my gross motor skills was a challenge for me. It was a nightmare to learn how to kick a soccer ball or play catch. In my elementary PE classes, the adaptive physical education teacher would have to modify the games for me. In some cases, she helped me directly which was somewhat embarrassing at times.
Of course the unique speech deficits brought many difficult situations too. What others may not realize is that people with dyspraxia understand language quite well, but we can’t get our thoughts on paper or out of our mouths accurately. This leads to many difficult moments in the classroom because expressing yourself in a way that others can understand is a major challenge. To make things even harder, since our needs are different from others who receive speech therapy my speech therapist often chose to have at least half of the speech sessions be 1:1. There are others like me who needed help with how to physically get my body to speak clearly. Then there are those who needed speech services to help learning the language. As a result, self-esteem can take a major hit because we know in our minds what we want to say but our brains can’t coordinate it. Throughout all of this I would often think, “Why can’t anyone see how complex this disability can be and understand I am not just clumsy, there is actually a reason!”
Let’s not forget how this disability can affect people outside of school too, as weak spatial skills and poor balance create many challenges. One of the first memories I have is being at my parents’ friend’s house and being completely clueless on how to find the “kids room.” Fortunately their daughter, who was babysitting us, asked one of her parents’ friends if they had seen me. Coincidently the adult she asked was my speech therapist for the last two years, and she knew my disability affected my sense of direction. She helped her locate me and brought me to where the other kids were. I was so embarrassed as I knew my babysitter was worried. I was afraid that she would have to tell my parents she lost me. Another time while at a friend’s home for a party, for no apparent reason I fell down a staircase while others were watching. Situations like this were often the case, especially when I went to new places. Thankfully the person who saw me fall knew about my disability and helped me recover quickly. I remember thinking, “Why is everything hard for me? I mean I can’t even have an easy time at a party!”
Because of my experiences I know how hurtful it is when people make inaccurate judgements about people with dyspraxia. They don’t know about the wide range of cases, which could be from very severe to very mild forms. In their defense, in the media there is coverage about famous people with a mild case of the disorder such as Daniel Radcliffe. Many people with mild dyspraxia experience effects to their gross motor skills, and in some cases mild impacts to their fine motor skills. Unfortunately, there are others whose life is much more challenging. For example, some people with dyspraxia can’t drive or get their license years late because of their spatial and fine motor skills deficits.
Throughout all of this, my number one piece of advice is to remain calm and be honest and open with those around you about your limitations so you can create awareness. Through awareness others can give you the help you need. Acting out only makes things worse as you become an easy target for others to make hurtful judgments. While this can be challenging, the honesty and openness can help you gain more acceptance and eventually things become easier. As you go through the journey, please don’t ever forget that you are not alone and there are many others in your situation. Remember there can be a positive ending!