Dyspraxia or Developmental Co-ordination Disorder. You may have heard these terms mentioned by Health or Education professionals or maybe even in the latest series of Doctor Who. Perhaps you have been diagnosed yourself, or know of someone who has, but in my experience there are still a vast number of people who know very little about this frustrating disability or else believe that it is ‘just a label’ to give clumsy, and disorganised people an excuse for not achieving their full potential. Many people I know, sadly fall into the latter category, which is why I want to share my experiences, in the hope that it might help those of you facing a similar situation realise that you are not alone.
If you are a sufferer of dyspraxia, you will understand the challenges that it can present on a daily basis, such as doing up buttons correctly on clothing, trying to get your key in the lock as you leave / enter the house or even just remembering to take your keys out with you in the first place! But how can we help others who are blessed enough not to experience these struggles to understand that we are not just clumsy and forgetful or as I have often been referred to ‘ditsy’?
“But you’re intelligent…you got good results at school.”
The most frequent argument I am presented with is that ‘there’s nothing wrong with my brain and that I am intelligent. Firstly, I’d like to point out that dyspraxia does not affect a person’s intelligence; it’s true a lot of people with dyspraxia may struggle in school, but that is more due to issues with motor co-ordination skills, memory and hyper-sensitivity to their environment rather than cognitive ability. I have been fortunate enough to be able to overcome most of these issues. The way I hold a pen was commented on several times at school, but as my handwriting was perfectly legible, it was largley ignored. I did achieve good grades and kept on top of assignments, because I understood the environmental conditions that I needed to study in, in order to be most productive. It also helped of course, that I had very little else to think about back then. I could revise laboriously for exams and put great effort into my work, because I didn’t need to worry about what I would feed myself that day, or whether I had clean clothes to wear tomorrow or how much money was in my bank account, as I knew that Mum always had everything under control. However, when I went to university and tried to juggle an intensive course, a part time job and routine household tasks, it soon became obvious that something had to give. Unfortunately, being focussed mainly on just surviving at the time, without going massively overdrawn on my account, it was studying that took a backseat.
“It’s just what you’re like…it doesn’t mean you’re dyspraxic. The symptoms of DCD could apply to anyone.”
It will probably come as no surprise to you that even though I managed to find solutions to help me through school, in my personal life I have always been disorganised and forgetful, or a so-called ‘scatterbrain’ and remain so to this day. My answer to people who effectively say that I am a ‘selective dyspraxic’, is that, well yes in a way I am. I know my limits and capabilities, so I do prioritise using my energy and ‘brainpower’ to concentrate on organising the non-compromisable areas of my life such as work and basic survival. I simply cannot cope with trying to manage lots of different things at once as I get zapped of energy and become highly emotional and irritable to live with. It doesn’t make me lazy, it just means that I am trying to work within my limits to maintain a healthy balanced lifestyle.
Also, in response to the comment that some symptoms of DCD could apply to anyone, well is that not the same for a lot of other conditions too? But in my view, the chances are that if you find yourself mentally ticking off a lot of the most common symptoms as applicable to yourself (https://dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk/dyspraxia-adults/ ) then it is likely more than just coincidence and you may want to get tested in order to access appropriate support. When I was first officially diagnosed, I wasn’t expecting the results of my test to come back positive, but when they did, it was as though every negative thought I had about my seemingly lack of capabilities or quirky ways suddenly made sense. I wasn’t a freak of nature, I just worked at a significantly slower pace to my peers because I have a condition which people claim means ‘the brain is wired slightly differently’ and the best news of all was that there were thousands of other people out there just like me.
“Dyspraxia didn’t exist in my day…It’s just another label.”
Of all the arguments people raise as to why they believe dyspraxia is a load of nonsense, this one has to be the one that frustrates me the most. Dyspraxia cannot just have ‘appeared’ one day. It has been around for several generations, but until recent years there has been limited research into the condition and how to support those with it. People were probably just labelled ‘clumsy’ or ‘awkward’ generations ago, as there was far less understanding generally of all medical conditions, as the technology which has enabled scientists and researchers to make such great strides in recent years, simply did not exist.
There still remains a lot of work to do on discovering the causes and a cure for DCD, but fortunately, things are gradually progressing and there are now websites and support groups you can join, as well as a plethora of articles and resources available to help people with dyspraxia cope and take back control of their lives. The biggest aid for me personally has been finding friends that accept my quirks and don’t question or look at me in disbelief when I struggle with simple tasks or with following instructions. This has been a huge boost to my self esteem and confidence, providing greater emotional stability, which is greatly beneficial as dyspraxics seem more prone to mental illness such as depression or anxiety. Another massive resource in helping me to better cope with DCD is technology. The internet is great for organising my schedule and enables me to access information and articles which often provide fresh insights on how to cope with some of the daily challenges I face, as well as advice on how to deal with other people’s critical attitudes. Perhaps the most useful thing that it has provided me with though is the knowledge and reassurance that I am not alone.