Dyspraxia is dyslexia’s unpopular cousin that nobody really knows about. Stemming from the Greek word, praxis, which means “doing” – it is just that, an inability to do things. Call it an overly simplified description but it’s bang on the money in my book. A lot of people call it chronic clumsiness, being a bit quirky or any number of other inaccurate blanket terms. I just call it what it is: a developmental co-ordination disorder that affects motor skills, spatial perception and thought patterns. I have dyspraxia, though it’s recognised as a disability I don’t consider myself disabled. Perhaps it’s a pride thing, perhaps I feel that so many other people live with bigger, badder disabilities and I don’t qualify for the title or perhaps I’m a bit scared of stigma. What stigma you say? The kind that stops people getting jobs, mostly.
I was always a very cautious child, scared of going up ladders on jungle gyms, terrified of contact sports and ball games (still am!) with a real knack for falling over and hurting myself. I also really hated marble/ceramic floors in shopping centres and hotel lobbies because seeing the reflection of the ceiling in the floor just wreaked havoc with my little mind and I’d refuse to walk on it for fear I would fall straight through it (?!) I also happened to be very creative and precocious, something my parents marvelled at. Something that likely led my dyspraxia to go unnoticed for so long.
People tend to only view developmental disabilities as something that gets in the way of your learning and intellectual growth when actually those things can be doing just fine while you’re actually malfunctioning on a much more base level: how to use both of your hands to tie a knot in a balloon for example or even something as simple as walking down some stairs without getting vertigo. For the longest time I used to go down stairs using the same foot, gripping onto the rail for dear life. But because I was smart and arty, it was just seen as not being very athletic, being a bit clumsy or just a bit of a wimp.
I went through school getting good grades and engaging with the curriculum, particularly English. College was also a breeze – I chose to pursue a career in fashion so I opted for a Fashion and Textiles course, where I focused my talents more towards illustration, concept development and CAD achieving top marks. University is where shit got really bad, I got into my university of choice, on my course of choice and discovered that I couldn’t do what everybody else had picked up really easily. Garment manufacture seemed practically impossible to me and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get it right. This was a huge blow to my confidence and my mental health quickly began to decline. I asked for more support from my tutors and tried really hard to get better but I was waved away at every turn – treated as an inconvenience and made to feel like I was wasting their time. Luckily I had some great friends on my course who kindly gave up their time to try and get me up to speed with my sewing skills, it was these friends that highlighted that something seemed wrong with the way I was translating instructions from thoughts to actions which, unbeknownst to any of us, was exactly what it was.
My counsellor referred me for a disability screening which seemed silly to me; I didn’t think I was disabled! I knew disabled people and have disabled family members, I didn’t put my struggle anywhere near on the same level as theirs. It never even occurred to me for one second that I wasn’t just being stupid or useless which is how I was made to feel during that time. As with many dyspraxic folk, my verbal and written skills scored very high, this is why nothing was ever picked up at school or even at home. My motor skills, spatial and depth perception scored really low and I was formally diagnosed with dyspraxia. I took my results to my tutors, expecting a better standard of support – as I’d been promised by our disability liaison – instead I was told by my tutor that I should just leave the course if I was unhappy. Unhappy? Damn right I was unhappy but being upset was a by-product of the real underlying problem which could have been worked round with just an ounce of cooperation. Not taking any responsibility for their students or their ability to carry on learning under their tutelage was apparently this individual’s reaction to being faced with a slight challenge as an educator – not one to give up easily I clung on until the end of the year, struggling all alone with no support from my so called tutors before finally putting down the stick, leaving the dead horse be and calling it a day.
I’d always been known as an intelligent, ambitious person and it was always just assumed that I’d do really well, I’d always had a confidence in my abilities and suddenly it was all gone. I didn’t know who I was or what I had to be proud of anymore, what else would dyspraxia stop me from achieving…would I ever be that talented, smart girl again? I spent that summer an absolute mess before picking myself up and going on to combine my love of fashion and creativity with my knack for communication – my second time at university was so different and so much better suited to me. I made them aware of my dyspraxia early on and they were very supportive of that as well as my depression. It’s worth noting that I never once felt the need to utilise any of the disability support I could have made use of. Possibly because I was already being listened to and supported, I didn’t feel that panicked feeling of “I’m not as good as everyone else”. I was able to find myself again, even through a particularly nasty bout of depression.
Fine muscle control, gross muscle control and organisation were my pitfalls, the former two still are to this day while I continue to work harder than those around me to maintain a decent level of organisation at work and at home. I openly admit that I play down my dyspraxia and rarely bring it up but it’s not because I’m ashamed. Either I’ve adapted to my disability or I genuinely don’t feel that held back by it anymore. There are still times where those around me can do things that I can’t, I get transported back to fashion school and feeling stupid, but then I remember that I’m so much more than not being able to tie a bow or thread a needle. At one time these little things I just can’t do were a gigantic measure of my worth but now they are just tiny drops of “nope” in the ocean of stuff that I can do really well.