My brain sometimes works like dial-up internet. With extremely specific tasks, such as navigating directions from point A to B or doing a complex DIY activity or dance move, I need an extra few minutes or more to process these tasks. If you give me a bit of extra time, I’ll pick up on the fact that I should move in a specific direction, or in a specific way, at a specific time. But if there are a lot distractions and pressure, the information won’t process properly.
My brain has developed a brilliant way to compensate for this challenge. I only have to navigate somewhere or learn an activity that requires complex fine and gross motor skills once; my brain will photographically memorize the steps required for the next occasion.
Still, there are days when doors are unintentionally closed in peoples’ faces, and I’ll forget what someone told me moments ago. It’s also quite normal for me to get lost on my way to destinations I’ve been traveling to for years because of a subtle change in the environment, such as the disappearance of a statue, sign, or building. And there are other things that come with Dyspraxia that continue to be part of my life.
“There are days when doors are unintentionally closed in peoples’ faces, and I’ll forget what someone told me moments ago. It’s also quite normal for me to get lost on my way to destinations I’ve been traveling to for years because of a subtle change in the environment.”
What is Dyspraxia? Most people do not really know what it is when I tell them that I have it. So, here is the Dyspraxia Foundation definition: “Dyspraxia, a form of developmental coordination disorder (DCD) is a common disorder affecting fine and/or gross motor coordination in children and adults.”
Despite the fact that Dyspraxia and its symptoms are not common knowledge, you likely know someone with the condition. Even if you don’t know someone with Dyspraxia, you’ve probably heard of a famous figure with it. Danielle Radcliffe, the star of Harry Potter, has Dyspraxia. So do Cara Delevingne, Florence Welch, and Jamie Lambert. Some say that Albert Einstein was Dyspraxic, though the condition was not recognized in his lifetime. The condition is much more common than the public realizes, affecting 6% of all children, according to the World Health Organization.
The severity of symptoms varies greatly. Ten percent of people experience mild symptoms of Dyspraxia while 2% have severe symptoms. In my case, Dyspraxia prevents me from getting my driver’s license. This is because the condition impacts the part of the brain that processes the relationship between the restrictions of a specific space and the time that it takes to work around those limitations. Currently, there are no existing accommodations for drivers with spatial processing difficulties. Therefore, I’m terrified of getting behind the wheel and hurting a passerby.
But I consider myself to be quite lucky. My thirtieth birthday is in a few years, and I was diagnosed with Dyspraxia when I was 4 years old. But why is that significant? Because in the 1980s, Dyspraxia got its name and lost its label of “clumsy child syndrome.” As a result, my disability has been taken seriously, and I’ve had plenty of time to develop coping strategies.
Yet, I’ve had to deal with misunderstanding surrounding my Dyspraxia because I’m fit and physically active. My identity as someone with a disability isn’t immediately obvious, and I have to speak up to get the right level of assistance when needed.
Fortunately, there are advocacy groups such as Dyspraxia Foundation and Dyspraxia USA, which provide essential resources for people with Dyspraxia. Without these groups, there would be very limited information for people with Dyspraxia. I’ve had a lot of conversations in Dyspraxia-focused Facebook groups with parents of Dyspraxic children. Most of the time, it’s clear that the members see these groups as their only source of guidance.
There are therapies available to help individuals with Dyspraxia. Occupational therapy and equine therapy are beneficial for coordination-focused disabilities. In fact, I have fond memories of a horseback riding academy for people with disabilities and my weekly occupational therapy sessions. I don’t recall much about these therapies except that they helped. It is important to note that the goal of an occupational therapist is to not to cure Dyspraxia, but to help family members, teachers, and other caregivers to understand Dyspraxia and how it impacts the child on an individual basis.
However, the systems in place for Dyspraxics ignore the fact that the timing of diagnoses varies. Not everyone is diagnosed in childhood despite the fact that Dyspraxia is present at birth. Not long ago, I was a guest on a podcast called 3 Things I Learned. Before the host hit “record,” he told me that his aunt was diagnosed with Dyspraxia when she was in her forties. When I hear of cases like this, I can’t help but think of my American friends who may not have access to needed resources, as I did. I’m a Canadian citizen who was raised in the province of Ontario. Therefore, OHIP (Ontario’s free health care coverage for citizens) covered most of my therapy, and my parents paid for a small portion of the costs. Yet, the average occupational therapist in the U.S. costs $50 to $400 per hour without insurance. No matter what, occupational therapy takes a lot of time for patients to make valuable progress, and not everyone has the time or flexibility to pursue this therapy for themselves or a loved one.
It’s also important to keep in mind that not every employer and organization has the resources or budget to make Dyspraxic-friendly changes to the places where people with Dyspraxia live, work, and study. This means that peers and loved ones have an opportunity to support individuals with Dyspraxia. What exactly can you do? Simply ask your Dyspraxic peer. And think of Dyspraxia less as a negative contribution to your life, and more as an advantage. Because the awkwardness of Dyspraxia can foster valuable skills such as empathy and creativity.