By Amy Bradford

On hearing I’m dyspraxic, the usual response is, “What’s dyspraxia?”

This multifaceted condition is hard to explain concisely: it’s difficult to tell which of my experiences stem from dyspraxia and which are just individual quirks. Essentially, it’s being clumsy and disorganised. But many people are clumsy and disorganised without having dyspraxia, so my brief explanation is akin to describing a person with ADHD as ‘a bit distractible’: trivialising and one-dimensional. As something that’s hindered me and worn down my self-esteem since before I could even speak, doing justice to dyspraxia’s impact is all but impossible.

I learned to talk aged four, after two years of speech therapy; diagnosed at two years old, my condition had the very un-PC name, “Clumsy Child Syndrome”. Once I’d finally mustered the skill to lisp my way through the English language – rather than communicate via a combination of pointing and gibberish even my own parents couldn’t understand – my dad decided speech therapy was too stressful for me to continue. He didn’t want me to feel different from the other children, which is probably why I didn’t find out about this initial diagnosis until I was diagnosed for a second time as a teenager. 

A desire for your child to not be singled out is an understandable concern, yet the dyspraxia was doing an excellent job of that already. My language delay left me socially stunted, and I found other children indecipherable and intimidating. Teachers praised me as a model pupil for my obedience and good grades, but I spent much time during classes daydreaming – especially as I grew older, and teaching styles became less interactive and more of a long monologue. I frantically struggled to keep up with verbal instructions, and school reports frequently commented on my shyness and “lack of class participation” (Translation: “She doesn’t speak enough!”)

PE class was the biggest torture. Only after leaving school and taking up running did I discover, to my great surprise, that exercise could actually be enjoyable. 

It wasn’t just that I was bad at sports, or even that I didn’t improve no matter how many times I practised, but the embarrassing fact that I’d frequently reach a point of utter failure and burst into inconsolable tears. My teachers and fellow pupils eventually learned not to be too concerned about my anguished sobbing – it happened often, and I couldn’t understand or explain exactly why I was crying. In retrospect, it was probably a mixture of stress overload, perfectionism, and intense frustration that I couldn’t seem to translate apparently basic instructions into actions. 

The teacher’s explanation of how to swing the racket might make perfect sense; the problem was my brain transposing those movements onto my own body. I struggle with mirroring other people’s movements, unless I’m standing directly behind them and can exactly copy their motions to the same side of my body. Trying to separately instruct every body part simultaneously is like speaking different sentences out of each side of your mouth. The physical aspect of dyspraxia is as if my body is permanently drunk; YouTuber, Krystal Bella-Shaw, describes it as “dyslexia of the hands.”

The mental aspect is even trickier to explain. Dyspraxic writer, Maxine Frances-Roper, encapsulates the experience with the phrase “clever stupid”: we dyspraxics can be highly intelligent yet struggle with tasks that most other people take for granted. I excelled academically but couldn’t tie my shoelaces or tell the time from an analogue clock until I reached secondary school. 

My mind wanders frequently, my memory fails me, and I have a hard time filtering out background noise. When I need to think about my responses during a conversation, I have to break eye contact in order to articulate them clearly. A big hindrance in job interviews, where I switch between staring unwaveringly at the speaker and talking to the wall. And if you ever get lost, ask me the way and proceed to walk in the opposite direction.

I didn’t get academic help until my second diagnosis, during A levels. School and university were pretty good at accommodating me, various workplaces over the years not so much. New contexts bring new problems, and it’s not immediately obvious how to remedy them. Employers don’t have special educational needs departments; they tend not to know what dyspraxia is and offer no support. One employer went to the effort of referring me for an occupational health assessment, only to aggressively ignore its recommendations once my initial training was complete. Others haven’t even bothered to do that and assume that the best course of action is to treat me like a ‘normal’ person. This resembles trying to teach someone to swim by drowning them – and proclaiming victory when their corpse starts to float. 

For employers who genuinely want to support dyspraxics in
the workplace, I recommend the extremely comprehensive Dyspraxia Foundation Guide for Employers, and Remploy’s dyspraxia factsheet. 

For more information:

PICTURE: Kai Syng Tan. 

Conceptual artwork exploring attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia and dyspraxia. At the centre of the image is a person pictured wearing a high-tech ‘cat suit’, which is designed to assist and enrich the lives of people with – and without – ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia. Depicted with multiple heads and frantic legs in motion, the image may be considered as a freeze-frame of ADHD in action, as well as a snapshot of how a non-neurotypical mind may function. The use of wordplay and the rendering of text as visual elements illustrate subjective ways for a visual thinker to make language understandable. Through this work the artist aims to provoke discussion about neurological difference and to represent it in a positive way instead of focusing on ADHD as an abnormality. References are made to ancient Chinese Daoist medical diagrams that map the human body as an active agent of the cosmos, Hindu iconography (Brama) and literature (Don Quixote, The Tin Drum).


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