Why my dyspraxia diagnosis matters

Jane Elinor O Connor 2 February 2018

As a kid, it was joked that I should have an A&E Loyalty card. By the age of 11, I had broken 4 bones, and had semi-permanent scraped knees. I only managed to learn left and right semi-properly because I had a scab on my right hand for 2 months. I was, for all intents and purposes, a ‘clumsy child’.

Previously referred to as, in fact, ‘clumsy child syndrome’, dyspraxia is a specific learning difficulty that is most commonly understood as a disorder which affects gross and fine motor control. These difficulties are often accompanied by social and emotional difficulties as well as problems with memory, perception and processing, time management, planning and personal organisation.

Dyspraxia can also affect articulation, speech, and thought, which I like to think explains why I’m so terrible at supervisions.

My dyspraxia only really became an issue in University. Amidst a backdrop of poor mental health and struggles making friends, constantly losing things, missing appointments, and generally living a very chaotic life fed into my internal monologue that I was clumsy, careless and useless.

Luckily, college agreed to pay the £400 for the official test, and I now have a long document proving that it’s not my fault I lose my phone 5 times a day.

My diagnosis was so delayed because as a quiet, somewhat geeky child, I did not display many of the key features that may indicate a learning difficulty. I wasn’t disruptive in class, I was in top sets, and I could read and write well.

That said, while my sister could pore over books for hours, I found it far easier to read Harry Potter when listening to the tapes simultaneously. Although I had a high vocabulary and reading age, my ability to actually read books on my own was limited, and it took me an exhaustingly long time.

There were more signs: my constantly-remarked-upon poor handwriting, inability to colour inside the lines and my frustration at maths which often reduced me to tears.

There was also the inability for permission slips to ever find their way home; the host of forgotten homework and lost worksheets; and my inevitable lateness to pretty much everything.

Most significant and distressing was my inability to read other people’s behaviour, and my tendency to repeat myself and to jumble my words. The general difficulty of social situations made me feel different and alone.

My clumsiness and disorganisation slowly became a part of my persona, my parents would jokily tell us not to ‘Ellie’ (hit on another car) the car door, and to do something clumsy or awkward was known affectionately in my group of friends as ‘doing a Williams’.

It sounds cheesy, but my diagnosis was life changing. It was a massive comfort that I was not just ‘useless’ or ‘lazy’, and it gave me the arse kick I needed to work on my flaws. Whenever I messed up, I didn’t resort back to old patterns of self-pity, but instead acknowledged the legitimate difficulty I face and put strategies in place to overcome them.

One of the worst things about dyspraxia is that it often comes across as incompetence, when in reality I deserved reasonable adjustments that would put me on a level playing field with others.

I sometimes felt I was a ‘special snowflake’, who had found this diagnosis to absolve me of responsibility, and that I didn’t struggle ‘enough’ to be ‘really’ dyspraxic. When speaking to an old friend about it, he said ‘you’re one of the most dyspraxic people I’ve ever met’ – it’s amazing how much comfort this gave me.

Dyspraxia is far less well-known than its close cousin dyslexia, despite around 1 in 10 people suffering from it. The fact that it took me 20 years of feeling useless to be diagnosed, and that I was only able to get that diagnosis because my University paid for the test, is shocking – and I still experience discrimination in workplace and academic settings because of it.

I can’t help but wonder whether they would take other learning difficulties more seriously. Nevertheless, the support from the DRC, the Dyspraxia Foundation, and my college has been invaluable – not least in making it clear that I deserve help.