Do you remember the clumsy kid at school?
You know the one who tripped over everything, was rubbish at PE, a bit of a daydreamer, looked a bit of a mess and kept losing all their stuff? You should do because statistically, every class of 30 children has at least one. That clumsy kid probably had a little known and misunderstood learning disability called Dyspraxia. It’s a condition that’s close to our hearts as our founder Karen is the proud mum of Sam and Ben who have to overcome the challenges that Dyspraxia presents on a daily basis. And it is the daily stuff that Dyspraxia hits so hard, as Sam and Ben’s Paediatric Occupational Therapist explains “It’s quite hard to produce a brilliant piece of written work in class when you’re having to concentrate really hard on not falling off your chair”.
So what is Dyspraxia? No-one’s really sure on the underlying physiology or causes but it’s thought to be an immaturity of the central nervous system – the brain doesn’t send or receive strong enough messages to and from the senses (a bit like being permanently drunk!) and furthermore, the two sides of the brain send and receive their messages slightly out of sync. As Karen puts it “The two sides of the body often behave independently like 2 people in a 3-legged race trying desperately to operate as one. Great if you want to use both hands to colour in different parts of a picture at the same time, not so great when you’re trying to use a knife and fork or tying your shoelaces”.
The most apparent difficulties appear in tasks requiring any sort of co-ordination be that gross motor skills like running, jumping, throwing and catching a ball, riding a bike etc. (sports day is rarely a highlight in the school calendar for kids with Dyspraxia) or fine motor skills like writing, drawing, fastening buttons etc. (bang goes any chance of winning the decorated Easter egg prize!)
As well as these physical challenges there are also issues around planning and organising tasks. As Nicci the OT explains again, “If we take getting dressed as an example, they’ll have the physical challenges of standing on one leg to put trousers on or doing up a button but they also won’t know which order to put the clothes on” a comment that Karen readily identifies with, “I can recall getting to the school gates on more than one occasion to be told that one of them has forgotten to put their pants on!” She adds “It is the planning and organisational skills that are so challenging, as well as spending half our lives hunting for lost school items (the low point being my husband hunting for Sam’s shoes at a completely different school in a different town!) it’s heartbreaking to see them come up with a really creative idea but have no idea how to go about making it happen”. It doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to appreciate the social and emotional impact that the condition can have too.
Daily life is just that bit harder and this is often combined with very poor understanding or empathy from others, as people with the condition often just come across as clumsy and a bit chaotic. Karen recalls Sam receiving a ‘behaviour point’ in his first week at secondary school because he was last to get changed after PE and his tie wasn’t neat enough – “I know he will have practiced tying that damn tie ten times harder than any other kid during the summer holidays. I wanted to say to the PE teacher ‘Let’s give you 6 pints, a pair of gloves to put on and see how quickly you can get changed!’”
We founded Scrubbingtons because we passionately believe in empowering children to help them become more independent albeit in just one aspect of their lives – their personal hygiene. The spirit of Sam and Ben and the challenges they face is undoubtedly in our DNA. Dyspraxia is a disability that horribly disempowers children and adults and even more so if it isn’t understood by wider society. This week is Dyspraxia Awareness week and is a chance to spread the word of this little known condition. Please forward on this article and if you can, support the Dyspraxia Foundation in the fantastic work they do to raise awareness and support people with Dyspraxia.