Dyspraxia: More than Clumsiness

By Nicole Beaver

What comes to mind when you hear the word “klutz”? The word invokes images such as a thickly bespectacled man tripping over his own shoelaces, or a character such as Chrissy from “Three’s Company” who caused poor Jack Tripper many mishaps as a running gag for the sitcom. Someone who is clumsy, always tripping over themselves, or disorganized can seem to be a careless person, but sometimes, there is a little more to it than that. 

As a child, I was extremely uncoordinated. I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was ten or tie my shoes until twelve. I was (and still am) frequently stubbing my toes (once hard enough that I lost part of my toenail), banging my elbows, bruising my knees, and so on. As of writing this, I have approximately 4 bruises on my right knee that I have no memory of collecting! Not only that, but I am quite a disorganized person. When I first arrived on campus, I was distracted and slightly disoriented and accidentally yanked a door open so hard, I nearly bashed myself in the face! I still do so whenever I’m in a hurry. 

I began to go to Occupational Therapy in September to address my prevalent Sensory Processing Disorder, which was affecting how I was able to go to shopping malls or grocery stores and deal with crowded buses/trains due to the noise level. As we progressed in our tests, my motor skills were evaluated and my therapist took note of some key issues I hadn’t really noticed. A week after my appointment, I received an email from her confirming a diagnosis: I was dyspraxic. 

Dyspraxia, sharing a similar name to Dyscalculia (severe difficulty in making arithmetical calculations, as a result of brain disorder) and the more well-known Dyslexia (a learning disorder that involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words), affects physical coordination. It is a lifelong disorder, and because of that, I will be primarily focusing upon its effects in adults. According to the National Health Service (NHS) UK, symptoms of dyspraxia can vary between individuals and may change over time. Someone can find routine-based tasks difficult and task management at work or at school may be stressful.

If you have dyspraxia, you may have problems with:

  • coordination, balance, and movement
  • learning new skills, thinking, and remembering information at work and in leisure activities
  • daily living skills, such as getting dressed or preparing meals to time
  • writing, typing, drawing, and grasping small objects
  • social situations
  • dealing with your emotions
  • time management, planning, and personal organisation

Dyspraxia can accompany disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Dyslexia and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). However, it should not be confused with other disorders affecting movement, such as cerebral palsy and strokes. It can affect people of all intellectual abilities. Dyspraxia is also a branch of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), something I didn’t realize even existed up until my recent diagnosis and further research. I found STAR Institute’s page on subtypes of SPD, which outlines several corresponding disorders (one of which I’ll cover in one of my articles, Sensory Modulation Disorder) that branch out of the main disorder. Among them is Sensory Based Motor Disorder, which lists dyspraxia as a subset. Chances are, if you have SPD and if any of the symptoms sound similar to what you experience, you may have dyspraxia or it’s associated subtype of Postural Disorder (an individual with postural disorder has difficulty stabilizing his/her body during movement or at rest).

So what impact does dyspraxia have on the life of a student? A lot, actually. The Guardian published an article written by a student who has dyspraxia and, after receiving their diagnosis, they said that “growing up, [life] was like I was on a different page, reading sentences from angles nobody else understood.” They further comment that dyspraxia is “about mental processing as much as physical coordination, and affects everything from the way I read to how I organise my thoughts.” Because organization of time management, course load, priorities, and appointments are crucial to the lives of students, dyspraxia can make this more difficult than life as a postsecondary student should be. As Kaiya Stone, an Oxford graduate, also points out in the article, “there’s this assumption that you can’t have specific learning difficulties and be a success, which is what actually ruins our understanding of these conditions.” Even though I cannot handwrite to save my life or do any linear math (my mom got me a coaster for Christmas that says “I don’t know how many problems I have because math is one of them”), I am in my third year of university and doing relatively well. It’s not easy. I had to learn time management skills from our school’s Academic Strategist and was wholly unprepared for the workload I’ve grown slightly accustomed to since my first year. I still have my hang ups, which are now being worked on since my condition is being addressed. 

Treatment for dyspraxia includes occupational therapy (which I am currently using) – to help you find practical ways to remain independent and manage everyday tasks such as preparing food and cognitive behavioural therapy, and CBT – a verbal therapy that can help manage problems by changing certain ways of thinking and behavior.

NHS also suggests that the following may also help:

  • Regular exercise helps with coordination and reduces feelings of fatigue 
  • Learning how to use a computer or laptop if writing by hand is difficult (I already do this!)
  • Use a calendar or diary to improve your organisation 
  • Seek out support through programmes such as Learning Accomodation Services and an Academic Strategist if you require academic help (and there is no shame in looking for help!)

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