It was a hot summer’s day in May 2006 when I had finished my final SATS paper, I blew the steam away from my pencil and gazed outside, my eyes opening wide at the prospect of a lovely, bright summer awaiting, no more exams and no homework, bliss! Or so one would think, as soon as we had finished our SATS exams, our school had a wonderful surprise for us (insert sarcastic eye roll here!), for the rest of the summer, as a “reward” for our work in SATS, we would do at least 2- 3 hours of PE outside everyday as the forecast promised blissful tropical heat for weeks. I still remember everybody in the classroom cheering at the news and my heart sank, for I am and always was awful at PE, exercise and sports of all kinds.
My heart sank, and I looked down at the desk in disappointment but of course nobody would notice because I am quiet and because I am a girl. There are many stigmas around girls, one is that girls do not and cannot have Dyspraxia, it is a condition that is just on the Y chromosome. This is not true! I am not sure where this comes from. Is it because girls are generally seen as less active? Nose in their books and playing with their dolls, instead of playing football and sports? It could be. All I remember is that PE filled me with dread, I could never do anything right. I could never catch a ball, hit a ball, run speedily, score goals, etc. my coordination and balance was and still is awful, not only did I loathe ball games but also any type of balancing activity. I remember everybody’s favourite PE lesson would be when the gymnastic apparatus would come out, we would go in to the primary school hall in our dainty, little plimsoles, shorts and shirts and children would roar and scream when the teacher had surprised them with the apparatus, but for me, it was torture. I could only climb up two rungs of the ladder before the adrenaline started pumping and I was starting to sweat. I would look down at the floor and realised that really, I had barely moved. I was coaxed with house points to climb further up and I remember the day I had climbed about 6 rungs (a personal best) and I was awarded with about 7 house points. All of the other children had made it to the top.
I felt inferior and I still do. I was the child who was never picked for the teams, the whistle would blow, and I would have to blend in and hope nobody would notice my embarrassment. I would be never get passed a puck or a ball. In PE, I just tended to be… there!
Boys tend to get their dyspraxia recognised more than girls. Could the fact that males get their neuro conditions acknowledged be the reason for much higher mental illness in females? I do not know. It is a very bold claim to make but it could be plausible. The question is: why do they males their dyspraxia noticed? I appreciate, yes, it affects sports and gross motor skills. However, dyspraxia also affects handwriting, cutting and daintier fine motor skills. These are skills girls are supposed to excel in. Dyspraxia also affects social skills, again girls are supposed to have much better social skills than boys in their primary years so why is one aspect of dyspraxia noticed so much more than the others? Why is there a gender bias?
The NHS claims “DCD is thought to be around three or four times more common in boys than girls” However, is it? Or do we just show traits that are not as obvious? Have we learnt to mask it better? I do not know the answer to these questions and much more research needs to be carried out by health and education experts. However, one thing I am sure of is that females have this condition and we need to be acknowledged and taken seriously. I am Amy and I have dyspraxia. I am Dyspraxia Amy.
For me, my co-ordination difficulties were never really an issue for me (but maybe not the people I used to sometimes step on/fall on/hit by accident wouldn’t agree, oops!) Sports wise, I loved playing basketball or football with the boys and being a little clumsy didn’t affect my confidence at all – I was still better than most boys and my tolerance to bumps and bruises meant that I seemed like a tough cookie to them too! In fact, sports really did help my confidence and co-ordination growing up. Before I found my love for football (which I still play to this day) my mum thought that putting me in ballet would help at first but oh boy was she wrong! I had more difficulty with timing, twists and turns than I did when playing team games where I had to get from A-to-B. As a dyspraxic, the thing I found the most difficult was my study. I found it hard to sit still on the carpet, listen, process the information and remember what I needed to do before being told off for ‘not paying attention’ or ‘being silly’. I had difficulties holding pens and pencils, using scissors or mental maths and thinking in my head because I’m such a visual thinker. I think most dyspraxics would agree that the ‘one size fits all’ just does not work for everyone.
Being a 90’s kid, where there wasn’t as much awareness for learning/behavioural disabilities as there are presently, I started to become more and more aware that I was different to other kids. Often, I would be called ‘butterfingers’ in jest or I’d have someone remark on how clumsy I was or how everyone else has managed to do something, but I couldn’t. In the playground I was a very happy kid, but in the classroom, I lacked self-esteem from being compared to other kids, or what annoyed me the most was being compared to my very neurotypical sister who was 1 year older and didn’t experience any learning or cognitive challenges. Having been in and out of speech therapy since I was 6, my mum started investigating dyspraxia and when I was approaching year 6, felt that it would beneficial for me to get a formal assessment before starting secondary school. I remember the first time I went into the childhood and adolescent assessment centre. I was a 10-and-a-half-year-old bubbly and energetic kid (especially because it was a hot afternoon and I could leave school early AND have an ice cream). I didn’t quite understand where I was going, just that I would need to do a few activities with some doctors that would help me. Of course, most of them involved toys and I was more than happy to comply! I sat in the assessment room playing with an assortment of toys as my mum spoke to the doctor about some of her concerns. After a few weeks, I remember my mum sitting me down and explaining I had dyspraxia and what it was. Honestly, I was so happy to hear that all the difficulties I had wasn’t because I was a naughty child, or not trying my best, but because my brain was made a little differently to other peoples which made me, me! (as to power phrase my mum)
Like autism and ADHD, dyspraxia is thought to be more common in males than females. Even to this day there isn’t much awareness of the condition and when I worked as a TA in a school, most of the teachers and TA’s had no idea what it was! The fact is, dyspraxia is more than just being clumsy or having speech difficulties, it is a life-long condition that can affect your self esteem if not supported efficiently and positively. Thanks to the support of family, friends and professionals, oh and most importantly my awesome brain, I’ve completed my GCSES, A-Levels, BA and MA. I don’t know what’s next but whatever’s in store, I’m ready!