Could you have been dyspraxic? No - not dyslexic. Dyspraxic. It's thought that about 1O per cent of kids are dyspraxic. What is it? It's a condition which affects everyday living skills. In school, these kids may be untidy writers, forever forgetting their books, and just living in a perpetual mess. They may also find it hard to catch and throw a ball and ride a bike. They have co-ordination problems, but they can be helped, if the problem is recognised.
For dyspraxic kids, school is a mine field to trip over, and trip over it they will. Being good at games gives you street cred, but if you are last in everything, it leaves you with with as your only attraction. So some of these children end up as class clowns to cover up their disability.
In winter, kids have to cope with gym - they face undressing, dressing, swinging and balancing. In summer it's even worse, when sports day leads to disaster. Sack races end in a tangle, and the running race means everyone else watches as you come in the last by miles. As a parent you want to pick up your child and do it for them, rather than expose them to more failure.
These kids are intelligent, and very quickly understand their limitations. If they don't, they are reminded by teachers and pupils. A teacher told a young boy I know, how messy his work was, and made him go over it all again. His colouring wasn't "in the lines" and she just couldn't see that he had tried as hard as he could and this was his best. Who needs colouring-in skills in the real world anyway? It's a bit like asking a blind man to run around an assault course, and being surprised when he doesn't seem to be doing it very well. lt is this sort of ignorance that makes these children's experience of school such an utter nightmare.
Do you recognise yourself - the messy one, the clumsy one, or the one who avoided sports like the plague? There must be a few of you out there. You are probably very perceptive, and haven't persisted with rugby when you found it hell at 12. As an adult you learn to avoid the things that you can't do. As a child there isn't the choice.
As a parent of a dyspraxic child, you have to decide when to dive in with help, and when to let them try for themselves, and watch them struggle. I watched my son riding with stabilisers at 11 years of age, in the park, and a little boy came up to him and said " You're a baby, even I can ride on MY own". In that brief attack his self-esteem fell to new lows, especially as it had taken weeks of coaxing just to get him to use his bike in the first place.
Is there help available for these kids? Occupational therapy helps to improve their co-ordination. Unfortunately there are too few occupational therapists trained in sensory integrative therapy, which is a specialised form of treatment, and consequently there are long waiting lists. The Dyspraxia Trust also offers useful advice and support to parents. Dyspraxic children - and the people who look after them - have to learn that there maybe two routes to an end point, both get there, but one takes a little bit longer.
The Dyspraxia Trust can be contacted for further information at 8 West Alley, Hitchin, Herts SG5 1EG . Telephone: 01462-454986