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'When I was finally diagnosed, I realised I wasn't stupid'

One or two children in every classroom has this condition.

Image: Shutterstock

IT AFFECTS 6% of Irish people, but often goes undiagnosed.

Dyspraxia, a type of developmental coordination disorder, is a chronic neurological condition that affects movement and co-ordination, as a result of brain messages not being accurately transmitted to the body.

It starts in childhood and also affects a person’s judgement, memory and other cognitive skills. Dyspraxia also affects the body’s immune and nervous systems.

Many people with dyspraxia also have dyslexia.

Fay Dunn works with the Dyspraxia Association of Ireland. She told TheJournal.ie the vast majority of people who come to the organisation for support have been bullied in school, college or the workplace.

She said a lot of children with the condition are picked on because they are “clumsy” and “awkward”. Fay has dyspraxia herself, and had a hard time because of it at school.

I was never bullied by my classmates, I was bullied by my teachers.

Fay (22) said teachers are more aware of dyspraxia nowadays, but some are still not equipped to recognise it and deal with it.

As part of her role, she travels to schools across Ireland to talk to teachers about the issue.

The way I was treated by teachers was not okay … I wasn’t diagnosed until secondary school. I struggled a lot in primary school with handwriting. There were obvious things [the teachers] should have picked up on but didn’t … I could never kick a ball, catch a ball.

Fay said anxiety was also “a huge issue” for her, as she felt “under so much pressure” to get things right at school, and wasn’t sure what was wrong.

She noted that people with dyspraxia often go undiagnosed as they have “average or above average intelligence”.

dys Source: Shutterstock

Fay said it’s common for children with the condition to know the right answer to a question, but struggle with articulating it or writing it down.

She noted that one or two pupils in a class of 30 children will have dyspraxia.

Fay said some people are waiting up to two years to be diagnosed in the public system, leading those who can afford it to go private.

Teacher’s point of view

Moira Leydon, the ASTI’s Assistant General Secretary, said there has been a “significant seachange” in recent years in teachers’ attitudes to pupils who need extra help, adding that it would be “very rare” for a teacher to not have a working knowledge of conditions like dyspraxia.

She said the area is very complex, noting that children with dyspraxia can be affected in different ways.

Their totally quirky imagination might be great in English class, but it’s no good if you’re constantly squirming in science class and the teacher is getting exasperated with you.

Leydon said teachers need to be up-skilled in this area.

She added that when children are diagnosed with conditions like dyspraxia they are often pigeon-holed “as if they tick that box and no other one”.

Leydon said that while individual teachers might be very good at helping children with dyspraxia, schools need to work to ensure the whole-school approach is up to standard.

‘I realised I wasn’t stupid’

Frankie (18) is currently studying tourism at college. He was diagnosed with dyspraxia when he was in third or fourth class.

After the diagnosis, I realised that I wasn’t stupid.

“Unfortunately I got a lot of bullying in primary and secondary school. It did put my confidence down but at least I knew who my real friends were.”

Frankie said a lot of insults were thrown at him: “You’re such a retard” was a common one.

He said college work can sometimes seem “overwhelming”, but manageable when he breaks everything down into smaller tasks.

Frankie said he often gets “burnt out” by the workload, but tries to not get frustrated. He said he can get confused when taking notes or following directions.

library Source: Shutterstock

“It can seem like there’s so much to do. I need to break it down and do it bit by bit.”

He said he hands in assignments well before they are due so he can get feedback and revise his work if he has misunderstood the task or approached it the wrong way.

Frankie, who also has dyslexia, told us his lecturers and friends have been very helpful.

He advised anyone who has been diagnosed to tell their teacher or lecturer straight away, “not looking for sympathy, but just so they know to have a bit more patience”.

Don’t worry if you make mistakes. It will be tough … Don’t beat yourself up over it. Either use [your dyspraxia] as a motivation to do amazing things or sit around and do nothing and use it as an excuse.

The Dyspraxia Association of Ireland is celebrating its 20th year in 2015. It’s mainly staffed by volunteers, like Fay. Last year, it received a government grant for the first time – to pay for one full-time employee.

For more information on the association, or advice about dyspraxia, click here.

Read: Online programme helps children with dyslexia and reading issues

Opinion: Higher education is leaving us over-qualified but under-skilled

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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