I am dyspraxic. I’m proud of it. It’s who I am. Dyspraxia, also known as developmental coordination disorder, affects the coordination of movement and can impact many areas of daily life. However, if anything, it has been the social and emotional sides of that have had the most impact on my life.
One of the most significant emotional effects of dyspraxia is a sense of frustration and disappointment. Dyspraxic individuals often struggle with tasks that come easily to others, and this can lead to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. For me, for years I dealt with feelings of being less than. I always felt like I was the stupidest, slowest person in the room. It wasn’t helped by my poor concentration and struggle with sitting still. I have vivid memories of having to stay in during primary school lunchtimes catch up with work, being called the r-slur throughout high school, having people be stunned that we would be in the same set English. When I applied for uni, my insurance choice was Liverpool John Moores, I got an unconditional and was proud of it – until I mentioned it in class one time and a girl burst into tears. When I asked why she was upset, it turned out that was her dream uni and she had only got a conditional (a very respectable result either way, I got a conditional for Newcastle). The fact that someone like me – in her words, ‘retard’ – got an unconditional to her dream uni apparently caused her to have intense feelings of self-doubt. This situation was not helped by my teacher at the time, telling me that “of course she is upset that you would get in and not her – you’re you.” Those words stung more than a little, but possibly the worst was said on results day 2020. After finding out I got into Newcastle University, a different teacher threw his piece of paper down in shock and said aggressively “YOU got into a Russell group uni?”, allegedly he was upset that I had gotten in whereas (in his head) more deserving students had been rejected. You’d think a teacher would be proud of one of his students – a student who struggled with learning disabilities and mental health – getting into their dream university. Evidently not.
Another emotional effect of dyspraxia is a sense of isolation and loneliness. People like me may struggle with social interactions due to difficulty with reading social cues and interpreting nonverbal communication. This can lead to a sense of social anxiety and a fear of social situations, which can further isolate individuals from their peers. During my time as an adolescent, I was extremely lucky and grateful to have a few good friends who are still near and dear to my heart. But beyond that I always struggled with friendships and relationships. It’s only been at university that I’ve managed to make some strong, long-lasting bonds that I’ll hopefully have for the rest of my life. Before university, I always felt like Bill Bixby at the end of the 80’s Incredible Hulk show. Walking off into distance by myself, no safe space, no sanctuary. I have that now, it’s something I didn’t really think I’d ever get, but I did – and it’s wonderful.
In addition to these emotional effects, dyspraxia can also have a significant impact on social development. Dyspraxic individuals may struggle with communication, both verbal and nonverbal, which can lead to difficulties in social situations. Look at me in a conversation and my eyes will be flitting around the room.
Another social effect of dyspraxia is a sense of exclusion and discrimination. Many dyspraxic individuals face a lack of understanding and awareness about their condition, which can lead to misconceptions and judgements. I’ve mentioned the bullying from peers and the disdain from teachers, at the time I managed to work through it but thinking about it today makes my blood boil. I don’t even see it as affecting me, but I see younger me and it hits me so hard. Younger me was just a kid, a dumb kid but a kid. And I was sobbing my heart out almost every day for years. I had stuff thrown at me, things poured on my clothes and graffiti written about me. I just look back and see thing poor young boy who was a bit weird but never did anything to deserve that. I wish I could have given younger me a better time growing up than I did, but the past is the past. I’ve moved on now and done some healing, I just wish I could have hugged younger me and told him that I loved him. Told him that he was okay, that he wasn’t ‘wrong’ or ‘retarded’, that he was no less deserving of love than anyone else.
I’ve managed to work my dyspraxia from being a hindrance to an asset. I’ve found it easier to connect with people than some neurotypical people do. I used my clumsy body and flopping arms as an asset, it’s worked greatly. I’m able to make jokes about myself without putting myself down, and am able to talk with others who have experienced hard times on an equal level. I volunteer with refugees and my dyspraxia has been a huge tool in this, my ability to communicate a general amount of levity and humour I’ve trained through years of being dyspraxic. I’ve worked hard to make displaced people feel comfortable around me, and it’s worked. I’ve taken my weaknesses and turned them into strengths.
Another important aspect of managing dyspraxia is finding a supportive community. I’m extremely grateful that I’ve found that here at University. As a part of student media and a part of N.E.S.T I’ve found this, and I hope everyone does too.
Having dyspraxia has not only affected my life, it's been my life. That's not a bad thing. I love being dyspraxic. I'm proud of it. And I say to anyone out there who lives with learning disabilites, you should be proud of it too.