Most people are familiar with dyslexia and even its lesser known cousins, dysgraphia and dyscalulia have been gaining traction in the last few years. But few people have heard of dyspraxia, even though some estimate that 1 in 6 children have this neurological disorder.
Dyspraxia (also known as Developmental Coordination Disorder) is a failure of the brain to organize movements. This can be as clear as poor coordination and clumsiness, but is more commonly known as a hidden disability. Most people with dyspraxia show no obvious signs of the disorder.
Our Dyspraxia Story
By the time our son was diagnosed in 2013, we had been chasing rabbits for at least four years. We noticed the little things first: he didn’t climb playground ladders and didn’t like to ride bikes, he was clumsy and spent a lot of time in “safe” spaces (like the couch).
Once we had a clear picture of what dyspraxia was, a lot of pieces fell in to place. Our son had been late to sit up, late to walk, even had trouble nursing. We suddenly realized that his funny little quirks were actually coping mechanisms he had developed: the way he chased kids at the playground, roaring like a dinosaur, because he couldn’t coordinate his movements enough to actually climb on the equipment with them, the way he held his pencil, the way he drank from a water bottle, how he never played with toys the way they were “meant” to be played with. There were lots of little things that, when added up, made it clear that he had dyspraxia.
The diagnosis led us to a better understanding of our son and changed our family for the better. We were so worried for so long, nagged by the feeling that something was wrong. We fought against our gut because he was bright and funny and could do lots of things. I remember filling out the Well Child checklists with asterisks:
Can your child kick a ball?
Yes, he can… *he just doesn’t.
When we would voice our concerns, we were usually told we were being paranoid. He’s just fine. He’ll grow out of it.
In the meantime, our son was trying to navigate a world without the proper set of instructions. He didn’t understand – and we didn’t understand – why he couldn’t repeat steps that seemed so simple, why he was always dropping things or bumping things or being “careless.” And that is my biggest regret, how many times I must have told him he was careless or not paying attention. How many times did I shame him for something that was completely out of his control?
So the diagnosis was not hard to receive, it was a blessing. We suddenly understood our son and could help him understand his world. Our whole perspective shifted. Now, at the age of 11, he is his own best advocate. Years of physical therapy, occupational therapy and social skill therapy have given him valuable tools.
Dyspraxia can Effect
- Executive function (brain-speak for managing all your movement & thoughts to achieve a goal – from tying shoelaces to operating a car)
- Small motor skills
- Gross motor skills
- Social skills
- Emotional control
Experts in the field believe that many children with dyspraxia are labeled as ADD, ADHD or being on the autism spectrum because of similarities in how the disorders present. In the UK and Australia, where knowledge of dyspraxia is more widespread, more children are diagnosed with dyspraxia every year as the rate of other disorders declines.
Strength of Dyspraxia
Dyspraxia isn’t all gloom and doom. Most symptoms are manageable and there are lots of aspects of dyspraxic children that can be considered gifts. Dyspraxic children are empathetic, creative and intelligent.
My advice to anyone who suspects their child (or themselves) may be struggling with dyspraxia is to do your research. The number of doctors who are familiar with dyspraxia is on the rise, but it is still a disorder that is often over looked. It is worth trying to find a doctor who can help, since it can lead to receiving therapuetic services and educational accomodations.
Resources for Parents
Warren Fried, who has dyspraxia himself, runs a great resource at www.dyspraxiausa.org. There are also a number of Facebook groups offering support and resources, including Dyspraxia Alabama. More information on dyspraxia and how it relates to other neurological disorders can be found through a thorough web search and HERE.
My son has dyspraxia. He always has and he always will. It is part of who he is. We’ve all learned to be patient, anticipate the challenges and make accommodations, and embrace what makes him unique. He has dyspraxia, and he is also smart, funny, kind and caring. Dyspraxia doesn’t define him, it is just one of the things that make him such an amazing person.
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Rocket City Mom is a website about raising children in and around Huntsville, Alabama. Started in late 2010 by a local mom and newcomer to Huntsville, Rocket City Mom has grown into a thriving community of local parents and now boasts a staff of four, thirteen regular contributors, and tens of thousands of Tennessee Valley readers making it the #1 Parenting Resource in North Alabama.