Dyspraxia: My hidden menace

Life was hard having an unknown learning difficulty. It left open a series of unsolved mysteries throughout my life that were only just solved last year when I had my dyspraxia diagnosis. 

Since I was a child, I was diagnosed with a speech and language impediment. It became the sole focus of my life since I was two years old. I struggled to talk clearly and I always got really frustrated and behaved badly if people could not understand what I was saying.

During school, there were many challenges that I faced and struggled to deal with by myself because I did not have a diagnosis. When I was at first school, I struggled to learn how to do basic things that my other classmates took for granted, like being able to tie my shoe laces or tell the time, all of which I learnt to do at the age of nine.

Learning how to ride a bike was a difficult challenge too and I remember feeling incredibly proud of myself for learning how to do it. I avoided doing sport like the plague and would often refuse to take part in P.E. lessons. My mum had to help me organise myself. Because of this hidden menace called dyspraxia, first school was such a struggle.

My teachers suspected I was autistic. My mum took me to get diagnosed for autism. It was not entirely a misconception as there are many traits people with dyspraxia have that are autistic traits e.g. sensory impairments, needing routine. Also, dyspraxia was not very well known in the 1990s and people are only just getting diagnosed with it later on in life. My first school were puzzled by my situation that they almost sent me to a special needs school, but my mum fought hard to ensure that I stayed in mainstream schooling. And I am glad she did.

By the time I was sixteen, I had achieved a brilliant set of GCSE results against almost impossible odds. I was also able to talk properly and clearly by this stage. I also finally got into a really good university (Nottingham) by the time I was eighteen. Everyone in my life thought: ‘Well done Matthew, you made it! You defeated your special needs! Now nothing can stop you!’ I successfully graduated in 2012 with a History and Politics degree.

Nevertheless, it left open all the other questions as to why I struggled with basic things throughout school, university and life generally that other people could cope with. I could not use a speech and language impediment as a reason anymore because I could talk clearly at this stage in my life. So why was I still struggling more than other people? 

Why did it take me seven attempts to pass a driving test? Why was it that by the time I started doing a History PGCE I was struggling with planning lessons when it seemed like I could now cope with academic work? Why was I so clumsy in bumping into people and dropping things due to poor hand coordination? Why was my working memory so poor that it looked like I did not listen to people?

Dyspraxia is a learning difficulty that affects children’s physical coordination that causes a child to perform less well than expected in comparison to their peers for their age. I found out about this learning difficulty when I was working as a teaching assistant and I did lots of research into it and realised that due to many unexplained events in the past, that I might be dyspraxic.

Finally, in the middle of my PGCE, I was diagnosed with dyspraxia. It explained everything as it is a learning difficulty that causes people to struggle with motor coordination and planning movements. I learnt that the speech and language impediment I had struggled with as a child was only a small part of my undiagnosed dyspraxia as I could not talk properly due to poor motor coordination in my throat. I felt liberated. This hidden menace was no longer hidden. All the unsolved mysteries were now solved. I could finally learn to cope with it.

The University of Worcester’s Disabilities and Dyslexia Service can provide practical help for people with dyspraxia that are going into teaching. For example, one to one academic support can help people with dyspraxia plan for essays and lessons with the support of someone trained to assist people with learning difficulties. They can also offer advice on how to improve reading techniques when skimming through books to gain knowledge for assignments or planning lessons.

Reading is a challenge for many people with dyspraxia as due to poor coordination being one of the main symptoms of dyspraxia, dyspraxics can find that they miss important words in texts due to skimming texts much too fast. It was a relief to know this for me as I used to read books far too fast when I was younger and I have now learnt techniques on how to deal with that.

I also learned proofreading and time management techniques to help make sure that when I was reading lesson plans or assignments I could spot any mistakes. A lot of these techniques can be used to support staff in education beyond the PGCE year as staff can adopt these techniques when entering their NQT year and beyond.

My university did everything that they could to help me considering how late I was in getting a diagnosis and they provided me with a tutor to help me plan my essays. Despite this, my mentors on placement were less sympathetic and did not consider how the learning difficulty affected my ability to do the job. I still struggled with teaching as a result of this learning difficulty and I eventually had to drop out of my course due to not receiving support or understanding whilst carrying out my placements. I am no longer teaching.

Teaching is one of the hardest jobs a person with dyspraxia can do and I really struggled with it. However, dyspraxia can be a positive as it allows you to think creatively and as a result, I have decided that I would really like to pursue a career where I can put my talent for writing to good use. There are many positives to having a learning difficulty as well.

My advice for anyone struggling is to get a diagnosis as soon as possible. It can ruin your self-esteem if you are struggling with a learning difficulty that is beyond your control and can remain a hidden menace that prevents you from doing many of the tasks people without learning difficulties take for granted; you should not have to struggle by yourself.

People with dyspraxia can make good teachers despite my experience; I have heard of many people who have become teachers with dyspraxia. However, you have to make sure you have the support in place as soon as you start your teacher training and be prepared to work really hard. I am not saying that I did not work hard, but I found it really difficult and decided it was not for me.

Here are some good links with resources to support people with dyspraxia:

https://www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk/about-dyspraxia/

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Dyspraxia-(childhood)/Pages/Introduction.aspx

About Matthew Snape

Matthew Snape is a freelance journalist and PR specialist. He has a diverse background of experience that involves banking, retail, charity work, politics, education and writing. In regards to his background in education, he has worked as a play worker, teaching assistant, trainee teacher and project worker for a special needs charity.