This Is What Dyspraxia Is Like As A Woman In My Thirties

I kind of love it?
Sarah Louise Kelly as a child, and now as an adult.
Sarah-Louise Kelly
Sarah Louise Kelly as a child, and now as an adult.

It’s 1994, I’m in my first year of primary school and one day, my teacher takes aside my 22-year-old mum and says, “I just did a course on Dyspraxia and I think Sarah might have it”.

What were the telltale signs? Well, I couldn’t keep my cardigan on my shoulders, ever and I often ended up looking a little chaotic by the end of the school day because I’d spilled all sorts all over myself, my cardigan was basically at my elbows and my tights were always ripped. For a quiet, bookish kid, I sure knew how to imitate a bull in a china shop.

Of course, my teacher was right. I did have Dyspraxia and it turns out, that explained a lot of things about me. My inability to hold a pen properly, how stressful I found colouring in and how deeply sensitive I was.

According to the Dyspraxia foundation, Dyspraxia is a common disorder affecting fine and/or gross motor coordination in children and adults. As with most disorders, it affects everybody differently but Dyspraxic people tend to struggle with movement, organisation and planning – as well speech and language.

Dyspraxia affects up to 6% of the population, with up to 2% being severely affected.

I don’t really remember a lot of my childhood but I do remember that I often found team activities very difficult. Communicating with other kids, listening to and comprehending instructions as well as actually having to do the physical activity all were challenging for me which often led to meltdowns, crying (my favourite hobby), and eventually opting out of joining in because it was just all too difficult and didn’t feel worth it to me.

When it comes to sensitivity, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation. I don’t know if Dyspraxia is the reason I’ve always been so sensitive (it is common for Dyspraxic people to be sensitive) or am I sensitive as a result of the difficulties Dyspraxia brings? It’s hard to say.

It’s the same with sports. Do I dislike sports because I’m usually very bad at them or have I grown to dislike them as a result of trying to join in and being humiliated by my lack of coordination and comprehension? I don’t know.

I struggled a lot with school, generally. My oversensitivity and clinical clumsiness, as I like to call it, made me a very easy target for bullies and I struggled to block out their taunting after having experienced it my entire school life. I left the day before my 16th birthday.

Dyspraxia in my 30s

It’s now somehow been 18 years since I left high school. I’m happy to report that I feel nothing about school these days, and I don’t regret being such an easy target for bullies.

I was at one of my best friend’s wedding a few weeks back and a friend of his who is also Dyspraxic shared a secret giggle with me as we talked about how impressive it was that we hadn’t fallen down the stunning stone stairs in the venue. It’s a lovely thing to be able to joke about it.

According to the Dyspraxia foundation, Dyspraxia in adults often has some or all of these signs:

  • History of physical awkwardness as a child, but may have developed coping or avoidance strategies as an adult
  • Difficulty learning new motor skills or applying skills in a different or busy environment
  • Difficulty handling tools and equipment such as a tin opener.
  • Poor balance, tires easily.
  • Can produce lots of writing or neat writing, but not both at the same time.
  • Anxious and may avoid social situations where difficulties might be exposed
  • Poor organisation and time management skills.
  • Misses deadlines, late for appointments
  • Awkward pauses before answering questions
  • Underachieves academically and in the workplace

A lot of these definitely ring true for me. I consider myself to be chronically shabby. My hair is often a mess, my clothes don’t sit right on me, I can’t use a lot of basic home tools, keep up with group conversations and often struggle to cope in social environments.

The thing is, the difference between being Dyspraxic as an adult and as a child, for me, has been acceptance. I am not looking to change these things about myself (couldn’t if I wanted to!) and I rarely apologise for them because I have spent enough of my life feeling like I’m inherently a problem.

In recent years, I’ve felt safe to own my Dyspraxia. To accept my limitations and not try to soften them for other people’s sensibilities or comfort. It is quite odd that as a writer, I struggle to hold a pen properly, but it turns out that it hasn’t held me back because here I am, writing this.

I am probably the most sensitive person that I know and that definitely comes with difficulties — I take everything really personally and at times when it’s deeply inappropriate to do so — but it’s also just very nice to know that throughout life and all the challenges that I’ve faced, I’ve made it to my mid thirties and stayed soft.

It does get me down a little that I’m not going to be anybody’s first choice for team sports, especially since there’s been such a rise in them among my peers but I’m still wholly loved and embraced as the bookish person that I am.

More awareness is crucial

A survey conducted by The Dyspraxia Foundation found that 69% of teachers had not received any specific training when it came to Dyspraxia. This is devastating and means more kids like me will be left isolated, insecure and unsupported with their disability.

My story does have a happy ending, but it shouldn’t have been so difficult to get here.