Dyspraxia: The Clumsy Child

The Clumsy Child
I‘d been riding my bike in the street when I mounted the curb ending up almost inside someone’s front door. I always was a clumsy child. It seems I couldn't even play properly.
0 Comments / 1 Shares

“I’d knock first,” said my neighbor.

I‘d been riding my bike in the street when I mounted the curb ending up almost inside someone’s front door. I always was a clumsy child. It seems I couldn't even play properly.

If someone threw a ball towards me I’d duck, rather than try to catch it. I couldn’t run or jump or do anything quickly. People couldn't understand that shouting at me wouldn't make any difference to the way I performed. If you beat a slow donkey, you can't make it go any faster; you just make it more miserable.

If I tried to swim, I could stay afloat, but I would splash about on the spot never moving forward. I once had to be hauled out of the ocean as the tide gradually carried me away while I continued my bobbing-up-and-down swim.

From an early age I was conscious of being “different”; of not fitting in with other children. They thought I was strange.

“Isn't she funny!” they'd say as if I wasn't there.

Although I had no obvious speech problems, I found it difficult to communicate one-to-one. It was as though there was a glass barrier between me and the other person. I was easily frustrated and quite often my frustration would present itself as anger.

One of my earliest memories was of flying into a rage because I couldn't bring myself to say two simple words. I could have been no more than three years old when I saw my father standing in the doorway when I wanted to pass. Young as I was, I knew the form was to say “excuse me”. But I couldn't, for the life of me, get the words out. Instead, I launched myself at my father and kicked him hard from behind.

Startled, my dad swung round and smacked me on the arm. My mother, seeing he’d left a red mark, shouted at him then slapped his face. Shocked by the chain of events I’d set in motion, I simply howled.

Just one or two years later I was out with my father when we ran into one of his workmates. At around four or five, I probably looked as cute as any child of that age.

“Is this your daughter, Tom?”

Dad proudly acknowledged me. But I absolutely could not return a polite greeting to that poor, bewildered man.

“Don't you ever make a fool of me like that again!” said my angry dad afterwards.

My short-term memory and concentration were poor. When I started infant school, the teacher would begin lessons by setting a task. As soon as she’d finished speaking, I would invariably wail: “I don’t know what to do....”

My very first school photograph showed me with my coat wrongly buttoned and my hair a bunch of knots and tangles. I couldn’t look neat to save my life.

I could read quite well even before I started school, but handwriting was a major problem. My brain knew how to form letters but my fingers didn't. I would grip the pen or pencil so tightly I grew calluses. And I'd get hot and irritable with the sheer effort of committing words to paper. Having made several attempts to form a letter, I'd fill in the loops in the hope that it would be more easily recognized. In fact it was a mess. My infant class teacher told my parents I “painted-in” letters. She seemed to regard it as an artistic foible.

Some years later, my junior school headmaster announced: “Untidy writing means an untidy mind.”

I’ll never forget the spiteful smirk my form teacher turned on me. But I suspect the real reason for her dislike was that my general knowledge was broader than hers. At nine years old I didn’t have the tact to conceal my superior knowledge.

Although I was academically bright, I couldn’t retain facts. Subjects requiring logic were a mystery. But I was good at anything needing creative thought and I always got top marks for my essays.

Sewing lessons were problematical. I would stick the needle in the fabric but it seldom came out where I expected it to. I spent a whole term sewing and unpicking a cookery apron while my classmates created entire wardrobes.I couldn't follow a knitting pattern or knit in the conventional way. But by devising my own stitches and working to my own designs, I made original clothes that were much admired.

I could do any number of things if I was allowed to develop my own techniques. I found I could even write passably neatly by devising my own system of loops and whorls. Like Frank Sinatra, (cue for song) “I did it my way”.

I could never understand why people took my clumsiness personally. It usually caused me more inconvenience than it did them. On one occasion, I broke a piece of my mother's favorite tea service, whereupon she smashed the rest of it in the fireplace, moaning: “I'll never have anything nice....”

I left school with few qualifications. For a girl in 1950s England the only serious career options were nursing, teaching or secretarial work. I couldn't see myself doing any of those things as my people skills were non-existent. Although I had a tendency to drop and break things, I was happier dealing with objects than with people, so my first job was as a lab assistant in a milk testing laboratory.

I was dangerous! I accounted for more breakages than the rest of my colleagues put together. And I still bear the scars from glass cuts and the occasional acid burn to this day.

I discovered I was better suited to jobs where I could work on my own. Outdoor jobs were preferable as I could commune with nature. The natural world didn't judge me or find me weird.

I wasn't particularly good at dating. Eventually I met and married a regular guy who, luckily for me, positively embraced my peculiarities. In time I learned to turn my shortcomings into advantages. 

It's often said that people who are disadvantaged in some way gain an extra sense. In my case it was a sense of humor. The ability to laugh at my own clumsiness earned me respect if not popularity.

Creative writing was a walk in the park for me and I began writing for publication. What started out as a hobby gradually became a career. Before I mastered the keyboard, I'd often had difficulty reading my handwritten notes. On one occasion I couldn't understand why I'd written “urine sample” until I remembered the words were meant to be “divine smile”.

I took a job as an editorial assistant on a regional newspaper. That was fine as I liked playing with words. Problems arose when I was promoted to the post of reporter which meant I had to interact with members of the public. But I took courage from the fact that it was my job to ask personal questions. For the first time in my life I found it relatively easy to open conversations.

I was well into middle age, yet it never occurred to me that I had a recognized condition. I'd simply resigned myself to the idea that I was awkward and socially inept.

I can’t remember when I first heard the term “dyspraxia” applied to a clumsy child. It sounds like a beautiful flower, doesn’t it? But, like bindweed, it had kept me in a stranglehold throughout my life.

I began researching the condition on the Internet. I found it had no single clear cause, though it can sometimes result from brain damage in the early stages of a baby’s development. I ticked nearly all the boxes when it came to symptoms: difficulty forming relationships, poor balance, difficulty riding a bicycle.... cooking.... driving....

I visited web-sites offering treatment to manage dyspraxia. I was too old to undergo brain-training, as I discovered when I tackled an on-line questionnaire. It was going well until I had to fill in “age of child”. “Sixty-five” didn’t look quite right somehow!

I sometimes wonder if my life would have been easier if I’d been diagnosed when young, but I doubt it. I think giving a problem a name hands sufferers a ready-made excuse for their failings. Often people who are poor at spelling claim to be “dyslexic” while some self-centered people like to think they’re “autistic”.

I've found ways around my problems by developing skills that compensate for my shortcomings. I’m still not much of a conversationalist but I’m a great listener. You can trust me with your most intimate secrets, knowing that I’ll forget them as soon as you’ve finished speaking.

I'm still not very neat. I usually look like a bag lady having a bad-hair day. My kitchen is a perennial disaster zone.

Finding I have a recognized syndrome has at last given me some sort of closure. You never grow out of dyspraxia but I’ve finally grown into it. Now the “clumsy child” is a senior citizen, people rush to help me when I fumble with my bags or trip over the curb, putting it down to my advancing years. It seems this clumsy child has come of age.

Comment on this story using Facebook.