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‘Trip hazard’ — My journey to a dyspraxia diagnosis

An illustration of a foot tripping over a rock to signify coordination issues commonly seen in dyspraxia

Submitted by Ace Hitchman

Coming to the realisation of neurodiversity is a difficult process for anyone. The length of waiting lists for autism and ADHD diagnoses, and the difficulty and frustration of the process, are very well documented. I can personally vouch for that, having been long put off seeking an autism assessment due to the stress of it all.

Waiting times aren’t the only issue for neurodiverse people though. Additional types of neurodiversity exist that are seemingly less well-known to the general population, at least in terms of mainstream media reporting. Having been offered by my university earlier this year the chance to undertake assessment for some of these, I ended up receiving a diagnosis of dyspraxia. I had suspicions that I would meet this diagnosis for some time, and so it was a relief to receive this validation.

It occurred to me though that if I had not been at university, this validation may not have been possible, and that I may not have even known dyspraxia existed had it not been for my studies in psychology. That is why I want to share more about this process and hopefully bring awareness for others.

What are the signs of dyspraxia?

Also known as DCD (developmental co-ordination disorder), a hallmark sign of dyspraxia that is found almost instantly during any amount of internet research is ‘clumsiness’. Oh boy, did that ring true. I have had the family nickname of ‘trip hazard’ for as long as I can remember. “You fall over your own feet” people would often say. I spill things a lot, I drop things I’m carrying, I bump into walls and yes, at times it does feel like tripping over my own feet, or over thin air.

But surely, I thought, there must be more. In my own case, there was no clumsiness-related sign that couldn’t also be explained by vision problems or any other explanation. Queue the internet dive...

I have ‘a doctor’s handwriting’ to quote my schoolteachers. I could never keep still enough in assemblies. I have always hated and been embarrassed by, in particular, team sports, as a result of issues with coordination (never ever ask me to hit a ball with a bat or to catch a ball!) I have always loved arts and crafts but have never been good at it or shown it to others, because drawing in the lines is hard, as is using scissors. In the end, I developed my own way of tying shoelaces because nobody else’s teaching methods ever made sense. Even as an adult, I’ve always taken longer than others to learn new things, especially, for example, cooking, where recipe books or instructions go in one ear and out the other and I have no idea how to start. I am the most unorganised person going — I frequently forget appointments, leave things behind in the mornings, and have a reputation among my friends for leaving bags on trains when travelling to see them. When I walk downstairs, I have to at least have a handrail nearby and put both feet on the step below or else I feel off balance.

And what does even just a cursory glance at the NHS website in the year 2023 provide? It quotes individuals with dyspraxia (person first), as having ‘motor and coordination problems’ (listing examples such as shoelaces and walking down staircase), ‘difficulty concentrating’, ‘difficulty following instructions’ and ‘avoiding team-based activities. A big tick in the affirmation box.

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Affirmation is key

Self-affirmation and self-diagnosis are often key steps in the process towards an official recognition. Having even a relatively small amount of research behind me aided my confidence in finally taking up my university’s offer.

So, what was the process like in the end? For me, it looked like this:

  • A few video calls a few hours in length each

  • Completing tests of handwriting (a timed task to write about myself with prompts such as who my relatives are, what my job is and studies are, my favourite hobbies and how friends would describe me)

  • Visual coordination and pattern recognition including fitting shapes into larger shapes and virtual folding/origami style tasks (I remember the psychologist finding it amusing that I saw the Batman logo in one of the tasks!)

  • IQ (a test called WAIS IQ which sees if there is a difference between actual performance in a task and what you say verbally), number manipulation and more

  • I also had a pre-call medical and family history assessment which was also used in the diagnosis, with questions that assessed the extent to which symptoms were also present in childhood.

  • I was also asked how often I can have trouble completing certain daily living tasks

The n-person process requires the input of more professionals — including for example occupational therapy input. This involves the aforementioned medical history and some tests similar to mine, but also a few more observations than a virtual assessment allows. For example, whilst I only had a handwriting assessment, other in-person tests would include observation of walking and movement as well as hand-eye coordination tasks like cooking. This can make the process much more frustrating. However, despite having a different, more remote process to others, once the assessment actually happened, it was nowhere near the level of stress that my foreshadowing brain predicted it would be.

You know yourself best

The overall takeaway I’d like to make from all of this is that you know yourself best. If you are experiencing anything that feels unusual or want to find out more about what makes you who you are, trust that suspicion, do that research, and find things that may lead you to that understanding of yourself and, if necessary, give you the confidence to discuss with a professional on an even footing. The internet is a useful place not just for research, but for sharing in the experiences of others and finding a community of people who can support you with the diagnostic process, especially for things such as dyspraxia that don’t have in-person groups so commonly advertised.

Whether or not you think you or someone you love has dyspraxia, I hope that you will take this piece as your sign to trust your gut and try and see what help and support is out there.


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