Dyspraxia: A Primer for Geeks

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Uncoordinated, he avoids trying out for sports teams. He shuffles down the hall with his shoelaces dragging and a shirt he put on inside-out. He’s awkward when talking to people and likes to retreat into comfort zones–hobbies and interests that he feels some sort of mastery over because everything else seems jumbled and confusing.

The other kids might look his way and say, “What a geek.”

But there’s much more to the story.

As many as one in ten suffer from dyspraxia. Many of the signs and symptoms are written off as quirky behaviors stereotypically assigned to “geekiness” or the simple awkwardness of youth.

By the time my son was in second grade, it was becoming apparent that he was experiencing the world differently. A really bright kid with very specific interests, his performance in school was uneven and he struggled with everyday tasks that his friends were starting to master.

After years of trying, he still couldn’t tie his shoes–he didn’t learn until middle school. Writing was an awkward experience for him. Letters would flip and he’d trail down the page with a drunken, wandering scrawl. Spelling was an extra challenge. At times he’d spell words without any of the vowels. He’d watch movies with his hands over his ears. We took to bringing earplugs along with us wherever we went.

He tried sports but his lack of coordination and the overwhelming stimulus he received from a field full of chaotic movement and a sideline full of screaming Texas football parents convinced him that our state’s obsession wasn’t his thing.

We’d taken him to counseling before and spoken with our doctor but never had much luck. He was too healthy and too normal to have any “real” problems. These were all things he’d “grow out of.”

It was an amazing teacher who recommended occupational therapy. Initially, we took him for his handwriting, but they quickly discovered the full extent of his difficulties and we finally had a name: dyspraxia.

Dyspraxia is an autism spectrum disorder often co-morbid with autism spectrum disorders. The how and why of it aren’t well understood, but the broad range of effects it can have on the mind are well-documented.

Dyspraxia alters the way sufferers process sensory information. Sound, sight, touch, and even vestibular and proprioception senses–the awareness of body movement and positioning in space–can be affected. Long- and short-term memory are also often at risk, leading to broken or disordered recall.

For years, the condition has flown under the radar. Even after Harry Potter himself (Daniel Radcliffe) shared his diagnosis in 2008, there’s still little understanding of the disorder in the US. Overseas, however, the UK has led the charge in treatment, diagnosis and support.

Once we knew the diagnosis, the next step was to make the school aware. His dyspraxia is now recognized under federal 504 law, and we meet yearly (or more often) with his teachers to both educate them on dyspraxia and discuss his progress and accommodations in the classroom.

Chances are you know someone who meets the description, maybe even someone close to you. Check out the Dyspraxia Foundation for more information and resources to help understand this under-acknowledged disorder.

Do you have any experiences with dyspraxia you’d like to share? Is this the first time you’ve heard of the disorder? Let me know in the comments and I’ll try to answer any questions you may have.

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