Dyspraxia: When the brain takes the ‘scenic route’

“When terrible things happen you have two choices – you either go down in a hole or you try and find some way of coping.”

For Karen, writing fiction proved to be a therapeutic way of exploring her feelings. Although she never intended sharing her stories, she ended up publishing two novels, Butterfly Barn and On Butterfly Wings, that went into the Irish bestseller lists and, as she wrote about what she knew, pregnancy loss and dyspraxia were interwoven into the plot.

Aisling was 6½ before they got the diagnosis and even then Karen believes it was a stroke of luck because the paediatric psychiatrist she was referred to quickly recognised the problem, even though it wasn’t his area of expertise, because his own son had dyspraxia.

He advised her to find an occupational therapist who really understood dyspraxia but in the meantime to do as much as research as she could into the condition, which would enable her to figure out a way to help Aisling.

A trampoline was one of the Powers’ first purchases, which the little girl loved. Obstacle courses were created in the garden, which not only gave Aisling plenty of practice in physical co-ordination skills but also entertained the neighbours’ children.

One occupational therapist told Karen that Aisling would never be able to ride a bike – in fact she cycled without stabilisers the day after her seventh birthday. It was suggested she could be led on a pony because the saddle would be wide enough to ensure she wouldn’t fall off. Today she is an independent, accomplished horse rider.

The Powers, who by now also had a son, got conflicting advice on whether Aisling would be better off in a special school or mainstream but they chose the latter – a small school, none of which her primary peers were going to, but it seemed to have good support resources. However in time Aisling was struggling to cope with “isolation” – bullying by another name.

In third year, the principal told Karen that the school could meet neither her daughter’s academic nor her social needs and did the family have a plan? They didn’t but, having retrained as an adult educator, Karen ended up home-schooling her for the Junior Certificate and, after a transition year of their own creation, Aisling went to another school to sit the Leaving Certificate Applied.

She is now happily studying with the National Learning Network, displaying the very positive, warm and empathetic personality traits that were evident from a young age, which helped her own mother through the bad times.

“If there is one thing we have learned in life,” says Karen, “it’s that no person can ever predict what another is capable of achieving.”

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