magine you’re a healthy adult with a good university degree but struggle to pour a drink without spilling it, direct people across a building, or remember what you’ve just been told clearly. This is a typical picture of someone with dyspraxia. Dyspraxia, or developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD), affects co-ordination, spatial awareness and sensory perception. It’s part of an umbrella of conditions known as specific learning differences (SpLD), which are defined as exceptional variations in a person’s ability, as well as problems with concentration and short-term memory.
Dyspraxia affects between 2% and 6% of the population, meaning there’s likely to be at least one person with the condition in every school class or workplace. Around 70% of those affected are male and many, like myself, had a premature or difficult birth. It can also run in families. Someone with mild dyspraxia may be able to pass it off as a quirky foible, or a situational problem. In severe cases though, it may mean being unable to walk up stairs without holding on, or forgetting to take off your clothes before having a shower.
Dealing with dyspraxia has been a practical and emotional challenge for me in different ways throughout my life. Unlike celebrities Daniel Radcliffe and Florence Welch I wasn’t diagnosed as a child and went through years of sporadic speculation that something was wrong without knowing what. As well as being clumsy and spatially awkward I was useless at Stem subjects, where I worked flat-out just to scrape GCSE C grades (I’ll never forget my friend’s baffled, concerned reaction when, at nearly 13, I didn’t realise that 1200 and 1,200 meant the same thing).
Typically for a female, I was labelled odd rather than disruptive, and tried to hide my weaknesses and play to my strengths. By my late teens I’d set my sights on a journalism career and started freelancing. I often admired people who worked in fields I felt excluded from and used my own career ambitions to tap into their lives. Hero-worshipping other people was a way of taking the spotlight off my own weaknesses and winning approval.