Referred to as ‘clumsy-child’ syndrome, dyspraxia is a neurological condition that affects 2% of the population.
A developmental disorder of the brain, dyspraxia often becomes apparent within early childhood, with sufferers unable to master basic motor-control skills.
Using a knife and fork, catching and throwing, running without falling and tying shoelaces are all difficult to learn.
As a sufferer, I can trip over thin air, bump into others and am more likely to head-butt a ball than catch it – but does this mean I should avoid sport?
With difficulty in spatial awareness, a dyspraxic can easily cause havoc on the pitch. We are, no doubt, an injury hazard to ourselves as well as our teammates – so I apologise to that girl whose wrist I broke whilst attempting to pass a netball.
Coaches, when questioned on the disability, may claim to have ‘heard’ of it, yet may not understand it.
If a dyspraxic is asked to go from A-B whilst dodging in and out of cones, it may not be grasped the first time. It is frustrating for the individual and the coach, as a dyspraxic needs longer to process simple requests.
If this time is not given, often the dyspraxic makes mistakes and loses confidence – an experience that diminishes any desire to be involved in sport.
A number of sports are simply not an obvious go-to for a dyspraxic. Football? Shins will be kicked instead of the ball.
Cricket? The stump will be hit first by the dyspraxic holding the bat, not that red, leather flying object.
Swimming? Place a dyspraxic in the pool and you will see that moving arms and legs simultaneously is a mean feat – more likely to drown than float – no doubt a disappointment to my own world-record holding father.
So what should a dyspraxic, and coaches, be told?
Lying close to the autism spectrum, a dyspraxic is often a perfectionist, possessing the ability to conquer a particular ability if given the opportunity and time.
In my case, playing outfield in hockey required too much consideration for the part of the stick, ball and running – often resulting in human skittles.
Once I was placed in goal, however, I could focus on one single aim – to stop the ball. A skill I would go on to develop and play at an International level as a junior.
I have been fortunate to come across a dyspraxic coach before – a rower.
This was my first instance of realising that there are other dyspraxics out there who choose to pursue sport; they simply had to find the discipline that belonged to them.
Finding a coach with dyspraxia allowed enjoyment in a sport I otherwise may not have been involved in, for the coach was able to instruct me in a way that benefited my disability – simple, precise and repetitive – much like the motion of rowing itself.
There is one thing true of every dyspraxic I have met: determination. A determination that goes on to allow a complete mastery of a specific skill.
Yes, we may end up two lanes over from where we started
One clear example of this determination would be Adam Gittings. In 2014, after only two years participating in the sport, Adam defeated the top-ranked domestic player and world bronze medallist, becoming the national champion in Class eleven table tennis.
Sport is beneficial to a healthy lifestyle, so disability or not, allow the dyspraxic to participate.
Yes, we may end up two lanes over from where we started on a running track, or accidentally cause a pile-up on the rugby pitch, but laugh with us – the clumsiness is unique.
Include us, encourage us, but maybe don’t throw a tennis ball to us.
Photograph: Trevor Littlewood via Geograph