Eleanor Mountain has always experienced difficulties with everyday chores such as carrying trays, housework and cooking. Competent in her professional life as a social worker and counsellor, she admits that over the years she unconsciously hid her lack of ability in areas such as driving.
When she was in her 50s, Mountain became aware of the motor co-ordination condition dyspraxia, or Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD), which affects co-ordination, spatial awareness and sensory perception.
As a late diagnosed adult, Mountain began the process of reframing years of unexplained events.
Children with dyspraxia generally are unable to tie their shoelaces, have poor handwriting and are chronically disorganised. However, Mountain says the manner in which dyspraxia affects adults is underestimated and under-reported.
“Short-term memory is an issue. It is hugely frustrating. I have difficulties with navigation when I drive. I don’t like giving lifts to people. Inviting people over for meals was always a huge stress when my kids were growing up. It would be such a big deal for me to get the food done on time. I always had huge competency in certain areas and not in other areas. Looking back, I was always hiding until I realised that I had a condition that was making certain things difficult.”
Mountain, who lives in Kilkenny, says many people with dyspraxia go through the ordeal of learning to drive as it is so vital to modern life. However, they often avoid driving on motorways or restrict their driving to daytime.
“I find night-time driving difficult because of the oncoming lights. There is sensitivity there. I find straight roads a lot easier. Narrow roads are hard and I invariably end up gripping the steering wheel.”
However, Mountain insists dyspraxia does have its upsides: many people with the condition share common traits of empathy and creativity.
“Dyspraxics can be highly creative, having differently wired brains. You have an empathy with difficulties other people face. That is why counselling, child protection and social work was a good fit for me.”
Amy Cahill from Shankill, Dublin, was diagnosed with dyspraxia when she was two. Her grandmother Nora, who was working as a nurse at the time, became concerned that she wasn’t meeting her developmental milestones such as crawling. Now, 22 years later, Cahill says education about dyspraxia is still not what it should be.
“I am training as a nurse and I have lecturers who don’t know what dyspraxia is. They often confuse it with dyslexia. That amazes me.”
Cahill says parents of children with dyspraxia are well aware of the challenges their offspring face in the primary-school years. However, they are often unprepared for secondary school and adult life.
“In secondary school I was bullied as I could walk into a door very easily or I was always dropping my pencil case. Everyone goes through bullying at some stage in their lives, but it can be very common for dyspraxics.”
Cahill is currently training to be a nurse at St Angela’s in Sligo. She hopes to specialise in intellectual disability arising out of the struggles she went through growing up. She says one of the main challenges she had to overcome as a late teenager was learning how to drive.
“My first driving instructor told me I was too stupid to drive. He was terrible. He couldn’t understand it at all. My spatial awareness was awful. How close am I to the edge of the road? Reversing around the corner was very trying. The hardest thing for people with dyspraxia is trying to explain themselves to the instructor.”
Having been told by her first instructor she would never pass a test, she got her driving licence on her second attempt. She insists what people with dyspraxia lack in terms of motor skills they make up for in tenacity.
“I am the most stubborn person you would ever meet,” she says. “I wanted to prove the first driving instructor wrong. When I passed I even rang him to tell him and he said ‘congratulations’, which made me laugh.”
Cahill stresses that parents should encourage their dyspraxic children to take on every challenge as the possibilities are endless. “I find following a map or a sat-nav hard. Learning to drive is difficult as dyspraxics can only take one instruction at a time, not five or six instructions, but it can be done.”
Driving instructor Donal Fitzpatrick from Dublin first started specialising in teaching dyspraxics how to drive seven years ago. In his experience, large swathes of the population suffer from mild dyspraxia, which impairs their ability to learn to drive easily.
“Instructors are often quite ignorant of it. I can see it when somebody gets into the car and they find it hard to multitask. Their short-term memory is poor or they could be bumping up against the path and not know.”
Fitzpatrick says dyspraxics often need to take far more lessons than is usual to pass the driving test, but most generally make it in the end. “I sit people down and say ‘This is what it takes to pass.’ That said, I have had dangerous moments where a person stops suddenly on a dual carriageway – but you have to have patience. This is the hardest thing they will probably ever do, but they manage it eventually.”
DCD: NOT NECESSARILY SOMETHING TO GROW OUT OF
Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD) is a label that is often used as an umbrella term for children/adults with co-ordination difficulties; it is also referred to as dyspraxia.
Until recently, many people incorrectly believed that DCD and motor impairment was something that children grew out of. The reality is that many children with DCD become adults who continue to struggle to carry out many normal everyday tasks, to varying degrees. Adults with moderate to severe DCD have difficulty managing many areas of their daily lives.
Poor fine motor skills cause difficulty with handwriting, personal care (including dental care), cooking, housework, driving, DIY and shopping. Weak gross motor skills affect their balance, posture and ability to play competitive sports. Organisation of themselves, their belongings and their time is also difficult for adults with DCD.
Some children with mild to moderate DCD will have few living and learning difficulties which significantly affect their everyday life. However, about 5 per cent of the adult population in the UK are thought to continue to have significant difficulties in carrying out their everyday living and learning activities as a result of DCD.