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Dyspraxia in a sports mad country

Australia is a great place to live and I love it. But growing up in a country that is sport mad is far from easy when you have dyspraxia. The fact that sport is a compulsory part of the  school curriculum  is just the tip of the ice berg. Much of the socialising at recess and lunchtime involves sport. This is especially true for boys but also to a lesser extent for girls. The majority of extra curricular activities for children also involve sporting activities. When you have problems with gross and/or fine motor skills you are left behind by your peers much of the time. Always being on the outside looking in is difficult and frustrating for anyone, but for a child trying to make friends it can be a major blow to their often already fragile self esteem. Growing up I found very little understanding of my difficulties. I was often embarrassed and humiliated and it wasn’t just by the other children. Many of the teachers were just as bad or worse then my peers and as adults they should have known better.

I hated sport at school. For me it was complete torture.It wasn’t just that I wasn’t good at it, I was completely hopeless. It was humiliating and soul destroying and the teachers often treated me like I was doing it deliberately. I was often punished for my difficulties and told I wasn’t trying hard enough. I can remember being made to play softball with a smaller bat then everyone else and the teacher getting annoyed because I still couldn’t hit the ball. I was often in trouble for not being able to jump hurdles. They put the high jump bar so low it was level with the mat but I still could not jump it. My brain like a lot of people with dyspraxia’s cant judge how high a jump or hurdle is. For us it is almost like jumping blindfolded because we can not tell how high we need to jump. Our brains cant accurately judge how high or wide or long something is. Nor can we judge the speed of an object that is moving. I am sure it is frustrating for the teacher but no one wants to look stupid on purpose. Believe me I wanted to be able to jump that bar more then they wanted me to be able to do it. But no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t.

One thing teachers do a lot is get the children to choose teams. I am sure it is far less effort for them because they only have to choose 2 captains and the children do the rest . If I was a teacher I would never ask the children to choose teams because I know what it feels like to be the person nobody wants on their team.
I was always without fail the last person picked. Everyone wants to win and they all knew how hopeless I was. When I was at school it was unusual for children to be overweight and they would also be  left till near the end to be chosen. But even the overweight children were chosen before me. Though they couldn’t run very fast they could sill catch and throw, kick a ball or use a bat. I couldn’t do any of it. A little extra effort from a teacher can save a child’s self esteem. This should apply to teams for academic purposes as well because the children always know who is good at what. Though we all need to participate in things we are not good at, there is no need to constantly humiliate a child unnecessarily.

I remember when I was about 14 or 15, our teacher decided that instead of doing health education we would play a game of tip and run softball. This was my worst nightmare. Every person hit the ball and made a home run. Everyone that is except me. To their credit nobody said anything but we all knew that I had lost my team the game. Several decades on the memory is still very humiliating. Australia is a very competitive nation when it comes to sport and even many of our social activities involve sport. Recess, lunch and after school often involve activities that involve motor skills and co-ordination.

Lunch and recess for boys is  often spent playing soccer, football or cricket. Boys by nature gravitate towards physical activity. Though not as physical the activities girls participate in can be just as difficult for the child with dyspraxia. The girls at my school used to play skipping ,hopscotch or elastics. While these are easy activities for most children, the child with dyspraxia will find them difficult or impossible to do. Even chasey isn’t much fun when you are always it because everyone can catch you and you can’t catch anyone else. The child with dyspraxia has 2 choices , either participate in activities that they will fail at and be laughed at, or sit on the sidelines alone. Neither choice is great for your self esteem.
Most after school activities are the same. Football,soccer,rugby,cricket tennis,gymnastics, netball,basketball even martial arts require some degree of co ordination. Riding a bike is even difficult when you have dyspraxia. I did manage to learn to roller skate but only because I spent hours and hours every weekend practising on my back patio. Anyone else who practised that many hours would have been a brilliant skater.I was able to make it around the skating rink without falling flat on my face every time.

As adults we learn to avoid those situations and activities that we know we will struggle with. A child in school can’t do that. They are stuck in a situation they can not escape from and must participate in what ever activities they are told to. There is no magic solution to this. However not getting angry or making fun of a child who is struggling will help. They are not doing it on purpose. Please don’t tell them they need to try harder. They are already trying harder then everyone else. The most frustrating thing I still hear even as an adult is ”If I can do it you can”. This is simply not true. Our brains are wired differently and we are not on a level playing field. Nobody would tell a paraplegic they could walk if they tried harder, but people with dyspraxia are often told they just need to try harder. Just because our disability can’t be seen doesn’t make it any less real.

 

Sharon Beaumont

I am a single mother of 4 who has lived with dyspraxia for several decades. My hope is that by sharing my experiences I can help to raise awareness of dyspraxia. I trained as an Education Assistant but found some areas of this to be a difficult career if you have dyspraxia. Currently I am an Information Technology Student and am trying to teach my self to speak French. I love travel, writing and anything French.

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