Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dyspraxia; The Myth of Lazy

Just this week Jake came home; brow furrowed, and promptly dropped his books on the floor.

Whoa, boy. Teen drama. Wonder what this one is.

"Mom, I want you to photocopy the letter that the doctor gave you with my diagnosis so that I can take it to school and prove to the kids that I have dyspraxia."

What the....?

Jake has been doing fantastic in his new high school this year. He loves his teachers, who understand his disability, and the normally present anxiety has been non-existent. The only thing that I'm finding is a huge issue is....the kids don't understand.

I can understand how he sticks out from the crowd like a sore thumb. The backpack that has his laptop is massive and doesn't really fit in his locker, so making his way through crowded hallways is a problem. He is an outgoing personality and doesn't blend all that well. He also isn't the most socially savvy kid, and so he unintentionally makes himself stick out even more.

The reason he wants the doctor's diagnosis has nothing to do with any of that though, and has everything to do with the lap-top loaned to him through SET-BC to do his school work.

"Hey, if I had a laptop I'd get my work done so much faster. You're so slow. The only reason you have it is you're lazy."

"What a cop out. I'm disappointed in you. You really could do it without a lap top, you just don't try hard enough."

Meanwhile, Jake tries as best a 12 year old can to explain that he has a disability, but it falls on deaf ears. They just don't understand. They understand autism, they've heard of that. They know what ADHD is, because they've heard of that to. Dyspraxia however, is far less well known.

Dyspraxia, also known as Developmental Co-ordination Disorder, is a neurologically based disorder that affects a child's ability to plan, and then execute, an action.

Dyspraxia USA sums it up best on their website, "Dyspraxia may affect any or all areas of development - physical, intellectual, emotional, social, language, and sensory - and may impair the normal process of learning, thus is a learning difficulty. It is not a unitary disorder (like measles or chicken pox, where all those affected share a common set of symptoms), and affects each person in different ways at different ages and stages of development, and to different degrees. It is inconsistent, in that it may affect the child one day but not the next - as if sometimes information is 'put away in the wrong drawer' - and it may affect children in different ways at different ages and developmental stages."

For Jake, the road surely hasn't been easy. As a baby, he was easy going but was slow to develop motor skills such as rolling over and walking. As a toddler and preschooler, he was prone to overstimlation, which resulted in horrific tantrums that I had no idea how to deal with. For years, people tried to peg him as having ADHD, and in the end we had an all out fight with a school district who wanted him in a behavioral program because they didn't know what else to do. Hubs and I, even with our expertise in working with special needs children, had never heard of dyspraxia.

It was a long road to a final diagnosis, but in the end, we all were vindicated. Now it's our job to spread the word; educate people around us that no, kids like Jake are not stupid or lazy, mentally handicapped, a behavior problem, or bad kid. They have specific needs and are just as, if not more, intelligent then their more able peers.

Dyspraxia is an invisible DISABILTY. It's very real. So real that even Daniel Radcliffe has it too. It's exactly why Jake has such a sensitive sensory system, can't tie his shoelaces, and uses that lap top instead of writing everything.

As parents, we teach our kids to be kind to the kid with obvious disabilities; the children in wheelchairs or who have Down's Syndrome. What we forget to teach them is that there are many disabilities that are hidden-and instead of immediately judging other people, they need to look deeper.

The very next kid that they judge as stupid or lazy just might be a future Harry Potter.

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