The life and times of a dyspraxic

The life and times of a dyspraxic

The things most of us take for granted is not par for the course for this reporter.

Imagine someone not being able to drive a car, ride a bicycle or a motorbike, or swim.

Well I don't have to imagine that, for I don't, or, to be more exact, can't, do any of that. What's wrong with me, you ask? I have what is known as developmental dyspraxia. That means I'm born with it.

But this is not meant to be a testimonial of my life. It was on the urging of my physician that I wrote this article. For she said, dyspraxia is still relatively rare, and a very misunderstood condition.

This article is meant to let caregivers of children with this condition, as well as adults having (or suspected to have) this condition, gain an insight into it. Hopefully, it will show that despite the difficulties, one can still live a productive and "normal" life.

As far as I can recall, I crawled, sat-up, and walked at all the right points in my life. A delay in any of those developmental stages would have been another sign of dyspraxia.

I was lucky that my sisters taught me some basic reading and writing. For if they had not, I might have also been slow in developing those skills. But it was the start I needed, and I was diligent in improving my reading and writing skills on my own, though holding a pencil or a pen was a chore, and it came with physical pain early on. (I'm still not the fastest writer in the East, not something a journalist wishes to be saddled with.)

I even developed basic mathematical skills by five.

So I was disappointed that when I went to kindergarten at age four, I was not allowed to participate in the reading and writing classes. The teacher said it was only for those aged six.

This made me opt to drop out of kindy − I told my parents I was bored to just do colouring (I actually sucked at it because I could never keep within the lines) and play games. But there was another reason, one I kept hidden.

Clumsy is as clumsy does

Things like tying my shoelaces proved to be a huge problem for me. This persisted until I was in Year Three, when I managed a simple bow knot. I still use that to this day as I can't fathom anything more complicated.

Yes, tying and untying knots is still very much a skill I struggle at. So you can imagine tying a tie (it takes me ages to get it right − so the number of times I have worn one is very rare indeed).

But back to the schoolyard. It was terribly embarrassing (kids being kids, I was made fun of) asking my school- or kindymate to help me tie my shoelaces if they got untied. But there was more. I was terribly bad at games, at any physical activity, in fact. Running, tumbling, skipping, could all be summed up in one word - tripping. Not for nothing do they call it the clumsy child syndrome (though it's a term not normally used any more).

Running around the track, I couldn't stay within the lanes. Doing the hurdles, I would hit the hurdles.

Playing badminton, I would be hitting air instead of the shuttle. Attempting a game of squash, I would hit my head against the wall chasing the ball. A football match, and I would kick thin air instead of the football. Hockey would see me swinging wildly and missing the ball.

A complete failure. At least that's how I felt. Physical Education (PE) or any sports activity would be sheer torture for me, and of course, I would be mocked. I came up with all sorts of excuses to get out of PE.

I also hated school on certain days because my dad was very much an Anglophile and that meant shirts had to be starched. Another consequence of dyspraxia, for some, is sensitivity to touch. For me, that meant anything hard or a fabric that was "pokey" also felt like a thousand little knives stabbing me.

I was literally in tears and couldn't explain why, so my parents just thought I was being a difficult child.

To this day, I have to be careful what I wear, though it's not as bad as it was before.

My dad was earning a modest salary as a clerk in a government department. So we couldn't afford a bicycle, hence I walked everywhere.

But even if we could afford one, it would have made no difference because I couldn't cycle. Yes, balance also proved to be something I couldn't master. So no cycling, no riding a bike, and no swimming.

Even to this day, I can't even push a bicycle or motorbike without it falling down. Yes, mocking session again with my peers.

So, drive a car, you say? I can't judge distances when it involves speed. Spatial relationships are a major struggle - I would get my left and right mixed up, and I could not figure out lateral images, so I never used the mirrors in the car.

I would confuse the clutch and the brake, and I had trouble shifting gears. When I tried to reverse from Point A to Point B, it was never in a straight vertical line! Parking − I would need a parking lot the size of a football field; otherwise, think of me driving a bumper car and going wild.

Imagine, if you will, my driving instructor, who had a perpetual look of fear on his face and a nervous laugh. At the end of the driving lessons, I was soaked in sweat because I was literally breaking out in cold sweats.

I failed the driving test, of course, but not before making my tester utilise the spare brake many times during the route. I then swore I would keep the streets safe by keeping myself off of them.

That spatial blurring also affected my studies, as things like trigonometry and mechanics had me always flunking those sections. It affected my morale quite badly as I never really had problems with my studies otherwise, though it took me longer to process information.

So that leaves me pretty dependant on public transport. Horror of horrors, as anyone who has to deal with public transport in Malaysia will tell you.

You try planning your life around public transport! Some places you can get taxis to go to (at a cost), but trying to get back is another matter. Radio cabs are no help as they are choosy over locations.

So when I made choices on where to live or where to work, location of public transport facilities was a huge factor in deciding. I had to turn down so many jobs, or not even apply for them, because the location was just not feasible.

Perils of the job

It was quite terrifying making a decision to become a journalist after being office-bound for many years. Journalist equals mobility, and it was a stressful time getting to locations and rushing back to the office, especially when I was on the news beat.

So when I became a feature writer, it made life somewhat easier. But then the first six years were spent being on the environment beat. Scaling mountains, going caving, boat rides along rivers, and whitewater rafting were just a few of the activities I had to undertake.

All of them involved having good balancing skills. Climbing down a mountain was especially difficult, and many a time I had to gingerly crawl down like a little kid. There were quite a few times I thought I would fall, and there were a few near escapes.

There was another occasion when I had to get into a boat, and the guy who was in the boat before me decided to get up just as I stepped on. That made the boat sway madly. Talk about rocking the boat. I fell overboard with notebook and camera.

And I couldn't swim, another thing bequeathed upon me courtesy of my condition. The teenagers who were there for a camp thought it was the most thrilling part of the whole time spent there.

Outcome, one very wet and dirty journalist, a soaked notebook, and a damaged camera (and pride).

I'm actually surprised I function quite well as a writer, as another consequence of the disorder is that too many facts and figures confuses my brain. Information overload indeed.

And this for someone who also writes on issues and more complex subjects. Perhaps I'm a sucker for punishment. In the United States and Britain, apparently anyone diagnosed with dyspraxia gets four hours extra whenever they sit for exams. Plus, they are placed under the disability category, though in Malaysia, I don't qualify.

In the Klang Valley, to a certain extent, I can still function fully, but move me anywhere else, and I will flounder.

So every day, decisions are made by me that have to factor in all my "barriers". But I manage, and I must. There might be times I get overwhelmed or feel down, but I know I just have to keep doing the best I can. And I have never tried to call attention to my dyspraxia.

Now my doctor says I should. For otherwise, how else would people understand and accept the condition? Hence, this baring of my deepest "secret".

You cannot tell from my appearance that I have dyspraxia. So this is a hard condition for people to grasp, but hopefully, this story helps.

My name is S.S. Yoga, and I'm dyspraxic!

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