Many of you parents reading this will have dyspraxic children, even if dyspraxia is an 'added extra' amidst other shades of autism. You will know all too well how many cups of coffee have been knocked over by your child, how many plates have been smashed and how many bumps and bruises you have nursed over the years. I am no different. Parents or carers ofchildren with dyspraxia should be given automatic passes to the emergency room at the local hospital!
Here's a quick example of how dyspraxia can affect our children's perceptions of their own strength, body space and distance. One day I had nipped off shopping for some last minute birthday party food whilst my sister and family looked after the other children. On arriving back from town I walked up my pathway to see it strewn with slivers of glass from the front door, and to be informed that Matthew was up at the hospital with my sister. Dashing off in a blind panic, I discovered that Matthew, in his usual clumsy fashion, had somehow managed to shut the front door, misjudged his own strength and distance and put his fist through the glass. He had severed a tendon in his knuckle and needed operating on immediately.
I tell this tale and others of my children to illustrate just how easy it is for our children to hurt themselves and despite our efforts, accidents still do happen. The secret is to learn from them and make sure the same ones do not happen again.
For parents or carers of dyspraxic children, the only advice I can give is not to expect too much from your child. Just because your friend's child is making cups of tea at ten years old, don't feel pressured into letting your dyspraxic child do the same unless you are sure he or she is ready. Try to arrange the house so that he or she is less likely to walk into things or knock things over and get hurt. Try to ensure that your child has regular 'therapy' in some form or other. I am not naive enough to think that any of you finds it easy to access occupational therapy - in our area it is nigh on impossible. However there are many exercises that you can be doing with your child to help his or her coordination and balance.
I am qualified to write a section on teenagers with dyspraxia as not only do I have two myself, but our chaotic and fun loving family seems to attract many other 'different' teenagers who yearn for understanding and so take refuge in our multicoloured mayhem. One particular friend of Matthew is not diagnosed with anything at all but he and Matthew may as well be twins.. .double the trouble! Whilst different to Matthew in so many ways and far more aware than Matthew will ever be, Matthew's friend is as clumsy as Matthew if not more so. Today I feel particularly equipped to write about teenagers with dyspraxia as I have a very physical reminder - sore feet and a bloodshot eye - I went out with them last night! I have already mentioned that my way of escaping from the two little boys and being able to watch over Matthew and Rachel when they are out is to go out with them occasionally. Last night my friend Sam and I embarked on a night of fun and 'babysitting' combined. The difficulties dyspraxia causes for teenagers cannot be underestimated.. .indeed the difficulties dyspraxia causes for their friends cannot be underestimated! Can you imagine looking after this lot on a busy night?
As we moved over to the bar to buy a drink, Matthew and his friend bumped into people, stepped on their toes, elbowed women in rather delicate places and generally attracted some rather angry looks. With Sam, Rachel, a few other loyal friends and me following closely behind and apologizing for them, we managed to settle ourselves in a relatively safe area where they could do little damage. After a drink or two (and one or two spilled ones) we all got up to dance. As I write I am distracted by the pain of such a decision! First my toe got stomped on by Matthew's friend then Matthew playfully came over to hug me, put his arm around my neck and poured his drink down my top!
Whilst Matthew is lucky enough to have a core group of friends who are used to his clumsiness and his 'idiosyncrasies' and a mum who is young and daft enough to go out with him occasionally (though getting more exhausted each day!) and try to explain the rules of the big wide world, many teenagers with dyspraxia are, I am sure, not so lucky. I have lost count of the many times I have had to step in and smooth things over when Matthew has knocked a drink over someone in a pub, or elbowed someone rather too hard who has then turned on him, spoiling for a fight. I am sad to say that Matthew's lack of awareness, lack of understanding, and his desire to run around at night on his own, also resulted in one very traumatic experience. I have Matthew's permission to write this, and he has told me to tell all parents reading this to make sure that your teenagers realize that saying no to strangers applies at any age, especially when you have been drinking alcohol and however friendly they may seem.
Unfortunately my only advice is to push for occupational therapy, and to incorporate this and physiotherapy into your daily routines. If you can make these fun, your child will benefit and hopefully be more able in his or her teenage years when his or her growing body and fluctuating hormones make special awareness and body space that much more difficult for all adolescents. I hope and pray that your dyspraxic teenager finds friends as lovely and as tolerant (boy, do they need to be tolerant!) as Matthew has recently.
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