Rachel Canwell is a special needs teacher. She discusses the small but signiﬁcant details of her own son’s dyspraxia.
Do you regard Zac as disabled?
Until we’d got a diagnosis they wouldn’t see us on the education system. We had to get a private OT because he’s at a private school. She lent me a book called ‘The Hidden Disability’. I hadn’t even considered his condition as a disability, even though I was a special needs teacher, I just hadn’t. But yeah, it is a disability; it is very much a disability for him, and it’s made harder by the fact that it’s not an obvious one.
Zac has dyspraxia. He has problems with organising himself; so personal organisation is very, very difﬁcult for him; handwriting, and any ﬁne motor skills are difﬁcult. He uses an iPad at school. He also has difﬁculties with sensory processing.
How’s he getting along now?
Now he’s a teenager he’s pretty good at managing it himself. In some ways, it’s harder being a teenager because we have to go through the whole routine when his symptoms are really bad, like a bedtime routine: so he has to go right back to have a bath, no screens (because screens are terrible for keeping you awake), and teenagers are addicted to screens; we have to just pull it back all the time. So, it has a massive knock-on effect.
School has been great on the whole, but it has been a struggle. Every year we have to go and have the same conversations with different teachers. If you look at Zac in the classroom you would think he wasn’t concentrating at all, because he ﬁdgets. He needs to ﬁdget because his proprioception is poor. So, to get him to be able to ground himself in time and space, and to know where his body is, he actually has to move. He said to me, “I can’t feel the chair underneath me, unless I’m rocking”. Imagine trying to concentrate on a physics lesson feeling like you’re sitting in mid-air.
How have Zac’s symptoms affected his siblings?
They do acknowledge that he has difﬁculties, and most of the time they are very understanding. They can exploit those things, so sometimes it’s like ‘put a penny in the slot and watch it go’. When you’re a sibling it’s fair game isn’t it? We’ve all been there. Generally they’re very supportive.
As they’ve got older we’ve started to go to concerts together and things like that, but we will always leave slightly before the end. We never stay until it becomes a mad rush to get out, because he cannot cope with that sensory overload. We will always try little things. At the cinema, for example, we will sit at the end of the row, rather than being in the middle; just little things. They don’t sound like they’re big things for kids to cope with, but sometimes they say, ‘Why can’t we stay until the end? Why have we always got to sit on the end of a row, why can’t we sit in the middle?’
People look at this child who is 14, lumbering around like he’s an elephant when he’s over-tired or he’s having a ‘bad dyspraxia day’. What he can do one day, he can’t necessarily do the next. That’s another thing that teachers ﬁnd hard to get their heads around, that one week he seems able to do something, and the next he can’t.
Do you have any tips that might help other parents facing similar issues?
When we started the blog, other people got in contact. It’s ﬁnding a support network, it’s ﬁnding other people who have been there and done it, and can give you advice. But also, you can learn as much, and get as much from people who are at the beginning of their journey, because they can learn from you and you can see how far you have come.
See Rachel Canwell’s blog, Herding Moggies – A life with dyspraxia at: herdingmoggies.weebly.com