Editor’s note: Invisible disabilities like mental health struggles, dyslexia and dyspraxia can often go unnoticed and undiagnosed. This week’s post is a lovely piece by Jane Madden, a student with dyspraxia. Lots of readers might relate to Jane’s experience and journey through her diagnosis. Hopefully this story could even help other students who are finding the education system hard to navigate for unknown reasons no matter what you do. Reach out to the people and services around you – there’s no shame in it at all.
– Niamh 🙂
Dyspraxia, often confused with dyslexia, is a developmental and processing disorder. About 10% of the Irish population suffers from it, with many going undetected in the system due to it not affecting cognitive abilities or natural intelligence, and being put down to pure disinterest and laziness.
Growing up, I always felt a bit different, but since being diagnosed with dyspraxia, I have always kept it under wraps. To this day, not many people know about my diagnosis – until now!
In primary school, I always excelled academically but always struggled with the basic day-to-day activities. The most poignant memory for me was when my mum could only buy me Velcro runners as I couldn’t tie my shoelaces. I finally learned when I was 11 using a different method so I still cannot tie them the ‘normal’ way. I also remember being given out to countless times for daydreaming and not being focused in class. The teachers did not question it any further as I was doing well academically, as I mentioned above.
The real trouble began in September 2011. I started secondary school and I struggled to keep on top of homework. I used to spend hours at it each night and I was constantly stressed about the small stuff, unlike my classmates who always seemed to be so calm and collected. I often used to misplace my belongings in school, and it used to leave me very distressed and I used to beat myself up over it. I was also struggling socially at the time due to a bullying incident that happened at the end of sixth class, so naturally I used to isolate myself from everyone and didn’t make a huge effort in to make friends.
In second year, I was completely out of my depth. I went from being a low A/high B student in first year to a C student by Christmas of second year. I remember my school report coming in after Christmas and my mother opening it to see that 8 out of the 10 teachers I had commented something along the lines of, “Jane is not focused and is dis-interested in class”, and also that I had failed my maths exam. My parents always had high expectations of me and were a bit let down. They warned me I wouldn’t be allowed go to the next Garryduff (a local disco for all ye non-Corkonians) if I didn’t bring up my grades ASAP. As a teenager, this sounded like the end of the world.
The turning point came in March 2013 at my parent- teacher meeting. My history teacher told my parents that he thought the problem was more serious than simple laziness, as he knew I was making a big effort in school but I wasn’t getting the results I desired. I remember being really frustrated at the thought of him thinking there was something wrong with me (I would just like to add that I was 14 and very immature). In April 2013, I took my first National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) assessment that was arranged by my school, Scoil Mhuire Cork (who from that day on have been fully supportive of me). I scored a high average for my age in all aspects of the test except for getting a worryingly low average in perceptual reasoning and processing speed which identified that I may have dyspraxia and anxiety which was officially diagnosed in an occupational therapy test that June.
As I said above, I was frightfully immature for my age – being the oldest child at home didn’t help, I didn’t have older siblings to ask for advice. While I was secretly grateful to have a diagnosis, I wanted to keep it under wraps because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself and even asked my teachers to be really discreet about it around me when I was with my peers. It also didn’t help that no one else had the same diagnosis as me in my year. However, transition year was the best thing that ever happened to me. I decided the summer before I began that I was going to make a big effort in getting involved in school so I re-joined school hockey (even though I was terrible at it) and made myself involved in every TY module under the sun. My confidence soared and eventually I made a solid friend group that I still have to this day. I was also elected on to my school’s student council in 6th year by my classmates, an achievement I’m immensely proud of!
It’s only since coming to Trinity, I’ve become quite comfortable discussing my disability. This is a drastic change from before as in the past not even my close school friends knew. Since I got my course, Business, Economics and Social Studies through the Disability Access Route to Education, I’ve made it my mission this year to make a difference and give back to college. I have become a community mentor in which I’m assigned a DEIS school whereby I visit the school to promote the benefits of third level education, I also helped out on the stand for mental health awareness week and disability awareness week and I also hope to get involved in more disability activism campaigns on campus over the next few months. I have also learned that far fewer females are diagnosed with dyspraxia compared with that of male’s due to females learning how to mask their struggles in which I got away with for so many years.
After 6 years, I’ve finally learned to accept myself having dyspraxia. I am now in my second year, and while I do still envy the people on my course who are naturally brighter than I am, I know that my determination and resilience will always stand to me. Moving away from home was difficult but as a result I have become so much more independent and confident, I spent 7 weeks last summer in Madrid as an au pair. I’m also hoping to work in Canada next summer and pursue an Erasmus in France in third year.
Finally, I would like to thank my parents, Scoil Mhuire and Trinity College Dublin for enabling me to pursue my dreams of getting the best education possible. Without them, I wouldn’t know where I would be today. I would also like to thank my good friend Courtney McGrath for inspiring me to write this piece.