Author on bench with back to camera

Why I got assessed for dyspraxia as an adult

I was assessed for dyspraxia in 2016, aged 33. I wrote this post several months ago (on a different blog) to explain why it mattered to me.

I’m sharing it again to coincide with Dyspraxia Awareness Week which starts tomorrow – Sunday 8 October 2017.

It’s something children have, right?


If you are reading this as someone who also got assessed as an adult or as an adult who thinks they might have dyspraxia, then like me you have probably found a lot of the information available for the condition is targetted at children. That’s understandable to a point as early diagnosis is going to make the life of someone with the condition a lot more manageable. However, there is a noticeable imbalance of information available for adults even though there is no cure and if it has never been recognised, it undoubtedly has caused a great deal of suffering for any adult to now be asking: is this me?

I didn’t know what dyspraxia was until my twenties and as soon as I did, I had my suspicions. When I looked into it, I saw it referred to as ‘clumsy child syndrome’, and most of the discussion online was centred around forums for parents. I couldn’t easily see how the NHS would support a diagnosis at my age (they don’t) and taking it further almost felt like an indulgence, after all, I had got this far.



Since being assessed, I have spent a long time thinking about my childhood in the context of having dyspraxia, and there is no denying that being a child makes the condition especially tough. Mostly because as a child you do not have any agency, and with dyspraxia, you do not even have agency over your own body.

It is hard to explain how everyday things terrified me as a child. Someone throwing a pen for me to catch would make my heart beat fast. I was scared of sports to the point of obsession. For a short while, I tried. I wasn’t overweight then as I am now and couldn’t quite understand, perhaps unkindly, why I was the slowest runner in the class. You notice these things at school, these things matter. I was painfully shy and awkward then, and after time, the mickey-taking from other pupils and teachers alike made P.E. a thing that caused me twice-weekly dread.

I managed to convince a newly qualified teacher to not force me to attend the swimming classes each week at Clapham Pools. Instead, she let me sit beside the pool as she tested herself on Spanish vocabulary.

My next teacher wouldn’t let me get away with this, and she was probably right in hindsight, but she offered no alternative course of action to handle my very public fear. She was the one teacher that fed back concerns to my parents about my abilities. She mentioned my sloppiness and my awful handwriting. I’m not sure she was thinking of dyspraxia, I actually got the distinct sense she didn’t like me very much, but at least she clocked something was up.

I was a bright a child, and for most of my teachers, that was enough. That was plenty. They had other children to worry about. My mother was the school cleaner, and teachers frequently congratulated her on what a model student I was. I was obsessed with history from aged 7. I was quiet, polite and curious. Sure, I wasn’t a fan of sports, but that was because I was a bookworm (I actually wasn’t – there was an assumption I read all the time which simply wasn’t true). My handwriting was incoherent, but you can’t have everything. True, I was very sensitive, bursting into tears at the drop of a hat, but that was all part and parcel of me being a clever clogs.

I spent a significant part of my childhood in fear. At home was a different story. I wasn’t an introvert at all. I talked incessantly. The youngest of four sisters I soaked up knowledge from all around me. Adults, knowing I was smart, didn’t baby talk me. I watched old films and adult television. Home life wasn’t necessarily blissful, but it was a haven. School terrified me, and my inability to fit in or look the part led to years of bullying from girls who were not quite sure if they could tolerate an association with me.

I didn’t have many friends, and by the time I left London to go to University, I had been drunk only a handful of occasions, and only really drunk once. I didn’t belong to any scene. I didn’t know any clubs. I thought the next few years would be the same. I didn’t look forward to University and barely put any thought into where I would go, choosing the same university as pretty much my only friend at the time, my boyfriend.

Hello, Manchester!


Everything aligned when I went to university on a social level. I embraced my independence, and I made friends instantly. I made myself single early on and spent the next three years making friends and living. I was a bit of a dick at the time, frequently poisoning myself with too much booze, getting obsessed with boys and spending all my student loan on nights out, but I lived those years. And if I fell over a lot, well I was often tipsy…

I do wonder what difference an assessment would have had during that period of hedonism. I wasn’t present enough for anyone to notice but had I started university with my dyspraxia diagnosis, I think I would have engaged with it a lot more. The concentration difficulties, the struggle for comprehension, reading slowly and short-term memory, were too much for me to confront alone when I was experiencing some form of arrested development.

I didn’t know what dyspraxia was at the time, but I barely engaged with academic life. I found lectures hard. I made many notes but couldn’t make sense of them afterwards. My mind wandered, and I soon went in less and less. About half-way through I may as well have been studying my degree remotely. Somehow I scraped a 2:1, but I am not sure how. I procrastinated and spent nights awake doing everything that bit too late. I still have nightmares about having failed after all or having my degree taken away from me.

The gender myth

I recently read an article about the late diagnosis of women with autism, and in it, the National Autistic Society found that twice as many women as men were undiagnosed. The reason I mention this is that dyspraxia is often thought to be more common in men, but there is no reason to explain why this is. There is one theory, and I subscribe to it, that women are less likely to be diagnosed.

Sports Day, Vauxhall Park. Circa 1989. At this stage of the race, I was doing okay, comparatively.

There were so many symptoms in my childhood. The physical ones were evident – my fine and gross motor skills remain poor. I have no sense of spatial awareness – my inability to judge distances makes crossing the road very stressful, and I don’t understand the physical space I take up (which being a fat adult can be especially problematic). My problem with speech, my memory and my difficulty with sequential thinking should have been apparent as a child. When I was being assessed as an adult, I was told I was ‘textbook’.

Yes, awareness of dyspraxia is an issue, but I cannot help but feel that if a boy exhibited the same problems with coordination and visible stress when asked to participate in sports, some concern would have been raised and they may have worked out what the problem was.

Mental health

I knew I had an anxiety disorder before I knew about the dyspraxia. I am not sure it is a chicken or egg situation. I think the dyspraxia exacerbates the anxiety rather than causes it. It certainly has knocked my self-esteem. After a time, the jokes about your disability wear thin. As does the anger of the fellow pedestrian who shouts at you because you seemed to make a beeline for them when you really didn’t mean to. Being back to front and inside out nine times out of ten is exhausting.

Being 33 and unable to tie your laces, use cutlery or ride a bike doesn’t do wonders for your pride. And although you don’t have to be unfit or fat as a result of dyspraxia, it is more likely that you will be. I wrote here about my struggles with grooming and from early childhood I was acutely aware of being unpresentable and a scruffbag.

Low self-esteem and high anxiety made relationships with men in my twenties especially tough. It wasn’t until I met someone who helped to make me feel comfortable with myself that I could start reflecting on the things about me that I always put down to me being shit.

Not finding the words

It became increasingly important to me to know whether or not I had dyspraxia. I knew something was up. I found myself getting frustrated as I mixed up words or couldn’t remember them at all. I was worried about how I was being perceived by others, for being judged as inarticulate. I shied away from public speaking, and I increasingly found self-organisation a nightmare to manage, made worse by my willingness to always do something new, something more.

I wanted the assessment to understand myself in the same way that knowing about my anxiety was a huge relief. It made me kinder to myself as I’m an extremely harsh self-critic.

Most importantly it would give me words to explain all the differences I felt. The way simple tasks just took longer. I wanted people to understand I wasn’t intentionally scruffy. My desk is messy for a reason. I fall up the stairs, I spill coffee everywhere and wear my clothes inside out because of something. It isn’t cute. Not that anyone thinks you are too cute when you are a fat woman in her 30s but clumsiness is often presented as adorably kooky, especially in the minds of men who fantasise about manic pixie dream girls.

Getting assessed

I thought long and hard about this as it isn’t something you can afford to do with discretion unless you can pay for an assessment privately. I couldn’t. Instead, I looked into it with my HR department, and they referred for evaluation. Not all employers will do this.

I did deliberate about whether this was the right thing to. What if I wasn’t dyspraxic? Maybe I have the symptoms but not the condition. Maybe I have no excuses, and I am just shit after all. Or if I am, will people think less of me? Will they find out about my anxiety? Who will I have to share all of this with?

I didn’t really find peace with all of these worries and concerns. I just knew that I needed to know and that I would work everything else out.

Happy now?

Well, yes. I’ve been very candid about it, and it feels a part of who I am now. I am proud at how I’ve coped with it and found strategies of dealing before I even knew what it was. It has helped my self-esteem. Made me feel more generous about the things that terrify me but it hasn’t meant that I now have an excuse to avoid although, avoidance is an issue for me.

People’s reactions are interesting. I think some of those close to me realised quickly that it made sense, it explained things. For others, I am not sure it matched the version of me they know, and so it has been more of an eye-opener. A lot of people tend to tell me they’ve suspected themselves or people they are close to as being dyspraxic. And there are others who I suspect don’t know why I bothered to find out. Sometimes, when I am trying to explain it to someone who doesn’t care to understand, I also wonder why I bothered.

Raising awareness

I would like there to be a greater understanding of what dyspraxia means and how it can manifest itself in different ways. How the combination of the many ways it can express itself can drive you to distraction. How it can rob you of your confidence or willingness to move outside of what makes you comfortable. How it can lead someone to spend their life avoiding things that are without explanation, so much harder than they should be.

I’ve joined the Dyspraxia Foundation, and I started this blog as a way of starting to do something useful with this new information.

Sick as a very good dog

One of the things I discovered after getting a dog is how good they are at being sick. They get on with it and it happens fairly often. My dog, Bette, is a bit of a scavenger. Living where I do, I spend a lot of time prising chicken bones out of her mouth. Anything hazardous seems to appeal. She also loves eating shit. Her own shit is the most common but any shit will do. Doesn’t have to be the same species, she’s rather partial to horse shit too. She is less enamoured by the food specifically designed for her specific dog-breed (Shih Tzu).


Being sick did not come easy for me. I remember being terrified of being sick when I was younger. If I was unwell, I would fight being sick until I couldn’t fight it any longer. When the deed was done I would cry. It was an intense experience.

I’m not sure when I stopped being such a wuss but I suspect the reasons was alcohol. I didn’t actually drink much until I went to University and from that point I routinely poisoned myself, spending an entire day familiarising myself with Armitage Shanks.

Now I’m in my thirties, being sick is no biggie. It doesn’t make me anxious. I’ve finally caught up with pretty much every dog ever.

This week was a bad week for Bette. She had gastroenteritis. There was one moment where she was sat next to me on the sofa and looked horror-struck before puking all over the most expensive thing we own. It was heartbreaking on many levels.

Bette is much better but the smell of sick lingers on. The rug also took a hit. Dogs seem to prefer sicking up on soft furnishings. And shitting on grass.

Over the course of the week, I’ve spent close to £1000 on vet bills. We are insured but it is a huge outlay of cash. Of course, dogs can’t speak and so you can only really get to the bottom of most problems by x-rays and blood tests. She had a lot of x-rays this week as they worried there might be a blockage causing her to be sick (a chicken bone, for example).

I would feel like I had failed her if I didn’t do everything in my power to ensure she was okay but I couldn’t help but think of how difficult this must be for pet owners who cannot pay the bill upfront.

I found myself saying those horrible words: if you can’t afford a dog you shouldn’t have one. Luckily a friend was on hand to remind me why this was a bad opinion and it really is. It’s a stinker of an opinion.

To some extent, all dog owners are selfish. If we leave them alone, which is inevitable, we leave them with no humans and potentially no dogs just so they can be around when we want them.

However, they are not a luxury item. When I’m out with Bette she makes other people, especially children smile. She makes me smile all the time and I sincerely think she has improved my mental health. There are days when I wouldn’t get dressed, never mind leave the house. That’s not really possible with a dog and I thank her for it.

Caring for another being is therapeutic and that shouldn’t be off limits to those who can’t afford it. You meet a lot of people when you have a dog. Strangers talk to you, people make eye-contact and smile. That is a lifeline for a lot of people and I’ve met dog owners who live for their dogs, and potentially don’t have much else to live for.

So when they are sick, it feels shit but you shouldn’t worry because they are professionals.

Body neutral

This is a repost from a previous blog/life.

I am not positive about my body. I am positive about other people’s bodies. Not mine. I do accept my body, though.

I was a 11lbs baby. Doctors and nurses popped by to have a look. I had a head of hair and a monobrow.

Telling that story as an adult often gets a knowing look. Then I explain I wasn’t always fat.

I was a slim child and a slim teenager. And then I started getting fat.

Slim or fat, I spent my childhood, teens and twenties loathing my body.

Now I spend a lot of time reading blogs and tweets by fat women I admire. I love their bodies. I don’t really care for my own. It’s a bit too close to home.

However, I don’t hate my body anymore. At some point, and I don’t know when it began, I started accepting myself. Being easier on myself. I’d love to say it is more than acceptance, that it is love but it isn’t. A lifetime of self-loathing doesn’t switch overnight, but I don’t look back and wish I was a younger, thinner version of myself. That version of myself was riddled with anxiety and self-doubt. That version of myself was so sensitive it often felt that several layers of skin had been stripped back. And I have a low pain-threshold.

So for me, acceptance is an excellent place to be. Acceptance is being naked in front of someone you love. It is going swimming. It is holding your large, wobbly legs up while someone waxes your undercarriage. It’s going out on a summer’s evening when you are sweaty, and your make-up has long faded. It’s posting a selfie you know doesn’t do anything for you. It’s making your Instagram profile public. It’s looking at yourself in the mirror without sighing.

This doesn’t mean I like what I see. I never have, apart from special occasions. I want to be healthy, but I don’t equate that with being thin. I equate that with not losing my breath after climbing a flight of stairs.

The reason I want to be thinner is that being a fat woman is really tough. People make assumptions about your character, about your lifestyle, your work ethic, even your romantic status.

There is only one story my dad ever tells me about me. It makes him proud. After two weeks holiday as a child, I must have been nine or ten, I came home with a tan (it was the only time, I almost always go tomato-red). He walked me to his old stomping ground in Camden Town and bought me diet cokes in the pubs he used to frequent. My brown hair had hints of blonde, and my green-blue eyes contrasted my tanned skin. And I was thin. And that is the proudest he has ever been.

When you are a woman, there is no doubting your worth is tied up with your appearance. If your dad was born before WW2 in a country that doesn’t allow a woman an abortion, you can bet your bottom dollar that he measures it out the same way.

There is a Tony Harrison poem called ‘Book Ends’. It was in the GCSE English Literature Anthology in the late 1990s. As a teenager who quarrelled with my dad about politics, religion and would you believe it, vegetarianism (had me for five years, came off the waggon in 2002 when I ate a chicken kebab in Fallowfield) the poem was very relatable. The first half ends:

Back in our silences and sullen looks,
for all the Scotch we drink, what’s still between ‘s
not the thirty or so years, but books, books, books.

And that’s what I thought it was. Books. I was really obnoxious back then. Now I know it was actually ‘looks, looks, looks’.

And those looks get between me and others still, but I notice less. I’m not asking the world to love me anymore. I know that I did before and it was hard facing the news that the world would rather shag someone else instead.

Back then, the smallest of remarks could send me into a spin. Now I laugh when a beautician assumes by my appearance that I’ve had children. Lots of them.

No, I’ve destroyed this body myself through gluttony and a reluctance to move. Decades of eating, and more recently, drinking my emotions gave me those stretch marks. No child is at fault. Don’t blame the kids.

So although I am inspired by those who are positive about their bodies, I don’t think I can ever take it that far. I can only be myself and I am regrettably self-aware. The biggest curse of all.

I’m not nothing

For years I used to hang on to the notion that I was working class. It mattered to me. I argued that you don’t switch class in one generation. That it wasn’t what you owned or whether you went to university but a state of mind. You are your upbringing, and your class identity is decided then and never changes. I was insecure because I’m not working class. I’m not middle class. I’m not nothing. And I never was.

Compared to my older sisters’, I had a blissful childhood. My parents had me later in life, and they had mellowed. My eldest sister was born in 1968. My dad was already 30 years old, late to start parenting in those days. He’d had an austere childhood but a relatively free one compared to his sisters in rural Ireland. He ran wild and then ran away, underage, into the Irish army.

His wild years continued when he moved to London. He was meant to meet a friend when he arrived, but his friend didn’t show up. He moved from one digs to another in North London. He was called for National Service and for a while the Tower of London was what he called ‘home’.

At some stage, he met my mother, seven years his junior and a friend of his sister. She’d met his sister on the boat over here. My mum is from Dublin, one of ten siblings. She saw an advert to work for Walls factory and applied. When she arrived, the salary was less than advertised and less then she made back home.

I don’t know too many details of my parent’s courtship other than they married in 1968 and in the early 1970’s, they moved south of the river with two of my sisters in tow. They lived in flats owned by the Guinness Trust in what was once Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, aka Spring Gardens, or more recently, ‘Vauxhall Village.’ From there they moved to a council flat overlooking a street market which no longer exists. They had another daughter in 1974.

Five of them lived in a two bedroom flat. My dad, working night shifts at the Post Office, my mum working as a cleaner. From hearing my sister’s talk, these were incredibly hard years but they improved over time, and some form of financial equilibrium was established until 1982 when my mum became pregnant with me.

The last child. The surprise. The answer to prayers. The mistake. The one who should have been a boy. It all depends on your perspective.

My dad went back to bed when the hospital called. I don’t say that to feel sorry for myself; it amuses me. He was resigned to his fate; another girl, of course.

My sisters not only had the freedom to ‘play out’, but they were also actively encouraged to do so, for like, the entire day. Be gone with you, and gone they were. I wasn’t that child. My sisters raised me, and I mostly stayed indoors.

The children who played outside terrified me.

The children at school terrified me too. I was bullied at school for years. A lot of it was down to my appearance. My scruffiness. I felt blessed when a girl joined our school who was even scruffier than me. She ate ‘No Frills’ crisps from Kwik Save. I felt blessed.

The street market I mentioned earlier, the one where I grew up, had declined rapidly during my childhood. It was non-existent before I left home but some remnants of the glory days remain. Like that street, my childhood was on the cusp of a different era, and I was on the cusp too.

I didn’t fit neatly into my family. I came after everything else. Nostalgic gatherings talk about ‘194’ the number of the flat we lived in until I was two years old. 194 is everything that happened before.

If I am candid, and I usually am, I thought the local kids were rough and I thought I was smarter than all the kids I knew. Unlike them, I had almost no social skills at the time.  An unhappy, scruffy and socially awkward snob. With a monobrow and bad teeth. Who used to pick her nose and leave the snot under the coffee table.

It make me cringe to admit it, but over the years, the concept of being working class has been central to my identity.  I’m not sure I ever belonged to that class though, and not because of what I earn or how I live, but because I never felt restricted. I never felt trapped.

Of course, I still eye-roll at the suggestion that going to the theatre or buying food from M&S is any indicator of class. It is an indicator of wealth to an extent, but in truth, it represents the choices that I make. I choose deliveroo, Ocado and Uber with my dispensible, and sadly, my not-so-dispensable income. Why? Because I can and because I want to. In my experience, people who have always had money are better at not spending it. They go camping and invest in sensible shoes.

I still struggle to pronounce something in French, and when I don’t look the part, I suddenly feel like I don’t belong in the room. But that’s because of the room I am in.

And there are other factors. I play the clown. I am fat and ‘down to earth’. I interrupt others without thinking. I don’t read many books either.

It might be because I am something other, something else.

But I’m not nothing.