My son has dyspraxia but he’s still my wonderful boy

By Joyce Rubotham   @seoighee

I thought I’d heard it all. My children have suffered more than most with minor illnesses. A trip to the doctor is typically preceded by the question “which one?” – but even dyspraxia was new to me.

They have different nicknames for each each doctor. In the nine years since becoming a mother, I’ve learnt about a whole host of childhood illnesses from Wikipedia.

So when I went to the school to meet the Learning Resource teacher I was not expecting to be surprised. But there you go. Dyspraxia was the surprise. “Dys— what?” was all I could mumble.

We talked for a long time. From one mother to another, she extended the hand of kindness and compassion. I resisted at first. Surely not my son. Not another thing to add to the list of stuff my kids have. I must be a bad mother, right? Surely parenthood can’t be that complicated.

But the more we talked, the more it looked like the shoe did indeed fit. And my son was probably wearing that shoe.

Joyce Rubotham and son Carl, 9.
Joyce Rubotham and son Carl, 9.

What drew the attention of teachers, going back two years, was my son’s inability to follow instructions. The initial assessment was that I was doing too much for him, and he had not learned to do things for himself. As my first born, I knew I needed to let go a bit and give him more responsibility at home.

Two years on and he was struggling with simple tasks that most nine-year olds could achieve without a problem. His class teacher was very understanding but I could see that she was finding it tough.

She struggled to understand how such a bright child could find it so hard to just take out the maths book. Every other child in the class had done it the first time she asked.

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It got so bad that the teacher requested we check my son’s hearing. Giving him the benefit of the doubt she thought maybe he couldn’t hear her. Since he has a history of hearing problems I took him for a hearing test immediately. But the problem, it turned out, was not his hearing.

After a year, his teacher concluded that this was not an obedience/discipline problem but something else was going on. My son was becoming increasingly distressed, he felt he was in trouble a lot and we were both at a loss as to what to do.

Another problem was sport. Sports Day is a happy day off school work for most children, but not my son. He hates it. My heart was at breaking point this year when he begged me to let him stay home for Sports Day.

This never happens, he likes school. It was upsetting to hear him describe how he couldn’t bear coming last in every single race. I knew he wasn’t a top athlete, I just hadn’t realised how hard it was for him.

Throughout this year he had begun to really struggle with sport. He can’t run very well. His self-esteem was becoming dangerously low. He regularly complained that he was slow and started asking me if this was because he’s fat.

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The same with swimming, he just can’t seem to manage the co-ordination. His younger sister learned to swim and ride a bike in half the time it took him.

Fine motor skills are also a challenge. Although his handwriting is of good quality, it sometimes takes hours for him to complete written homework. Blood, sweat and tears.

He’s never been nimble with his hands and craft-making at home often ends in tears of frustration.

I explained to the resource teacher that it’s especially tough for my son because his sister is so good with her hands and very athletic. Her reply came as a shock.

She delicately suggested that my daughter may be within normal range but, when compared to her brother, she appears exceptional.

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It’s all relative. It seems I had been telling myself a version of the truth that was easiest to believe. Easier to think that my daughter is above average at something, rather than face the fact that my son might be below average.

Once I was ready to be honest with myself, the support just flooded in. Without the support of his teachers, and the psychologist who treats my son for anxiety, we might not have got through the year.

I’ve also learned how difficult it can be for teachers who want to help but find it difficult to approach parents who may be in denial about their child.

I have such admiration and respect for the teachers who spoke so frankly to me about my child.

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Dyspraxia is not usually diagnosed before the age of five and is three times more common in boys than in girls. According to Dyspraxia Ireland, 6 per cent of children between the ages of 5 and 12 are dyspraxic.

It is very often accompanied by other conditions like anxiety and this is the case for my son.

Getting a formal diagnosis is the best way to understand and help my child and he has just completed an assessment with an educational psychologist.

To me, he’s the same wonderful little boy, as perfect as the day I met him for the first time. I admire him so much for coping as well as he has.

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The school year ahead will be different for us. Armed with a proper assessment and with the amazing support from the school, I just know that my son will learn to overcome the challenges of this condition.

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