Pug diaries -The devil is in the detail – dumbing down dyspraxia

 Let me describe a wonderful young man to you . He is a gifted and intelligent person. Tall, handsome, funny, capable, a talented linguist and writer, fluent in Spanish. He is clever, he has a good degree. He has lived independently in several major cities in the UK and in Spain. He has travelled the world. He is a superb musician playing several instruments but his real gift is his voice. He sings like an angel – from opera to swing, to pop and musical theatre. His vocal versatility knows no bounds. He has made a successful career in the national music scene. He is deeply loving and loyal. 
He is also dyspraxic and he is my son Jamie. He is also a member of Collabro, the musical theatre boyband who last year won Britain’s Got Talent. 
I don’t profess to be an expert on dyspraxia but I am an expert mum of someone who is dyspraxic and I know from many years experience what dyspraxia means to those who suffer from it.
We didn’t of course initially know that Jamie was dyspraxic. 
He was a premature baby putting in an appearance just short of two months before his time. He was slower to walk by a few months than some of his peers, but much quicker at talking and recognising shapes, colours and letters.

  
When it came to dressing himself however, it was a nightmare for him. Where other toddlers at playgroup and later at school, could at the very least get their clothes on in some semblance of order, Jamie would be standing in vest and pants looking hopelessly at the inside out T shirt and wrongly fastened buttons wondering how to put it right. The more people got irritated with him, the worse it became and pressure to dress at speed was, to put it mildly, a misery. 
  
People said this would improve as he got older as his fine motor skills caught up. To an extent it did, but only to the extent that he was slightly more coordinated and organised than before, but his peers were developing at a faster rate and he was still the last boy in the changing rooms after swimming, with his teachers getting more and more frustrated.

Then, his younger sister same along and it soon became apparent that at two years younger she could fulfil certain tasks involving motor skills, sequencing and hand/eye coordination better than him. She could assemble and disassemble things at a speed where Jamie could not. Giving them a jigsaw to complete would see her finish it with ease, while he sat looking perplexed at the pieces which seemed to make no sense to him. 

  

  

After a series of mishaps with falls down stairs, bumps and accidents he was becoming known as ‘the clumsy one’. If someone was going to trip up, fall over their feet or struggle to stay upright, it would be Jamie.
One evening after a school party, I sat chatting to another mum whilst the children were getting shoes and coats on. I was surprised when she asked me if I knew Jamie was dyspraxic. I was indeed surprised, mainly because I had never heard of dyspraxia and my immediate reaction was that she must mean dyslexic . 
But, of course she didn’t. 
She was, in fact, an educational psychologist and she explained the basics of dyspraxia to me and it quite simply all fell into place. She had observed Jamie over a period of time and noted his lack of coordination, struggle with shoelaces and buttons, difficulty in using the space around him and the typical ‘clumsy’ child incidents.
She advised me to get him assessed. I was initially anxious about doing so because I did not want my beautiful intelligent boy to be labelled as having ‘special needs’. I can tell you I felt like a terrible mother. Why had I not noticed that this was not simply a clumsy child? I worried that I had missed something obvious and left him at a disadvantage. Reflecting now, I know now why I didn’t notice and why dyspraxia is often at best unrecognised, and at worst dismissed as nonsense.
I didn’t notice because in so many ways Jamie was exceptionally talented and gifted. 
Whilst his handwriting was appalling, his grasp of English was outstanding. He was several years ahead in his reading, devouring and analysing deeply complex books for his age. His verbal skills were phenomenal. His grasp of linguistics was exceptional. He could draw well and had the potential to develop good artistic ability. At primary school he could debate issues with skill and always showed leadership potential. 
On the other side of this equation he did not like, and never really had the chance, to be good at sports. Physical activities involving coordination such as football and cricket filled him with dread. He was bullied for being hopeless and no one recognised that his poor performance wasn’t a lack of trying and that with the right support he would do better . He was frustrating to the typical sports teacher and irritating because by the time he was changed and ready the game had started and his own survival mechanism was to clown around to divert attention from his embarrassment and sense of inadequacy. 
Once it was pointed out to me however, it was quite simply, blindingly obvious. 
So he went off to be assessed and It was evident immediately that he was indeed dyspraxic . His awareness of the wider space around him was limited. When told to run around the room using as much of the space as possible, he would turn in ever decreasing circles almost on the spot but blissfully unaware that he was doing so. 
Faced with a myriad of objects on a tray and asked to point out one item in particular he simply could not see it. The busy picture in front of him was a blur, hence his inability to complete a jigsaw or deal with the popular ‘Where’s Wally’ books. 
He also could not concentrate for an extended period of time. His attention and recall in short bursts was outstanding, but minor distractions in his field of vision and he would be off in a dream where his imagination could run riot. 
There were of course more tests than these which I use simply for example, but the outcome was that with the right techniques, with appropriate allocation of time, and with a bit of tolerance, he would be able to manage much better, be more self aware and overcome some of the hurdles dyspraxia creates. 

Simple – or so you would think. 
In fact it was anything but and throughout his school life there was a general lack of understanding of dyspraxia and certainly when compared to dyslexia, much less tolerance.
To get any recognition at all for learning needs at that time (and it may be the same now I don’t know) you had to be ‘statemented’ i.e. be assessed as having special educational needs. Without that statement the education system had no requirement to respond but with a statement in place, Jamie suddenly had some basic rights to appropriate support.
It was never straightforward however.  
I recall sitting in a meeting with what I can only describe as a highly sceptical form teacher at primary school, whose clear preference was for sporty kids, trying to explain that Jamie had been recommended to sit at the front of the class to limit his field of vision and thereby the number of things distracting him. The reaction was ‘he doesn’t pay attention’, ‘he doesn’t concentrate’, ‘he messes about’, ‘he talks’.
I also tried to explain that the recommendation was that Jamie should be given instructions for work in writing or be given tasks one at a time because, due to his sequencing deficit, in a list of verbal instructions Jamie was lost by number three of seven and therefore would either ask another child, getting into trouble for talking, or sit doodling having no clue what he was supposed to do. 
I understood the teachers frustration, with a class of kids to deal with not just one. These were, however, fairly minor requests and the voice in my ear was telling me it was a disbelief in the diagnosis, a lack of understanding of dyspraxia and a suspicion that it was not considered a legitimate special educational need that prevented proper support being willingly offered. 
I think I was proved right. 
For the remainder of primary school I spent every parents evening reminding teachers that his difficulties in getting changed in PE were due to his inability to tie his shoelaces at speed and therefore football boots with laces would always mean Jamie would be last on the field. I had to repeat time and time again that if you put him at the back of the class he would be distracted by everything going on in front of him. Of course I also had to remind them that he was a boy of very many talents and celebrating those rather than focussing on what he could not do might be more helpful. 
Despite these difficulties, he did stormingly well in his SATs and continued with a full range of out of school hobbies and activities.

I, of course, learnt to work around the way he functioned, giving instructions one at a time and allowing time for getting dressed and shoes with velcro fasteners were a real godsend. I realise now that Jamie’s preference for odd socks probably started because in a drawer full of socks, finding the matching one for him was worse than putting a jigsaw together. This odd socks quirk became for many years one of his trademarks. 
I also never saw Jamie as someone with dyspraxia . I saw him as Jamie my wonderful loving talented and gifted son who had much to offer the world . I didn’t want him to be labelled even though the system required that for him to receive any assistance . I wanted him to be valued for everything he was able to contribute and helped where he had development needs 
By the time he went to senior school we were relatively well versed in the support he would need and the techniques that would help him . We knew that embarrassment and frustration would result in him clowning around and that his difficulties in coordination would continue to be a misery in competitive sports arenas and that he would suffer bullying as a result and of course he did. 
The sporting issue is however actually not quite so straightforward. 
Jamie isn’t actually hopeless at sport. He can swim well. He loved martial arts. He was an able horse rider at primary school age, and could cycle proficiently . He, in short , was good at sports where he was performing alone, where he was not under time pressure and where he did not need to catch, hit or kick a ball.
He is also not hopeless at sequencing. Dyspraxia is a funny thing and the brain works in mysterious ways. Whilst he struggled with maths and lists, music , poetry and languages came to him easily. 

As he moved through childhood, he developed obsessions and whilst any particular topic had his attention, he knew absolutely everything about it and could cite it with a 100% accuracy . Before he was two years old he could accurately choose the correct magnetic letters of the alphabet from the fridge door every time he was asked . He studied ‘Harry at the Airport’ avidly and could recognise every plane simply by its silhouette. Next, it was flags of the world. I could go on, but one after the other he was a complete anorak about the topic of the day be it Pokemon, WWF wrestling or reading the whole of the Harry Potter series 32 times. 

What this demonstrates is the important detail that Jamie was not a dyspraxic child but a gifted intelligent child with dyspraxia. 

We did of course sometimes have to remind ourselves to remember that. 
I recall one day a dearly loved friend and colleague telling me to remember to distinguish dyspraxia from ‘learned behaviour’ . This was in a discussion about ironing of all things. I remember feeling defensive at the suggestion that I may be overcompensating for what was in reality normal teenage aversion to housework, but she was in fact correct and there is a danger of wrongly putting everything down to dyspraxia. Whilst Jamie’s abhorrence of ironing continues to this day, it has little to do with his dyspraxia he simply doesn’t like ironing! 
It was really good advice and I took care from then to stocktake what was a genuine functional difficulty versus a ‘can’t be bothered’ 15 year old. 
Once Jamie was aware of his limitations he learned to adopt strategies to deal with them. He knows he has to be super organised and plan ahead to be able to get things done in the right sequence. He works hard to overcome any difficulties his dyspraxia causes him and is obsessive about detail -he has to be or it all unravels. 
   
   I realised early on that Jamie was gifted musically . He can pick up most instruments and make a reasonable fist of playing them . He was a credible cellist, a good guitarist and self taught pianist, amongst various other instruments. I also knew he had an ear for languages. He is fluent in Spanish but has a good grasp of Italian and French amongst others. 

  

What I didn’t know, was that one day this beautiful voice would appear from nowhere and change the course of his life. He had always loved all kinds of music and still does. My mother gave him a love of classical music and he always adored musical theatre. When he was fourteen, his school did a recital of Les Miserables and Jamie was cast as Marius. You could have heard a pin drop with astonishment when he sang ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ no one, including us, had any idea that he could sing like that.

  

The rest is history as they say. He has sung at every possible moment since. He has sung solo, in a rock band, in choirs, in musicals and operas and of course in beautiful heartbreakingly perfect five part harmony in Collabro.
  
His dyspraxia has not held him back. It has frustrated him, and caused him some difficulties but more than anything it has given him a determination to succeed despite it and to develop coping strategies that allow him to fulfil his potential and live his dreams. 

  

  

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57 thoughts on “Pug diaries -The devil is in the detail – dumbing down dyspraxia

  1. Joy Engel says:

    This was a wonderful piece! I would imagine you’re over the moon with joy for Jamie’s success. (Wouldn’t you love to know how the teacher “with preferences for sporty kids” feels now?) What a shame that you had to struggle so much to make people understand his problems. You must be proud of Jamie, but no less so of yourself! Congratulations!

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  2. Sandra Harper says:

    Thank you for sharing your incredible journey with Jamie, you have not only given others an insight in to the dyspraxia (which I had never heard of until now) but also it might help another mother recognise her child is not just “slow, clumsy or easily distracted ” I bet you are so proud of Jamie, but I would also bet he is as proud of you his Mum x by the way I love Collabro

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    • Thank you glad you liked it. I hope that better understanding will help people to support those with dyspraxia and help them to achieve their full potential . Jamie has so much more to achieve and I am confident he will and won’t be held back – being the Pateon of The Dysoraxia Foundation will also give him a chance to help others x

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  3. Thank you, wow- my sons dyspraxia seems to manifest very similarly- the languages, reading, martial arts and solitary sports, handwriting- and, your frustrations with the schools and teachers- I’m really relating to that- my son and I have been dragged through so many meetings and my son has been given test after test- I have had to enrol in Law School to fight these so called educators
    I’m very angry about my sons lost childhood really- all the years that didn’t have to be quite so miserable but because the Teachers and experts have been so dull, they have
    Your son is a very handsome young chap and I will follow his group on Facebook πŸ’₯

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  4. Marta says:

    Thank you so much for a wonderful article. I was in education for 25 years and had never heard the term dyspraxia. I am sure you have helped many parents and teachers recognize what is going on with some children they are close to. I have watched Jamie and his rise with Collabro from the U.S. since their very first audition. Wishing them much continued success!

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    • Glad you enjoyed I do think it’s the fact that it is relatively less well known than other conditions on the autistic spectrum that means it isn’t as well dealt with not just in education but other walks of life too – thanks for the feedback 😘😘

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  5. Great blog, Lorraine, which highlights this issue in detail.I had no idea that Jamie was dyspraxic; I’ve taught children with dyspraxia and do know the difficulties it causes. He is a remarkable and talented young man and that, in no small part, is due to the love and support you have given him. It is great that he has developed coping strategies and his confidence, personality and warmth are what you see when you meet him, and his determination to work hard and succeed. Schools are recognising the signs of dyspraxia more, so hopefully less children will have to struggle without proper help like Jamie did.

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    • Thanks so much I am glad that it is improving and that we will see a much better coordinated response as people get more familiar with it- thanks also for kind words x😘😘

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  6. Ange Westbrook says:

    As a teacher here in the UK this has been a really insightful read, very well written too. I too knew next to nothing about Dyspraxia, but will most definitely be keeping an eye out from herein. Your son is clearly an inspiration to many, but he would not be where he is without you, never forget that. Many congratulations on your sons’ success, his patronage of the foundation and your wonderfully written insight into this condition. Thank you. Xx

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    • Difficult to know how to just strike the right note when talking about this – Jamie has never made an issue of it in his career and he won’t but he is in a position now where he can make a difference as Patron of the Dyspraxia Foundation so hopefully that will also help xx😘

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  7. Crazyjane says:

    Fantastic insights! My nearly 9 year old son has a lot of the same issues, we homeschool because the gross motor and attention issues were making regular school an anxiety ridden nightmare. He is thriving and, like your son his tenacity is astounding! He also has the gift of an amazing voice, it brings joy every day πŸ˜€. I wish you and your son all the success in the world, so happy to hear he is speaking out and standing up for all those that deal with this every day.

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  8. Anne Atkinson says:

    This story sounds soooo much like my son James. He also has dyspraxia and is now being assessed for ASD (autism) and ADS (attention deficit syndrome). He is so bright, a lovely loving boy but struggles so hard with everyday tasks. He used to love football but gave up on it as “he wasn’t very good at it”. Getting any help from school is a nightmare but we just have to keep pushing to get the help he needs.

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  9. Beautiful thank you! My 9yo is currently in the process of assessment so we are just starting to make sense of it all. It’s fascinating to read that your son could cycle but not catch a ball, dyspraxia is certainly unique to each person. My daughter has an amazing vocabulary as well, always way ahead of her peers, her quick mind grasps difficult concepts and she is amazingly observant, yet could not do seemingly ‘simple’ mental sums. It just didn’t add up (excuse the pun!) so I have pushed for assessment as teachers were putting it down to other things, finally at 9 with the spelling skills of a 5yo they agreed, and it was her amazing PE teacher who backed my request.

    Thankyou for sharing your experiences.

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  10. Lindsey Reynolds says:

    Thank you so much for this article, what an amazing young man. My daughter has been diagnosed with dyspraxia . She has just turned 15. Life has been a real struggle for her especially at primary school where the teacher told her it was all in my head. Since going to high school she has got so much help and is now becoming a confident young lady who is progressing so well in life and in her studies . Thank you again for bringing it to people’s attention

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  11. Lisa says:

    Such a lovely piece, well done. Dyspraxia needs to be recognised more. Our 20 year old son Bradley has it & sounds just like your Jamie…he loved the red Power Ranger, Pokemon & his knowledge of wrestling is amazing. What children with dyspraxia lack, they make up for in so many other ways x

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  12. Carolyn Eaton says:

    Thank you for sharing this with the world. I had not heard of dyspraxia. How lucky are we to have Jamie in the world and so fortunate that we can hear him and his colleagues. Collabro is a gift from the five of them to us.
    Thank You

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  13. audreywitch says:

    Thank you for writing about your son’s dyspraxia and his achievements. My dyspraxia was diagnosed 6 years ago, when I was aged 54 years. So many things fell into place then, I felt vindicated and also very proud of myself for living so long with this condition (which I had never heard of). It explained so much: my problems with school, games, and in the numerous jobs which have been so difficult for me. Nearing retirement age now, unemployed through redundancy and depression, I am keen to educate people about dyspraxia. Good luck to Jamie in his musical career and thank him for being patron of the Dyspraxia Foundation. Best wishes, Audrey

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  14. Jane Evans says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this heartfelt story. It gave me such a feeling of optimism for my 6 year old daughter. She is currently being supported at school for elements of dyspraxia, particularly fine motor skills and tracking. She gets so frustrated with herself sometimes; she can only see the downside of dyspraxia. But what we see is a bright, funny engaging little girl, who has an incredibly creative imagination, loves dinosaurs and singing and has enough empathy to fill a room. Jamie’s story is an inspiration.

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  15. Pingback: Celebrities/famous people with dyspraxia | The blog with one post…

  16. Thank you for writing this, my 6yr old was diagnosed a yr ago and I’m helping to raise awareness with his teachers. The classroom scenario sounds so familiar but at least my sons teachers are willing to listen. Your sons story is a great inspiration, thanks for sharing 😊

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  17. Emily says:

    Me and Jamie are practically the same people, we both have struggled with the same things, yet also excelled in the same areas (such as reading) we both have dyspraxia and both you and my mum have fought tirelessly to get the support we needed whilst in education! The only problem ive had is trying to explain to people what dyspraxia really is to friends/ peers because its hard to explain, I just tend to say balance and coordination difficulties now though :D! Its strange because no one who I actually know has dyspraxia so knowing a few celebrities who have it makes me feel a lot less alone, although it would be nice to talk for a while with someone who truly understands what its like to live with. Thank you for posting this I’m going to show it to my mum later xx

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  18. mandy tilley says:

    Thankyou for sharing your experiences. My son is dyspraxic but also very shy and timid. He is 13 so I am hoping that by taking drama as an option in school it might bring him out abit more x

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  19. Jill says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! My daughter is 18, and was finally diagnosed last year. The more people who become aware of the condition, the better it is fir families still seeking answers. We are in the U.S., and most people have never heard of dyspraxia.

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  20. Sarah says:

    This is a beautiful, inspirational insight into living with dyspraxia. It gives me hope for my son who also has dysoraxia & struggles with so many of the things you’ve described. It has been extremely difficult to get doctors, school etc to take notice but I sm finally making some progress. I love Collabro, they are all so talented & now after reading this I love them even more! Jamie is an inspiration. Thank you for sharing his & your story

    Like

  21. Viv says:

    Thankyou for sharing your story. It gives me great encouragement to pass on to my 12yr old son who is starting high school shortly. He is worried about being clumsy and he miss judges his space and often falls and bumps into people. We both enjoyed watching collabro win and enjoy there singing. Reading you’re story will let him know you can achieve your dreams. xx

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  22. Gemma says:

    Thank you for sharing this story I’m 23 and also have dispraxia like Jamie I struggled through a sporty school now I have left school got a job and I am proud of myself that dispraxia hasn’t beet me I see it not as a disabilerty but as it makes finding ways to do things more interesting i.e. Riding a bike was a nightmare so I got a trike. And I have now got a 7 month old little girl who is amazing and dispraxia hasn’t stopped me there either thanks gemma

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  23. Fiona says:

    Thank you for this lovely insight into your son. I especially can identify with the obsession of things we affectionately term my son a ‘geek’ for his super knowledge. As a mum of a sin just embarking on secondary school this has helped reinforce some things with me well done Jamie on your appointment we look forward to hearing from you

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  24. Helen says:

    My son is 11 and has dyspraxia and your article is so positive. I love how you say that you needed to be aware not to blame everything on the dyspraxia. I am conscious of that too. Jonathan loves music and is learning to play the piano. He can hold a wonderful conversation with anybody but ask him to do a jigsaw and he just cannot see how the pieces fit. He wants to be a primary school teacher and I know he would be terrific as he would have such empathy. Thankyou for a wonderful article. Xx

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  25. Margaret Goodby says:

    Catching up on your blog Lorraine.
    Having read Jamie’s part of the book I realise that as well as dyspraxia he has overcome many hurdles in his life.He did touch on the subject of dyspraxia but after reading your article I now understand much more about it.
    He says in the book how he loves to perform and this shows when he is on stage as he lights up.
    Despite all the hurdles he has achieved his dream to perform….a talented young man.
    PS Anyone who rescues kittens and finds homes for them is at the top of my favourite people list.

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  26. Hi
    I would love to write a blog about how great my 26 year old son Angus who is also Dyspraxic but not sure if he would like it….
    We were lucky it was spotted at 3 years old and the local schools in Angus were very good with him although he struggles with making friends. In his teenage years things became more of a struggle as he comfort ate and started putting on weight and being hopeless at sports he did not fit in. Then at around 14 after year of watching his dad strum the guitar, his dad just said out of the blue Angus do want to try…. (He had always loved music and I believe this has helped him so much.) To his dads amazement he played one of the simpler tunes he dad plays straight off.. As his dad plays by ear we sent him to guitar classes, In the beginners class he only had to be showed how to play something once and he played to right back, So the guitar teach put him into the next class up. Anyway to cut a long story short he is a great guitarist and has a selection of about 15 now. Angus’ trouble was still confidence, but he got his HNC in music and then decided to do a degree in computer networking he struggled and needed a lit of emotional support, but gained an ordinary degree ( he plans to go back to do the honours year now). Then he struggles to get work his appearance was bad he was overweight and very short sighted.
    Then came a breakthrough I has lost over 2 stone on Weight watchers and said i would pay if he came too.. that was just over 2 years ago when he was 19 stone 8 lbs. He is now 12st 6lb ( he is 6 foot )and he had his eyes done so he has no glasses now. He is now taking care of himself better. He is out of work after having a work placement then a job as IT support at a private school, which he lost due to the job also involving DIY. He lives in a shared house with his cat Polly a rescue ( she is a Dyspraxic cat he says as she is like him, she is clumsy and a bit odd but loves him to bits ) and his younger sister and her dog and cat. he now walked miles everyday usually with his sister’s dog and looks amazing. He has started going out to gigs again and plans to play on the open mic blues night. Last week he went out to gig and a girl asked him up to dance he was over the moon. He may not be working yet , but he is amazing you should hear him play guitar. He is so clever about so many things employers are missing out … sorry about rant this is just a taster of what i would like to say, but he would be so embarrassed he has only just recently been more open about his problems xx thanks for reading

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  27. Paula Reynolds says:

    So lovely too read this. My son is 9 we are currently in the long process of getting a diagnosis. It’s so lovely too hear a positive story among all the worries.

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  28. As a teenager who just found they were diagnosed with dispraxia, this is a wonderful article. I felt self conscious about my clumsiness or my inability to learn sequences. But this shows that people can always overcome that and succeed in those fields. As a dancer and swimmer, this is greatly appreciated

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