By Hannah Bettsworth, Campaigner and Liberal Democrat
My disability is an invisible one – dyspraxia, also known as Developmental Co-ordination Disorder, a specific learning difficulty. The single most common thing I get asked is ‘is that like dyslexia?’ The answer is – no, not really. It’s part of the same group of disorders, but the person who first suggested I go to the doctor about it was a Support for Learning teacher who was enabling me to do more advanced reading tasks.
The second most common thing I get asked is ‘what actually is that?’ It’s not completely easy to explain – in fact, I spent around 20 minutes describing my life story to one of our former MPs in order to encompass the variety of things it can affect. My hair is short because I can’t take care of it properly when it’s long. I’ve stabbed myself in the eye with a mascara wand far too many times. When I was at primary school, I was the last one picked for the team, and the bullies would find my lack of sporting skill funny. I never rode a bike without stabilisers. I didn’t learn to swim properly until I was 13. I still haven’t attempted driving lessons, but I’m expecting it to be a long and complex process if I do. And I have mild dyspraxia.
All these issues stem from the same difficulties – problems with fine and gross motor control. In practice, that means the messages get lost on the way through my brain to the body part that needs to do the action (although the causes of dyspraxia remain poorly understood). As exams got more complex, I started to need a computer to do essays legibly. I struggled with Higher Maths, as the steps in solving a problem wouldn’t all ‘stay in my brain’ and I had to write them all out on paper. Extra time in exams has been a godsend.
In the workplace, and in my activism, I would be lost without my mobile phone. Memory issues are common in dyspraxia, and if someone asked me to commit the canvass data to Connect, tell the campaign manager about something, and bring down two leaflet bundles, I’ll come back without the leaflets unless I note it down. That’s what the NHS would call a ‘sequencing issue’, and what my mum would call ‘very annoying’!
Occupational Therapy and Support for Learning helped teach me coping strategies as a child, to the extent that I only appear disabled in very specific contexts – like falling flat on my back while trying to climb a rope at school. However, dyspraxia is a condition that persists, and often a little known one. I hope that acting as a One in Five Scot ambassador can help me raise awareness of both my own condition and other invisible disabilities.