IDPWD21: The Lived Experience of a Clumsy Child

It’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Kirste Worland, Head of Technology Applications and Co-Chair of the NHSBSA’s Disability and Neurodiversity Colleague Network, shares her story of growing up with Dyspraxia.

For almost three decades the United Nations have observed the International Day of Persons with Disability on 3 December. More than a billion people worldwide currently experience disability, and this figure is expected to rise over the coming years. 

This year, I wanted to dip my toe and share with you my lived experience as a “clumsy child”:

“Watch where you’re going!” my mum would often tell me as she picked me up and dusted off my knees.

“What happened?” a passer-by would say.

“Oh she just tripped over her own feet….again…” my mum would respond in an exasperated tone. “You really must stop being so clumsy!”

Off I went to the doctors with my mum, who had begun to worry that there might be a reason for some of this clumsiness. She couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to tie my shoelaces, or got in a knot putting on my jumper, or that I didn’t seem to be able to grasp some of the childhood games that my brothers had easily mastered. And don’t even get me started about my balance or cycling!

“She has clumsy child syndrome” the doctor would say. “It’s ok. She will grow out of it” he reassured her. 

We experienced some real challenges over the years; there was no help or support offered to my mum or I to help work through strategies or anxieties, and I didn’t understand why I was different. 

These days there is so much more known about neurodiverse conditions. What was known as “clumsy child syndrome” is now known as Dyspraxia, a form of developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD) and is a common disorder affecting fine and/or gross motor coordination in children and adults which is a lifelong condition.

I didn’t grow out of being clumsy, as some of my colleagues who have witnessed the spectacular way in which I can knock over a cup can attest to.

I am still rubbish at spatial awareness so sticking to particular products and routines helps me a lot. I have driven the same make and model of car for 23 years.

My working memory also struggles. It’s something I concentrate very hard on while at work to feel like I am performing effectively. It’s quite a draining process and can still result in me struggling to think of the right word, name, or date on the spot.

Dyspraxia troubles aside, I’ve been able to accomplish a lot:

  • I learned how to ride a bike in 2015 thanks to some incredibly brave and supportive friends! In case you are wondering: I still can’t take my hands off the handlebars without falling off…so maybe no road riding on my own just yet.
  • I learned how to run back in 2011. Turns out I can run for a really long time too! Half Marathon distance is my norm, though I have done a few marathons… Who knew?
  • I discovered a love for rowing too. Repetitive actions are a real winner!
  • Emotional awareness and empathy are superpowers! I personally have benefitted from this really wonderful gift – which seems quite common among the Dyspraxia community.

These are just a few ways in which Dyspraxia and I have learned to co-exist and why I think the purpose of lived experience networks at work is so important.

The NHSBSA’s lived experience networks offer a range of support and encouragement for our colleagues.  Our Disability and Neuro-Diverse lived experience network works hard to improve the experiences we have within the workplace, promoting inclusivity and awareness of the impact of the wide ranges of conditions people have which are both visible and invisible. 

Many people aren’t yet comfortable sharing their disabilities, either visible or invisible, however, to create a disability-inclusive workplace, we need to find ways to create environments where people are able to be their authentic selves.

This International Day of Persons with Disabilities Day we wanted to raise awareness of the current situations that some people with disabilities live with.  Using the lived experiences of network members, we have hosted a number of virtual awareness sessions that explore topics of inclusive language, reasonable adjustment, and more.

If you’d like to learn more about how we’ve accomplished this, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!