this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on May 17, 2015.

Do you know people who always trip over or bump into objects? They can’t live a day without spilling food, misplacing or dropping things, or fumbling at arts and crafts. They can hardly prepare food, and fail to play a sport or dance gracefully regardless of practice.

If you say yes, then those people are described as clumsy, awkward, insecure, or conscious, and that’s their character. But being clumsy is not funny, especially if their life has been affected severely by it, whether at work or in a social environment. Clumsiness doesn’t necessarily reflect their character, and doesn’t mean they are losers. What they actually have is a condition called developmental coordination disorder (DCD) more known as dyspraxia.

Dyslexia? No. You read it right: dyspraxia. It is the term used when someone finds it difficult to carry out and coordinate skilled, purposeful movements and gestures with normal accuracy. People with dyspraxia (dyspraxic) have difficulty planning and organizing their thought processes (planning what to do and how to do it).

Dyspraxia is recognized by the US Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the UK National Health System and the World Health Organization.

It has no known cause, but studies suggest that it is caused by poor linkages between nerve cells and poor cerebellum function. The risk factors include prematurity, exposure to alcohol and drugs in pregnancy, and family history.

Dyspraxia can coexist with other learning disabilities like ADHD, autism spectrum disorder and dyslexia. At least one in 10 persons has dyspraxia; the male-female ratio is 4:1.

The main features of dyspraxia include delays in reaching normal developmental milestones, unusually stiff or floppy appearance, awkward and clumsy appearance, difficulty in concentrating, difficulty in following instructions and taking down information, difficulty in organizing oneself (tying shoelaces, combing hair) and getting things done.

Persons with dyspraxia are also slow to pick up new skills (catching a ball, dancing), need encouragement and repetition to help them learn, and find it difficult to make friends. They have behavior problems and low self-esteem.

The coordination difficulties associated with dyspraxia can reduce a person’s ability to participate and function in education and employment. Difficulties with self-care, writing, typing, riding a bike and playing may start in childhood and continue into adulthood.

An adult may also experience new difficulties—for example, with driving a vehicle or DIY (do-it-yourself) tasks. Adults with dyspraxia may also have social and emotional difficulties, like reading nonverbal communication (voice tone, gesture), as well as problems with time management, planning and personal organization.

The complications of dyspraxia include social isolation, educational underachievement, chronic unemployment or underemployment, depression, anxiety, and/or alcohol and substance abuse.

Dyspraxia has no cure, but it can be managed. Early diagnosis in a child means that treatment can be started early, which may improve the outlook. Dyspraxia assessment tests are available in English-speaking countries and Scandinavia. Assessment includes testing the child’s developmental milestones as well as his or her motor skills and speech. If these are found to be faulty, then a diagnosis of dyspraxia is made. Management includes occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, and perceptual motor training.

The earlier the management, the better the prognosis as the child becomes aware of his or her disability, from which he or she can choose a career path that is suitable for his or her strength (i.e., avoiding jobs that require skills and multitasking, as in call centers, and instead focusing on jobs that are repetitive in nature). With this, dyspraxics can be successful in their career paths.

Are there prominent people diagnosed with or suspected of having dyspraxia? Here are just a few: Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Emily Brönte, Daniel Radcliffe, and Florence Welch of Florence + the Machines.

Fictional characters with suspected dyspraxia include Mr. Bean, Homer Simpson, Bella Swan of “Twilight,” Sailormoon, Nobi Nobita of “Doraemon,” and most Korean-drama leading ladies like Steffi Cheon of “My Love From The Star” and Jesse of “Full House,” and even the characters portrayed by the late Dolphy as clumsy antiheroes.

But dyspraxia is no comedy. It is often called the “hidden handicap” because most people don’t recognize this learning disability and its devastating effects on people afflicted with it. Education and awareness are needed, especially here in the Philippines where dyspraxia is unheard of, in order to recognize it and help people with the condition manage their situation and unleash their full potential.

And remember, clumsy doesn’t necessarily mean stupid. Maybe he or she has dyspraxia.

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