Dyspraxia Week 2022: PE – Case Study; Sarah Meharg – Dyspraxia Foundation

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Dyspraxia was not a term I had heard of until I was in my 20s. As a child, my experience is likely to be similar to many undiagnosed children. There were regular trips to the hospital to check the latest bump, my favourite injury was five stitches in my chin because I forgot to stop swimming. I was usually the last to be picked for PE in school. I was told my marks in school would be better if only they could read my handwriting. I would end up with spillages and marks on my clothes without knowing how it happened.

When I was young, I would try to swim, cycle and keep up with other kids, but my little sister would always overtake my ability, and I would lose interest. Reading books and watching TV were much safer and less likely to cause accidents.

When I got to secondary school, my sense of direction became noticeable; telling left from right was always a challenge, and I would prefer to meet people in familiar locations, getting there early so I could work out the location.

As a teenager, I knew I wanted to be an occupational therapist, I valued helping people be independent and do meaningful activities. I completed my degree and started working. As an adult, I wasn’t very active but I was gifted a set of poi (fire spinning). It was a lone activity, if you got it wrong, it hurt, and I was not able to make comparisons about performance as no one else I knew could do it. Poi was calming, and I noticed subtle improvements in my special awareness and energy levels.

In my mid-20s, I started working in a community learning disability service, again, my clumsiness was renowned and if I rang in sick rather than express concern, they would look forward to hearing how I had blinded myself opening a crisp packet. Some of my colleagues went on training to assess praxis, a term I had not heard before, and when they came back, they said “Sarah, you will make a good case study”. They ran lots of tests, and I was most definitely dyspraxic.   The knowledge of my strengths and difficulties was revolutionary; there was a reason I found things hard. I started allowing myself to take the time I needed and to have the persistence and repetition to learn the movement.

In my late 20s, I had a bereavement and knew that exercise was meant to be good for mental health. So I decided I should practice what I preach. For the first time, I went to a gym and stuck with it. The proprioceptive input (deep pressure muscle feedback) helped my posture and energy levels. The raised heart rate helped anxiety and mood.

Throughout my 30s, I would explore with my clients improving mental health, and we would often discuss barriers to exercise. At this point, I decided I needed to become qualified in exercise instruction. If I knew the task’s demands, I could break it down. On my first day of working towards my personal training qualification, I felt like such an imposter, but pretty quickly, I realised it didn’t matter that I was not super fit; that was not why I was doing the course. I gained my qualifications and became self-employed, combining occupational therapy with personal training to help boost mental health and to make exercise neurodivergent friendly and accessible. I still need to find workarounds as I can’t always tell right from left, so I need to give physical prompts, but I now no longer feel like an imposter when I say that I offer personal training. In fact, my dyspraxia makes me good at it as I am in tune and aware of barriers, and I can creatively problem-solve how to overcome them.

My Dyspraxia top tips:

  • Allow yourself to find it hard
  • It’s counter-intuitive but movement energises, if you are in a slump, stand up and move.
  • Break what you are doing down into tiny parts, practice practice practice one part on repeat before progressing.
  • Choose an activity you can do at your own pace with space around you.
  • If you struggle with a movement, increase the feedback, either add weight or get someone to help you reposition your body so you can feel the movement.

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