Dyspraxia in Ireland – Slipping under the mental health radar

Colm Lawless

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Homework - photo credit Melanie Holtsman(Flickr)
Homework – photo credit Melanie Holtsman (Flickr)

Dyspraxia, you mean dyslexia? No I didn’t spell it wrong. It’s a real and commonly misdiagnosed condition which particularly affects the younger members in our society. I caught up with Fay Dunn of Dyspraxia Ireland, one of the groups three staff, to talk about the group and what support it offers and also to raise awareness of the condition.

Dyspraxia is a condition which affects the parts of the brain that deal with thinking, planning and carrying out sensory/motor tasks. The condition affects a person’s muscle tone and can slow people down by up to three times as much as a non-sufferer in daily tasks such as getting out of bed, getting ready for school or work. It can impact on daily tasks that require hand eye coordination and movement. The condition, is often left undiagnosed due to Ireland’s two – three year long waiting list. This waiting list is only for a consultation to make the diagnoses of the condition, not for any sort of treatment.

I asked Fay if it can lead to any other conditions and she went on to say it is possible that due to being clumsy, having great difficulty when it comes to P.E or any sort of sporting activity and struggling to keep up with the pace of their classmates is all they are able to think about and this can lead to depression, anxiety and finding it even harder in school. Although not everyone who suffers from dyspraxia is automatically going to suffer these further conditions, they may be brought on if treatment is not made available to the sufferer.

Fay mentioned that due to the HSE’s waiting list to stand any chance of getting a  prompt diagnosis you would be better off going private. However the problem with going private is the sheer cost of everything, from a consultation right down to occupational therapy, is eye-watering. This means more and more sufferers of the disability are likely to go undiagnosed due to the current economic climate.

The condition or disability, which it is, is not curable but is treatable with one on one therapy. Dyspraxia is not due to an underlying mental condition. According to Dyspraxia Ireland, “There isn’t a known cause of Dyspraxia. No clinical neurological abnormality is present to explain the condition. Research suggests that it is due to an immaturity of neuron development in the central nervous system.”

When asked who suffers mostly from the condition Fay replied, “Mainly boys”. In a group of ten people, four out of the ten people would be suffers of dyspraxia. Their is no reason as to why it affects more boys than girls. Fay said it is more than likely hereditary. Meaning that if you have it, it is not impossible that your parents or grandparents could have suffered from dyspraxia without realising it.

Studying alone - photo credit - Jerry Wong(Flickr)
Studying alone – photo credit – Jerry Wong (Flickr)

Dyspraxia Ireland, is the countries only group/organisation for dyspraxia. The volunteer organisation who are about to lose their one and only full time member of staff, according to Fay. This is due to lack of funding and recognition of the condition. Sadly the groups future is quite uncertain at the moment as they require donations and public support to remain open and there for anyone who needs them. “One large donation isn’t going to keep the group going, it may protect us and keep our one employee in work for a little while longer but is not a viable long term option.”

They’re the only group in the country who are there to answer parents questions and are there to provide support and recently began setting up support groups around the country, with the groups latest workshop just after opening in Tallaght, County Louth and Belfast. They are working to reopen support groups specifically for adult sufferers. The support groups are set up by Dyspraxia Ireland and teach parents and members of the groups on how to cope and assist people that are affected by the condition. They meet once a month to partake in activities such as equestrian, swimming or even just group discussions to see how members are getting on.

When Dyspraxia Ireland was originally set up, it was founded by parents. Now there is an office, which consists of three people. Fay ( who deals with the hotline, and any other inquiries that people might have), Harry Conway and their I.T and social media moderator. The hotline is not a  24-7 hour hotline, it runs from (9 am-5 pm weekdays). Fay said they have lost all funding and when Harry loses his job, the future is very uncertain for Dyspraxia Ireland but the support groups will remain.

I put the question to Fay, has there been any political support for the disability? And her reply was that, Harry Conway from Dyspraxia Ireland is trying desperately to get TD’s on board with the organisation and to try and build its public support. She also pointed out that Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Health, James Reilly, that if dyspraxia was to be recognised as a disability would people who suffer from dyspraxia be entitled to the adequate services and support required to assist them.

Minister Reilly replied with “…From a health perspective, their is no cure for dyspraxia, but a number of therapies can make it easier for the child to cope with their problems. These include speech and language therapy, to improve speech and communication skills, and occupational therapy to find ways to remain independent and complete everyday tasks. The provision of health related services is an operational matter for the Health Service Executive. Accordingly I have asked the HSE to respond directly to the Deputy with information regarding the specific health services available for these children”.

For those suffering from dyspraxia, help is out there. You can call Dyspraxia Ireland on 01-8747085 or email the office at info@dyspraxia.ie. You can donate to save the organisation and their only full time member of staff, via this link: http://www.mycharity.ie/events/save_our_association

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Colm Lawless