The importance of having peers with similar needs
Next week is Dyspraxia Awareness Week, which aims to raise awareness of dyspraxia and DCD and how it can affect all aspects of a person’s life. As it is another form of neurodivergence, dyspraxia can occur alongside autism or other neurodivergences. It can affect organisation skills, memory and attention, as well as coordination and gross and fine motor skills. Sometimes it can also affect speech and language as well. There is a wealth of information on the Dyspraxia Foundation website, including different advice for Youth, Adults, and Parents and Carers.
You may be wondering why I am writing about dyspraxia / DCD in a blog post talking about having peers with similar needs. Well, the answer is quite simple. My daughter, who is autistic, was assessed for DCD last year, and although was not given a diagnosis as her scores were borderline, she experiences many of the physical difficulties associated with dyspraxia thanks to her hypermobile joints. She has struggled for years with buttons and other fastenings on her clothing, and is unable to fasten any shoes without Velcro on them. Socks are a challenge, and tights are impossible (although now not an option anyway because of sensory issues). She has used pencil grips for several years which are designed to keep the fingers in exactly the right places, and has sat on a wobble cushion at school (and sometimes at home) to help her to concentrate and sit still. At home she has also used specialist cutlery with chunky, moulded handles, to help her to grip and to use it correctly, and has used a sloping writing desk to help her with her handwriting. Up until this term, she was very unhappy to look different from her peers. She accepted that she needed the wobble cushion and pencil grips in school, but was unhappy about explaining to her classmates why she needed them and what it meant.
This went on for many years – until the start of this term when a new girl joined the class. This girl was put next to my daughter, and has a wobble cushion, pencil grips and a sloping writing desk. This has made such an enormous difference to my daughter. Suddenly she has a friend who faces similar physical challenges, and it has normalised the need to use adaptations in the classroom. In the last few weeks my daughter has not only not minded about her adaptations, but also asked for a sloping writing desk to take to school, and for specialist cutlery to use in the dinner hall. It has been a joy to see her embracing her needs, feeling positive about herself, and allowing herself to use the things which will help her so much, all thanks to having a friend whose needs are visible in the same way.
Seeing the two of them playing together, along with their other friends, has made me realise how important it is for our girls to have others alongside them who have similar needs. It isn’t all about needing support or adaptations, but helping them to accept who they are and the way their brains and bodies work may not be the same as other people’s. Being accepting of their whole self is so vital for good mental health, both now and in their future, and will helpfully stand them in good stead for when they reach adulthood.
NeonDaisy was set up with a vision of helping autistic girls and their families to find others out there. Often our girls are so good at masking, that it is hard to see where they are or to find others going through a similar experience. We want to help. We have a Facebook community for parents to find other families and to support one another, and to celebrate and support our girls and who they are. We look forward to seeing you there.
Laura Webb is a director of NeonDaisy