Many people with conditions you can’t see, face judgement because they look healthy to the outside world.
Elly Badcock, 29, who lives in Cardiff, has dyspraxia and attention deficit disorder (ADD) – a behavioural disorder that includes symptoms such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
Dyspraxia is a developmental coordination disorder, which affects how Elly does anything that requires coordination or movement.
It can affect her memory and how she learns new things as well as difficulties with day-to-day activities like dressing, preparing meals, writing, typing, grasping small objects.
The condition can make Elly come across as ‘clumsy’ due to a lack of coordination.
It also affects her ability to manage her time, plan and organise.
Despite dyspraxia having an impact on many aspects of her life, Elly has been told that her condition isn’t real, which has been upsetting.
Elly has completed two degrees and is considering studying for a PhD and she says that her academic achievements affect how people think about her condition.
She says: ‘What I find most often is that people dismiss the fact I’m dyspraxic because I look like I’m doing well in life. I’ve had a couple of people say to me that dyspraxia doesn’t count as a ‘real’ disability.
‘I find this particularly offensive, firstly because it suggests that you can only be ‘really’ disabled if you have a visible disability, and secondly because it minimises the huge amount of effort that I put in to doing the things I want and need to do.
‘Just maintaining the basic aspects of life like making three meals a day, showering and brushing my teeth, having clean clothes to wear, getting to work or study on time and keeping the house one step above being an environmental health hazard, take up so much of my mental energy.’
Elly wasn’t diagnosed with the condition until she was at university but she has lived with it throughout her life.
It affects between 2 and 6% of the population but many people with milder symptoms are not diagnosed until adulthood.
Elly explains: ‘I was diagnosed at the end of my second year at the School of Oriental and African Studies – the first university I attended.
‘I visited the school’s Learning Support Centre on the verge of a breakdown, as I felt my ability to manage my academic and personal life was rapidly spiralling out of control.’
Elly was missing deadlines, struggling to attend lectures and to organise her life.
She adds: ‘My housemates were annoyed at my constant inability to do any cleaning, and my social life was all over the place because I could never remember what I was doing and when.
‘A friend had suggested I might be dyspraxic and the university agreed – I was referred to an educational psychologist, who said that some parts of my dyspraxic profile were so pronounced that they were only seen in a small number of dyspraxic people.
‘When I got my diagnosis, I had an overwhelming sense of relief. I had spent my entire life up until this point berating myself for being clumsy, forgetful, lazy, and stupid.
‘I wondered why it took me so long to learn how to ride a bike, or do up a tie or shoelaces. I always misplaced things, including important things like money, passports, my school books and so on, and a lot of my school reports said “Elly is bright but disorganised and fails to apply herself.”
‘Knowing that this was because I had a neurological condition, rather than being a personal failing, was so validating and allowed me to be a lot more content with the person I am.’
Now studying for her second degree in occupational therapy, Elly felt more able to ask for more support to be put in place to help with her condition but says it does affect her every day.
She says: ‘It can be hard to describe the impact, because people often say “Oh, I’m like that too, so clumsy!”
‘Everyone has had those kinds of days where you lose your keys when you’re running late to a meeting, and you notice there’s a ladder in your tights, then you get to work and realise you didn’t bring your lunch, and then someone tells you you’ve got mascara on your face, and because you’re so flustered you drop a cup of coffee down yourself, and the vicious cycle continues. With dyspraxia, that’s a good day!
‘Dyspraxia affects motor co-ordination, ability to plan and sequence information, and working memory. In laymen’s terms, that means I’m chronically forgetful, clumsy, disorganised and chaotic.’
Small things like writing with a pen, tying her shoelaces and doing up buttons are difficult for Elly.
‘Dyspraxia used to be called ‘clumsy child syndrome’, because one of the main symptoms was being obviously physically clumsy.
‘I have problems with fine and gross motor skills (big and small movements).
‘I trip and fall a lot, bump into tables, chairs and door frames, and have a slower response time than other people to obstacles and hazards.