guest post! | kat’s story – neurodiversity: dyspraxia edition

Though I lacked a formal term in my lexicon, the concept of “neurodiversity” (though somewhat controversial) is one that I’ve appreciated since long before my own ADHD/LD diagnosis. Typically, neurodiversity is seen as a concept that seeks to portray a variety of neurologically based “disorders” simply as variations—these include ADHD, autism spectrum disorders and Tourette syndrome, as well as specific learning disabilitiesAnother condition under the umbrella is dyspraxia—one that is probably less generally understood than several others on the list. 

I connected with Katherine (whom I always refer to, in my head and out loud, as Kat) several years ago—we connected initially over asthma, but that’s a rarer discussion topic at this point! More often, we’re planning adventures, spending several hours on Skype telling stories, discussing school, or making mug cake (yes, we made mug cake together on Skype—the level of coaching I required was ridiculous, and Kat’s a good person who didn’t make fun of me—too much :).]

Today, Kat is sharing her perspective as an adult with dyspraxia—a developmental delay affecting motor coordination. Dyspraxia is seldom discussed in the context of adulthood, so I’m excited to have Kat here today!

———-

Hello, my name is Katherine and…

I am a computer programmer.

I am learning American Sign Language.

I am a knitter.

I am a book worm.

I am a condo owner.

I am a Cardinals baseball fan.

I am dyspraxic.

My story of life as a grown up is much the same as any other 25 year old female living in the midwestern United States. I do exciting things like go to work, cook dinner, hang out with friends, and explore diverse and varied interests. However, my brain and I occupy a different motor skills space than yours most likely does. In the early/mid 90’s when I was a preschooler/grade schooler I had motor skill developmental delays. At the time the doctors called it dysfunctional/disordered motor planning, at the time new politically correct version of “clumsy child syndrome” which is now commonly know as dyspraxia. Basically my neurons don’t always connect my muscles to my brain well. Sometimes the message gets through and my body works just fine, other times it gets lost along the way. My writing skills are slow, painful, and took exceedingly long to develop. PE was my least favorite class ever; they always passed me but noted a need for improvement of coordination in activities like running, skipping, and jump rope.

In some ways getting to high school, college, and now the “real world” is easier. I’m no longer graded on my penmanship, and no one expects me to write in cursive. Nor does socialization involve jumping double dutch, although walking in heels is equally perilous. The majority of my work and other written communication is keyed out on a qwerty keyboard of some sort. While learning to type was a challenge initially I’ve taken to keying by touch much better than I ever had to writing. You won’t hear many stories like mine because I’m from the US, seemingly few dyspraxics exist Stateside (UK seems to have cornered the market). Also much more common in males for whatever reason. I’m a grown adult who has found a successful contributory place in society.

The voice of adults with developmental delays is seemingly nonexistent. Not because we aren’t here, and no, we didn’t outgrow it. Turning 18, 21 or any other arbitrary age doesn’t magically catch you up to your peers. Some of it is that we’ve learned how to adapt our lifestyles to avoid skills we haven’t mastered. My cooking has never been dinner party elegant but it tastes just dandy. I’ve found cooking implements that don’t require lots of coordination to work (OXO make some real winners at least for me). I drive a stick shift car of the same brand as i first learned on (so it has the same sized gear box with a clutch that “grabs” similarly). If I’m tired or have a mentally stimulating day ahead of me I don’t drive. Quite simply, while I can drive it takes quite a bit of mental concentration to drive, follow the assigned route and otherwise be attentive to my surroundings. Somedays this is more than I should really take on. I know my limits and live close to a transit loop. My life looks like that of the neurotypical adult because pick surroundings and activities that suit my needs and abilities.

Life is learning and growing and changing the world around you to make it work. Taking it in stride when you trip over your own feet stone cold sober in trainers.

—–

Kat has a degree in computer science and works as a programmer—she is pursuing American Sign Language as a personal interest (but in the very ambitious form of evening university classes—and watching the videos for my Disability Studies class in the Fall). Kat’s “diverse and varied interests” include several different fitness pursuits (running, cycling, swimming . . . ahem, triathlon :] . . .), making me jealous as she goes to Chicago, and crafty stuff like knitting and—though, I think this has culminated—having all sorts of condo do-it-yourself shenanigans.  

Kat can be found on Twitter as @kat314159 […yes. That is pi there. No, not that kind of pie].

developmental physical activity: barriers in childcare

Kids need at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day.  Every day.

It sounds like a lot, and that’s because it is.  I’m fortunate enough that I’m in a position where 1) I learn about the impact of physical activity on people of all ages on a pretty much daily basis, 2) work in an atmosphere that allows me to apply this knowledge directly to the kids in our program and 3) I can, in a small way, contribute to helping kids and their families meet this total.

Here’s the thing though: resources aren’t available to make quality physical activity programming in childcare accessible to all programs.

When i started my current job, my boss and coworkers were excited that I actually like gym games.  It’s basically my thing at work.  I love it.

I’d like to say to start: yes, our kids still play sports. I think that sports are valuable for kids to learn, to play, and contribute to long-term athlete development and being active for life beyond what gym games do.  But I also believe that non-sport physical activity can play a huge role in getting kids active for the simple reason that it is just fun.  Some kids, even as young as five, get serious about sports.  Because even when kids are little, they know what competition is.  There are kids who are young who get onto a field or a rink and are just little natural all-around athletes.  They’ll make the good passes, score the goals, and be that kid that everybody’s looking at and talking about positively.  When competition comes into play, these kids will thrive on it.  In turn, though, this can make kids feel that maybe because they aren’t natural athletes and aren’t that kid that they shouldn’t bother. It’s cyclic. That kid who’s always picked last decides they shouldn’t bother trying, they stand around on the field, sit around picking daisies and grow up fighting PE teachers trying to stay on the bleachers.  And if such behaviour isn’t modified, that same kid can grow up to face a number of health concerns due to inactivity.

I was that kid.  That kid who hated PE, and didn’t start liking physical activity until I took dance in my last semester of high school.  Because of that, I’ve hit a proficiency barrier in many fundamental skills that I just didn’t get during developmental PE in elementary and middle school.  So these kids that don’t like sports or just aren’t as proficient in the skills?  I feel for them, big time.

So I organize/facilitate our Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday morning physical activity component at our program.  It’s optional.  Monday is usually floor hockey, and I have no idea what they do Fridays.  I plan four gym games per month, but I play a lot more of them.  On a soccer morning, I’ll have probably ten or eleven kids.  On a FUN game day, perhaps Ollie Ollie Octopus or dodgeball [yes, we play dodgeball. I hated it, but the kids LOVE it, and it teaches a ton of valuable skills–running, throwing, dodging, agility, catching, etc–so I submit to the “Miss Kerriiiiiii, can we play dodgeballlll?” and let them play.  Gatorballs and typically below-the-waist hits only.  No injuries as of yet, it’s a good time], which are our more popular choices, I’ll have up to seventeen or eighteen.  On tag game day last week we had eighteen.  Seven more kids is huge.  We have usually about 24 to 30 kids in the mornings, so we get a big chunk of them moving first thing in the morning–engaged body, engaged brain.  While not every kid comes every day, I can’t pinpoint too many kids who never come.

The thing is, I’ve taken classes on teaching kids physical activity, and I’ve taken courses on making physical activity more fun for ALL kids.  I’ve learned where to find physical activity resources. From what I’ve experienced, this isn’t common knowledge among childcare staff, because that’s not where their focus typically lies. Additionally, many childcare staff do not have education in childcare.  I started working at a daycare [not the one I’m at now] less than a month after I turned eighteen with nothing but high school Family Studies classes behind me.  They either come straight out of high school, or from a variety of other professions.  That said, the people running programs are certified Early Childhood Educators, and thus create a program centred around that knowledge.  We’re required to offer specific amounts of outdoor play per day, but I’m not sure if there are regulations requiring active play to be a part of the day.  Keep in mind, too, that the bulk of resources are for phys ed teachers.  The very last thing I want is for morning gym games to feel like PE–for the kids who aren’t good at PE or who don’t want anything to remind them of school when they’re not in school, I try to keep a clear barrier.  That means lots of pick-up games and games with minimal instruction so that they can play and not sit and listen.

As for programming, think about this: a school-aged daycare at any given point typically provides programming for kids five to twelve years old.  Then wrap your mind around providing developmentally appropriate physical activity programming for that group, that encompasses a variety of opportunities for increasing a child’s physical literacy, as well as providing opportunity for cognitive and affective growth through physical activity.  Fortunately, physical, affective and cognitive development can be incorporated into a child’s day through active games — pretty much any game that requires a child’s body and mind to be engaged simultaneously [read: pretty much any physically active game] will provide opportunities for all of these to occur.  However, there is a huge difference in all domains between a five year old and a ten year old, and a seven year old and a twelve year old.  This makes finding games that this wide of an age-range will enjoy difficult.

Unfortunately, the barrier keeps growing in providing quality daily physical activity in programs — there aren’t enough resources available to early childhood educators or early childhood educator assistants (like myself).  Resources are either very difficult to find (even online), or they are provided by such organizations that are pushing for daily quality physical activity/education, but also charge between $50 and $100 for a resource book.  I was blessed to receive some resources from my friend Dia, but these resources were only available via partnership that Special Olympics Ontario has with other sport organizations.  The same organizations challenging the world to provide more opportunity and options for physical activity to kids are the same that are making it inaccessible for the bulk of organizations to do so — it’s understandable that profit and business takes precedence, but these things only work if the programs seeking the resources have the funds to access them, making it a catch-22.  These barriers are not typically due to childcare centres in themselves, but their governing bodies or sport and physical activity non-profits not reaching the intended market in the most effective way and/or not receiving adequate funding to be able to reach the places that need it most. What can be done to overcome them is likely a huge mess of economics, politics and continuing education.

I am only a small piece in the puzzle, and the centre I work at joins in the picture.  The puzzle needs to keep being put together to give our kids active, healthy futures and encourage physical activity for life.  I play a small role in helping get these kids more physically active–in a week, I spend an hour and a half in the gym with them.  It’s not enough, but it’s all I can do, and hope that the rest of the active component of our program, physical education class, outdoor play and parental engagement are doing the rest.  As for other childcare programs?  There’s got to be something more out there.

If you’re a childcare provider or have a child in a licensed daycare, let me know your thoughts — what’s your physical activity program like?  Do you feel that it’s enough?  What would you like to see your kids doing differently?  Let me know what country you’re from so we can compare.  Additionally, if you’re a childcare provider and can direct me to any resources, I’d greatly appreciate it!