The Mighty Logo

What It's Like Living With a Developmental Motor Coordination Disorder

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

Join The Mighty’s Spoonie Life Hacks group to get tips for tackling everyday tasks from people living with chronic illnesses — or to share your own hacks!

Living with a developmental motor coordination disorder can be quite a challenge. In my case, it’s dyspraxia. Although dyspraxia is not an official diagnosis anymore — it’s now just called a developmental motor coordination disorder.

Stated simply, a developmental motor coordination disorder means that my brain does not communicate properly with my muscles. I may know what I want my hand to do. When I go to do it, my hand doesn’t do it right. Maybe it’s off to one side. Maybe it opens instead of closes. Maybe it turns the wrong way. Maybe the other hand does it.

Not only do my hands and feet not always do what I want, I’m not very good at figuring out what I want them to do. It’s much easier for me to figure out calculus equations than how to use my hands at an ice cream machine.

How should I hold the cone? How much pressure do I put on the cone, so I don’t crush it or drop it? Which hand should I pull the lever with? How much strength should I use to pull the lever softly or solidly? Quite often, I’m wrong on my first choice.

This is called motor planning. It used to be called motor IQ. My motor IQ is 72.

Often, no cause is found for developmental motor coordination disorders. With me, it may have been for a few reasons. It may have been because of birth scars on the brain stem. It might also have been because the white matter in my brain atrophied when I was a kid. It may have been from seizures.

I was delayed in walking. I didn’t walk but stumbled until I was 4 years old. I had chronic road rash until I was 9 years old. I fell down in the street, on concrete, or asphalt enough that I often had marks and scrapes on me.

I have to think about my feet when I’m walking. I can’t chew gum or read my phone. If I don’t look and pay attention to my feet, I will trip over air. I have fallen at least once a month my whole lif, if not once a week.

I don’t think I have ever gone two hours without dropping something. It doesn’t matter. My drink, my phone, my pen, my money or whatever. If it’s in my hand, it’s going to the floor.

I have to think about moving my mouth when I’m talking. If I don’t pay attention to my mouth while I’m talking I will mumble, skip words, and possibly use the wrong word.

My handwriting is horrible. This is more formally called dysgraphia. Where dyslexia is an input problem, dysgraphia is an output problem. Where dyslexia is not a problem with the eye, dysgraphia is not a problem with the hand. The name literally means bad handwriting.

At public aid and other offices, I often have my forms denied because they can’t read them. Although it’s been really nice lately because now they have to fill them out, not me.

It makes me a slob.

I could never keep my shoes tied. I might tie them but it takes a few tries and they won’t stay tied for an hour.

I never brush my hair right. I never trim my beard right. I never get my clothes on right. I cannot fold my own clothes. I can spend all day doing it but by the time I get them in the drawer, they are badly wrinkled anyway.

I constantly drop food on myself, whether I use a fork or spoon or not. Just an hour before writing this, I got mustard all over me. I squeezed the mustard bottle too hard. Something similar happens every time I eat.

My house is a mess because I constantly spill and drop stuff on the floor. Now that I’m getting older and have problems bending over, stuff stays on the floor until my cleaning lady comes.

Also as I am getting older, things are only getting more difficult. I am more likely to fall. I’m more likely to hurt myself when I fall. My hands are getting shaky besides my motor problems.

So I just continue to learn more hacks, more ways of doing things so that I can’t screw up. Like velcro shoes. Bibs. Wet vacuum cleaners with long hoses. Plastic or rubber cups. Extra rugged phone cases. Extra rugged everything. Most importantly, I must take the time to set things down and do one thing at a time.

The hardest part of it all is that it makes me look inept. When it comes to doing things with my hands and feet, quite honestly I am inept. Most people who meet me in real life assume I’m slow otherwise as well.

Although it takes a long time for me to develop muscle memory and learn to do things with my hands and feet, it’s not impossible. I have learned to play the piano. I may have to play a song a thousand times when most people only need to play it 50 or 100. It takes a while, but I will play the song.

People are often amazed that I even play the piano at all. Not just the piano — they’re surprised by a number of other things I do. In some ways, for all the challenges, it makes me an amazing person. I have inspired many people to do things they thought they couldn’t do.

Originally published: May 26, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home