Dyspraxia, disempowerment and the IPC

17 October 2016

by Patrick Ozorio, Melanie O’Shea, Ben Pullen-Wright and Andrew Scott

Jess and Melanie from Dyspraxic MeToday and tomorrow ParalympicsGB and TeamGB medal heroes will have celebration events in Manchester and London, but not all disabled athletes are eligible to participate in the Paralympics.

Dyspraxia is not recognised by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). In 2014 The Guardian newspaper reported on the Amateur Swimming Association decision to drop its ‘S17’ category for athletes diagnosed with developmental coordination disorder (DCD) — or dyspraxia, in line with the IPC’s classifications. 

This is despite a definition of dyspraxia as ‘a lifelong condition in which a person’s movement and coordination are affected so both are difficult. This can include coordination of both fine and gross motor skills’.                        

Four members of Dyspraxic Me — a peer support group for young people aged 16-25 with dyspraxia — and Can Do London discuss why they think dyspraxic people should be allowed to compete in the Paralympics.

‘Athletes performing at an elite level require strict training regimes and carefully controlled diets to reach peak optimisation. Both require rigid organisation and prioritisation, which dyspraxic competitors would find difficult.

‘I find the eligibility of dyspraxia in the Paralympics somewhat confusing.

‘A disability is essentially what prevents you from participating in the Olympics. In conclusion, I fully support the inclusion of diagnosed dyspraxia in the Paralympics.’ — Ben Pullen-Wright

‘I am upset that the option to participate has been shut down to dyspraxics. They say you can dream anything, work hard and succeed.

‘But if the option has been shut down completely, you will lose motivation, to continue or start a sport because sport is mostly about competing at the highest level and wining at the highest level you can get to.

‘Even if you start a sport for fun or exercise there's always an element of progression and winning - testing yourself compared to the best of the best.’ — Melanie O'Shea

‘It’s complicated. It’s a torment that whirls around in my head about the definition of what the hell dyspraxia actually is. Is it a disability? Or is it an exaggeration of my clumsiness?

‘I think that’s the problem of dyspraxia, it’s just so darn hard to pin it down, even by dyspraxics such as myself.

‘I think it’s important now, more than ever to spread the word about dyspraxia across the world. We have dyspraxia, and that’s okay!’ — Andrew Scott

‘Far from discouraging potential in DCD defined athletes, we must first understand the barriers they face and then provide access to peer support. For example, through specialised online forums like Dyspraxic Me, who hold monthly meetings and workshops in London.

‘Dyspraxic athletes could compete at a local level, or even better create a separate championship. This would not only provide a platform for young dyspraxics, but a vital tool for parents and caregivers to get much needed support and guidance.’ — Patrick Ozorio

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