As both Michigan and Syracuse basketball players moved with ease up and down the court, I was reminded of how naturally coordination and athleticism come to most individuals. For these players, shooting, dribbling and defending seemed breathing, habitual and fluid. Their fluidity and naturalness stands in stark contrast to what I have always known of my little brother, Matthew. Diagnosed with dyspraxia at age 4, Matthew has no ounce of athletic ability, and very little desire to develop any. Dyspraxia “isn’t a sign of muscle weakness or of low intelligence. It’s a brain-based condition that makes it hard to plan and coordinate physical movement. Children with dyspraxia tend to struggle with balance and posture. They may appear clumsy or “out of sync” with their environment.” Along with struggling with gross motor skills, Matthew’s weak fine motor skills cause everyday tasks such as tying his shoes and writing legibly to come difficulty.
Despite his lack of coordination and apathy towards athletics, Matthew still agreed to join the 5th grade cross-country team this year. While I was home earlier this semester, I was able to watch his very first meet. He started the first few steps running with the pack of middle-schoolers, but after about a minute, slowed a walk. His steps were clunky as he awkwardly walk/ ran to the path in the distance.
Observing with my family, full of ex and current college athletes, the fact Matthew was even competing in a race was astounding. However, it took awhile to come to this understanding about dyspraxia. My twin sister currently swims at Purdue and both my dad and older brother played football in college, so the fact that something as simple as running could come as such a struggle to a member of the family was hard to comprehend, as many disabilities are.
One by one the racers finished, but still Matthew lagged about a mile behind. As he finally neared the finish line, competitors from both his team and rivals’ joined him in his last leg, encouraging him to jog the rest of the way. Mika’s chapter “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities” reminds me that, traditionally, in the area of sports, people with “disabilities have been treated as less worthy than others.” While teammates, rivals and spectators could have easily been frustrated by the amount of extra time they stood waiting, they treated Matthew as any other competitor, endorsing his participation.
Sure, Matthew couple have possibly placed better if he had raced against other dyspraxic 5th graders, but he was taking steps, whether consciously or unconsciously, to eradicate the belief of his unworthiness that Mika addresses. Ultimately, I think my family reached the same conclusion about dyspraxia that Mika does about disabilities in general. Mika suggests, and Matthew proves, “disability is not the same as inability.”