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Dyspraxia: the Silent Sister

Kate Esser , Learning Skills Adviser, Plymouth University


This paper outlines the history (or otherwise) of dyspraxia within the context of disability history and the related discipline of disability studies. Here, I will interrogate the definition of the term dyspraxia and its origin within these fields and as part of what Henri Jacques Stiker (1997) in his History of Disability describes as 'the social modes of behaviour towards the out of the ordinary' (p. 13)

In relation to this, I will also suggest that my designation of dyspraxia as the 'silent sister' of dyslexia, is due the fact that, by contrast to dyslexia, the existing knowledge-base about the condition is primarily medical and needs to be expanded within a broader social remit and, in particular, at an individual level. Thus dyspraxia will be considered in relation to what Stiker describes as 'the mediating constructions and linkages' which have helped to shape definitions and perceptions of the condition (1997, 13).

One key area to be addressed is whether dyspraxia can truly be said to have a history at all. If so, it is a recent one. Its role within traditional medical and social models of disability will be discussed. The perception of dyspraxia within the contexts of work, education and the family will also be addressed.

Dyspraxia will also be analysed at an individual level, where the focus has traditionally been upon the so-called 'clumsy child', but which is increasingly considering the adolescent and the adult dyspraxic. In this context, dyspraxic life-histories and personal voices will be explored in line with contemporary trends towards individually subjective studies of, say, dyslexia. This will allow for the consideration of the impact of the condition for the individual within a social context.

This paper will conclude by suggesting future directions for dyspraxia research in the fields of disability history and disability studies.

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