When did you become aware that there was something unique about you? What did you notice?
I am 72 years of age and grew up in a large family headed by a single mother; thus there was nothing felt to be worth bothering about in those days shortly after WWII. Pediatrics was still a relatively new field, having begun as a specialty in the 1930s. While I achieved early developmental milestones at the normal time, I knew I was clumsy and awkward.
I almost "failed" kindergarten because I struggled to tie my own shoes or zip my zippers and often would panic. My balance and gross motor skills were poor. I could read picture books, but my handwriting was very poor, noting that in those days, handwriting was important enough to receive a letter grade until 3rd grade. My desk and papers were very messy.
I was very shy and quiet, never chosen to play on a team for physical education (PE) or when with neighborhood children. My social skills were immature--yes, a child knows. "Klutz" became my nickname in all settings, defined as "a clumsy, awkward or foolish person with a lack of physical dexterity" until I left for college. I often felt "less than," however I participated anyway just to be around other children, and cried later.
How did you address any challenges you were having at home, school, or work?
Because I was a very determined/competitive child and wanted to be accepted, I worked on improving physical and social skills on my own.
All children in my Slavic-American community were required to go to "Sokol," a gymnastic entity originating in Czechoslovakia to promote a communal spirit, physical fitness, and maintain the Czech language here in the US. We attended weekly and participated in gymnastics, strengthening, and just moving in sync with a large group of other children. I was determined to get a medal and eventually did so on high-low bars and the horse. I practiced serving for volleyball over and over again in PE at school until I was eventually chosen (yea!) for the team, still only able to serve the ball well.
I taught myself to sew all my own clothing, knit, and crochet sweaters because family finances were very tight and I thought it would help if I could make clothes cheaply that might not make me a target at school. I worked in a dry goods store to get a discount on material and yarn. I joined the student theater group to learn to speak in front of others, learn to tap dance and sing; eventually getting lead roles in dramas and musicals.
My mother urged me to work very hard on my typing skills to ensure I would get a paying job after high school, noting my typing proficiency never became better than 50 wpm. Fortunately, high school educational staff felt I should consider aiming towards a higher education.
Which therapies/approaches were most effective?
In retrospect, high school theatrics participation was my savior and prepared me for adulthood better than anything else in childhood. I still often "feel like a Klutz" to this day, but gained measurable confidence, people skills, and gross motor coordination with participation in various activities on the stage.
I was a very good clinician, but very slow in designing and building adaptive seating/mobility devices for children, in molding and making splints, and any other adaptations which required visuo-spacial processing. After a few years, I chose to continue my education in a related field, completing medical school, pediatric residency, and a fellowship in Pediatric Rehabilitation /Neurodevelopmental Pediatrics where my strengths and cognitive skills were more useful than my motor skills.
What coping strategies do you find most helpful in your daily life?