Being Dyspraxic by Scott Forster

 

What is Dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia comes in two forms. There's Developmental Dyspraxia which is present from birth and then there is Acquired Dyspraxia which can occur from circumstances such as head injuries.  My focus here will be on Developmental Dyspraxia.

Too often Dyspraxia is confused with Dyslexia but they are distinct and different. Dyspraxia is a disorder of coordination, of planning and execution. There tends to be some overlap with ADHD, Dyscalculia, Asperger's and Dyslexia among other conditions though these are not necessarily present in all Dyspraxics or they may only have one or two of the aforementioned conditions.

Dyspraxia can range from being so impacting that someone is unable to walk or speak in an understandable way, to being mild as I would consider it with myself. I have often avoided mentioning it because I feel that I have no right, that because others have it worse than me I have no right to complain. But that's unfair to myself. In no other situation would we do that. I would never do that to someone else. I would never say cancer is worse than a heart attack because they are not comparable in the same way. They're apples and oranges.

Dyspraxia has a number of ways it's expressed though not everyone experiences all of these. These expressions include: delay of planning and execution of complex movements, difficulties with fine motor skills, tendency to bump into things, lack of rhythm, a clumsy walk, inadequate grasp causing the person to drop things, difficulty following instructions, little sense of time/space/speed/distance/weight/height, difficulty with planning and sequencing, poor short term memory, short attention span, being easily distracted, being 'messy' ,  slow to finish tasks, confusion of left and right, poor muscle tone, being quicker to become physically and/or mentally exhausted etc.

Dyspraxic difficulties can be a problem in anything from pouring a cup of tea, to putting the key in the lock, to playing football or dancing yet there's no reason why Dyspraxics can't improve on these or even become 'non Dyspraxic' in terms of carrying out these activities. Dyspraxia does force limitations on you though, at the same time it can be possible to overcome these at times. But regardless of that, Dyspraxia never disappears. Dyspraxia cannot be 'cured' or eliminated. In the case of Developmental Dyspraxia, it's a lifelong disorder.

You should accept that dyspraxia means you have limitations different to others- maybe more- and you shouldn't try to do what you can't if they can't be overcome. It's a difficult line between what your  incapable of as a Dyspraxic and what you can overcome. It's practically impossible to know. For myself, I've been able to overcome some problems such as shoelace tying or left/right confusion, to improve on something's such as playing football or basketball but am unable as far as I can tell to improve on my fine motor skills, on things like grip or bumping into things. Technically speaking, you could constantly attempt to overcome your difficulties by practicing them and repeating them but not everyone wants to or has the time. As much as it can help it can also tend to emphasis the inability aspect of your capabilities.

 

Personal problems faced by Dyspraxics.

This essay has been a long time coming. I've for the longest time not wished to talk about Dyspraxia or my experiences with it. I've carried it under the radar and wished to avoid it and pretend it isn't part of me. But it is, as much as the fact that I'm a poet or that my dad died when I was 16 or anything else you'd want to pick out as important to understand my life and who I am. I'm quickly coming to understand that I need to take ownership of it, that it is part of me- one part of me- but a part of me nonetheless. It's becoming increasingly clear to me that it's biggest affect on me is at work.

I have disliked considering myself disabled and have never identified with it. Yet dyspraxia is considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010. As previously mentioned, I feel others are worse off than me and so I have no right to claim it as my label. As also already mentioned, that's not a valid line of reasoning. The stigma and hidden disability element trouble me too. I don't want to be seen as just disabled, any more than a rape victim wants to be seen solely through that lens. As much as it must be recognised and kept in mind it should not be seen as the only  determinant of my identity I have. I am both capable and disabled. Finally, I have a linguistic gripe with the term. I would much rather prefer 'differently abled ' since I think it better conveys that my difficulties mean I'm not incapable just my capabilities are different to others without dyspraxia. I know though that 'disabled' is just a term of convenience and am not so bothered by it to make it a crusade. Gradually, maybe I'm coming to terms with the idea of me as disabled. No doubt what I write here applies to people with other disabilities.

Disclosure is always a tricky subject. I have long felt a desire not to disclose my dyspraxia to other people. I feel like there's a stigma that comes along with it because of it being a hidden disability. I worry that I'll be treated like I'm an idiot or incapable of anything. I don't want to be patronised or treated with special favour. I don't want to feel like its a label that defines me. It's who I am but it's not all that I am. I am multi-faceted. I feel that way about many things in my life.

The problem of course with non-disclosure (as I'm finding out) is that people don't know so lack the understanding of why I have the limitations I do and so I'm treated badly (especially in the workplace) with the usual comments returning to haunt me of "mucky pup", "clumsy" etc.

Dyspraxia is a hidden disability to some extent insofar as it's entirely possible to be very capable or coordinated at an activity and yet still have dyspraxia. It seems that most people with dyspraxia have average or above average intelligence. As famous examples often trotted out  like Einstein or Leonardo Da Vinci show, it's typical to have some form of disability yet be gifted or talented in some other way. This presents a whole set of problems. It's a double edged sword. You can either be treated as highly disabled and incapable which is an assault on your dignity and self esteem or you can have your dyspraxia ignored which then means you're treated as if you should be ultra-capable at all times in all situations regardless of your limitations.

As with anything else there is a spectrum of severity and those who have it in more mild forms have an even bigger struggle with it because the disability aspect of it is masked by how the capability aspect of how much it doesn't affect them.  How much of what they can do masks what they can't.  Their disability is even more invisible. That's been my experience.

Dyspraxia can be a struggle at work. Dyspraxics often have many jobs until they find one that matches with their abilities and accommodates them properly. The double edge sword rears it ugly head at work. I've only ever had one job that came close to dealing with my Dyspraxia properly though some have been on the right track.

 

Negatives of being Dyspraxic.

Dyspraxics often feel frustrated with themselves, feel like a failure, feel anxious and  stressed. Dyspraxics are often made to feel lazy, ashamed, guilty, worthless, stupid, clumsy by others especially those who don't understand or worse, by those who claim they do!

Dyspraxics often feel they have to work harder than others to prove themselves. At work, Dyspraxics are often told they're too slow and tend to face bullying. It's no wonder then that Dyspraxics often have low self esteem- firstly due to frustration at the way the condition affects them and secondly at the way others treat them because of it. Any other mistreatment and belittling only serves to compound the negativity they feel for themselves.

 

Positives of Dyspraxia.

Dyspraxia does have some positives to it. Dyspraxics are said to tend to be creative, original, holistic thinkers, hardworking and intuitive. They tend to be ingenious because they have to developed ways to cope with the condition.

Dyspraxia can act to motivate you to overcome difficulties whether from the condition itself or from life in general. It can spur you on to develop talents and skills. Of course that can become problematic if your self esteem comes to hinge on whether you think you've proved yourself capable enough and it can  lead you to ignore your limitations. Possibly this has happened to me.

 

My case.

Now I will talk about how I've experience Dyspraxia.

I do find I get easily distracted and wonder whether it's Dyspraxia and/or ADHD. At the same time I can be so intently focused.

I don't have dyslexia  infact I seem to have a talent for writing, language and poetry. I am a poet and writer who has been praised for my way with words. It feels like what I'm 'meant to do'. One of the times in my life when I feel most free, most alive, most capable, most expressive, is when I'm writing or read aloud something I've wrote. My only difficult in terms of writing seems to be grammar possibly due to sequencing.

I do however struggle very much with numbers. It's very clear I have Dyscalculia. I have problems with even some basic maths (though it's got better as time's went on) and I find it really embarrassing. I'm not good at measurement. I have never been able to wrap my head around analog clocks so prefer digital time. I'm terrible with money unless it's round sums( again, getting better) . All of this is strange because I'm very good at budgeting. This problem above all else really makes me feel incompetent considering how important it is in the modern world.

I have a bad short term memory but an excellent long term memory. I can remember things about Existentialism or some philosophical theory I read only once the other day or increasingly, the face of someone I saw just once at a gathering I attended but can forget where I've put socks or have problems remembering instructions someone just told me especially if they are sequential.

I have difficulties with small fine motor skills, have problems of rhythm to do with dancing or drumming or playing a musical instrument. 

My dyspraxia seems to be worse when I'm exhausted or ill. I've seen me be so physically exhausted that I've started tripping over just walking or going down stairs. Or I've been so exhausted I've lifted something and instantly dropped it or even couldn't lift it.

I think due to my lack of confidence in physical activities I tend to avoid them. when I do them, I feel like I'm bad at them  only further discouraging me and leaving me feeling incredibly uncomfortable and inferior.

I've never much liked sports since they make me feel so incapable and tends to be very macho and competitive. I've never really enjoyed sport enough to want to watch it, instead I've more enjoyed doing it. I've enjoyed playing basketball or hockey sometimes. I like defence more than attack.

I prefer exercise like walking which is more spontaneous, without rules and limits set upon it. I did a lot of walking with my dad when I was younger so it's become ingrained into me. There's little that's as pleasurable as a walk in the countryside or a Derive( as it's called in French) around the City (I'm lucky enough to have the option of both) . The sights you see, the smells, the experiences, the human bustle in the city. I find it inspiring.  I guess you could call me a Flaneur. I could write an entire essay on walking( and probably should consider it)

My home ground, my niche is theory and systems of thought. Since High School, I've felt more drawn to the natural and social sciences.I am one of these Dyspraxics who has a gift for theory.

I've always been a very reflective person which feeds into my role as writer, as poet and as someone who enjoys philosophy. My discovery of philosophy only has increased my interest in ways of thinking and further honed my theoretical skills and knowledge. Philosophy has been something obsession for me over the years.

The holistic thinking Dyspraxics are said to be common for is certainly present in me- whether that's due to dyspraxia or not, I don't know. It has led to my interest in Intersectionality, Dialectics and comprehensive ways of thinking. Along with that, I have an interest in almost everything there is. I am inclined to be as syncretic and diverse as possible in everything. My mind just works in that way. My dyspraxia means I'm hindered in linear thinking- I have difficulties planning or doing sequential tasks which is also expressed in writing plots for fiction- while I have a great proficiency for non-linear thinking. My mind quickly makes connections, associations, senses implications and entailment. It's one of my persistent interests and I have been praised on it often.

It's downside is that I have a grasshopper mind that jumps around things and I have problems with being easily distracted and procrastination. Procrastination is intensified by my low self esteem issues which mean I have a strong fear of failure though I've practically transcended that now.

My philosophic mind and reflectiveness has combined along with my experiences to make me a (hopefully) sensitive, thoughtful, deep, sceptical, compassionate, kind, inclusive, tolerant, open minded person.

Dyspraxia has shaped my life but it is not the end of the story for me. It's not all there is to me. Look past the curtain to where the light comes from. I am a Rhizome not a circle. Treat me that way. Come and understand me. I'm an open book. Come and take a look!

 

Further reading:-

My somewhat wilful ignorance is such that I don't know of many resources to point to  but here are a couple.

Living with Dyspraxia: A Guide for Adults with Developmental Dyspraxia  By   Mary Colley is a good useful book though feels a little bit patronising to me. Its best when it lets Dyspraxics speak for themselves. That's the kind of book that should be written.

http://www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk/

 
 
 
  Scott Forster, 2013