Sunday, 4 October 2015

What is Dyspraxia?

blogging post 1

I bet you've all been wondering what my X Factor sob story truly is. Well, I think it's time to share that with you today, something I'm a little nervous about doing, to tell you the truth, but I hope that in writing about it I can possibly help some people who have had similar experiences.

What is it?

There's something Daniel Radcliffe, Florence Welch, Cara Delevingne and I all have in common, apart from stunning good looks and exceptional talent. We all suffer from dyspraxia, a condition that affects mind and body coordination. It is apparently caused by brain messages not being accurately transmitted to the body, which actually sounds mildly terrifying, but for most people who suffer with a mild form, dyspraxia is just a day-to-day annoyance. It can occur in those who have had difficult births and/or suffer with autistic disorders.

Symptoms


Dyspraxia is a unique experience for each sufferer. It's a close cousin to dyslexia (something I also have a mild form of) so often the symptoms of these disorders overlap. More widely known as 'clumsy child syndrome', it is often picked up early on in life. For me personally, dyspraxia affects pretty much every part of my life, these are a few of the symptoms I've experienced:

- Basic tasks such as learning to tie my shoelaces (velcro shoes are the way to go), telling the time, brushing my teeth and getting dressed took me longer to get the hang of than most children.
- Terrible, terrible handwriting (which has remained awful) caused by poor pen grip.
- Poor hand dominance (i.e changing hands when using cutlery, being slightly ambidextrous)
- Classes that involved kinetic learning like art, P.E and textiles were a write off.
- Poor understanding of sequences, difficulty with following instructions
- Slow to adapt to new or unpredictable situations
- Difficulty differentiating between left and right
- Bad at structuring ideas (writing in depth blog posts like this one takes me a long time)!
- Poor spatial awareness (if I've ever stood unnervingly close to you, I'm sorry, but I'm usually not aware I'm doing it).
- Difficulty with speaking particularly in large groups
- Sensitivity to light (I have a green overlay that I use when reading, otherwise the white glare of the page hurts my eyes). This is also a symptom of Irlen syndrome.

You can find a comprehensive list of symptoms in adults here.

Some of the symptoms of dyspraxia are quite funny (because you know, sometimes you have to just laugh through the pain). I can't go to a party without spilling my drink all over myself or someone else, self-checkouts are my worst enemy, I've got a very difficult relationship with escalators, and when someone says 'let's play a drinking game' I die inside. I learnt how to ride a bike and then promptly forgot, and my sentence structures are often so peculiar that Yoda would be proud. I have actually fallen into a bath fully clothed because I lost my grip. The other day I genuinely nearly cut my finger off when using a toothbrush. It's a pretty baffling and greatly discouraging cross to bear sometimes.

Early signs


I was only diagnosed with dyspraxia in my third year of university. For years before I had felt very downcast and confused about why I seemed to be so inept at almost everything. I remember my art teacher charitably described me as 'an ideas girl, but not very good at executing them.' In a way she was right, the intention was there, and I am naturally a creative person, but I couldn't colour inside the lines, even if I tried. For pretty much all my life I had felt a lack of control over my own body, feeling immense frustration that nothing ever turned out right, that I didn't have pretty bubbly handwriting like the other kids in my class, how I was basically bottom of the class for everything apart from English and History. It's not as if I wasn't trying, but everything I did was plagued by inexpressibility, never being able to get a sentence quite right, saying words in an awkward and fumbling way, trying to write neatly and ending up with ink all over my hands with a black ink bruised page and a bruised ego.

Effects 


Though dyspraxia is by no means a serious condition and it's certainly not the end of the world, the negative effects of it aren't often discussed and I think it's very important to address them. In my experience one of the saddest things about dyspraxia, and my late diagnosis of it, is that I blamed myself. It's quite common for people with learning difficulties to have low self esteem, and this is something I really struggled with. Undiagnosed dyspraxic children are apparently 5 times more likely to develop mental health problems by the age of 16 (via Guardian), which is shocking and sad. I can only guess that due to a lack of understanding of the disorder at the time that it was never detected in me, and if it had been, perhaps I could have been slightly easier on myself. I often get so frustrated at myself that I'm on the verge of tears when I can't seem to complete a basic task. This really came to a head at university, when I felt myself slip behind, finding the higher calibre of essay writing expected of me very difficult to match.

Diagnosis and problems


When I finally was able to get an assessment through my university for specific learning difficulties, it came as a relief. The lady who assessed me said that people with learning difficulties often have to create strong coping mechanisms to match up to non-sufferers. I certainly related to this, having gone through the first 18 years of my life believing that I was just stupid or lacking something that came as a given for everyone else. Though I had come out of school with good grades and a confirmed university place, it had been a real struggle trying to suppress the various ineptitudes that I felt had come to shape me.

Being diagnosed with dyspraxia so late on in my life was confusing and in some ways upsetting. Out of the people I know who also suffer from it, only one other had been diagnosed at university. Finally I could put a name to the difficulties that I had experienced, like I had this new part of my identity that I had never even realised was there. One of my university tutors commented that she had always wondered if there was something wrong and was surprised she hadn't detected it herself. Part of me felt like the education system had left me behind, that I hadn't been able to reach my full potential because of these undiagnosed issues.

Reactions


If I'm being honest, most people that I told didn't really accept it. When I tell people I am dyspraxic it's often met with confused expressions, and most people either tell me that 'it's probably because you're not very confident, that's all'  or 'I don't believe in all that stuff, why do we have to put a name to everything?' For a while it was quite discouraging and made me doubt myself, maybe I was just trying to put a name to my ineptitude, to make it more acceptable? My parents met the news with bewilderment, saying that I'd always been so able. To an extent this is true, but the fact that writing an essay about Wuthering Heights seemed infinitely easier to me than playing a card game speaks volumes.

It's very easy to dismiss dyspraxia as laziness and stupidity, a perception of which I have certainly experienced. But I think it's important to recognise that dyspraxia is real, that many people suffer from it, and that it does have some very good attributes. For a start, people with dyspraxia tend to be very creative and can thrive when given the appropriate support. I may not be the most graceful person in the world (something of an understatement) but I feel like it contributes to some of the eccentricities of my personality, the ones that make me unique.

Seem familiar?


I'm writing this post now because I imagine that some of you reading may still be in school or be starting university terms. I know that for me when I first read a dyspraxia symptoms list online I was struck by how accurately it described me and my awkward, clumsy approach to basic tasks. If you're struggling at school and you think that it may be because of a learning difficulty, I would really urge you to try and get an assessment. It could mean that you're given the extra help with learning resources and extra time in exams. If my learning difficulties had been detected earlier it might have saved me a lot of grief, and though I cannot change the past, it's something that I've learnt to accept about myself. Sometimes I still feel a bit stupid when I can't master a card game or break my 15th glass, but I know deep down that it's not a fault, and that if anything I should utilise the creative benefits!

Resources 


This is a list of dyspraxia resources so that you can find out more about the condition:
Dyspraxia symptoms in adults
Dyspraxia symptoms in children
Online test (these aren't meant to be taken as a diagnosis but they are a decent indication)
The dyspraxic panda meme (also acts as a helpful online resource with other sufferers)
Dyspraxic Me (who run workshops to help gain/improve valuable skills)
This Guardian article that details dyspraxia's serious effects really struck a chord with me.

I hope this was helpful or at least interesting for some of you. If you have any experiences with learning difficulties, particularly dyspraxia, dyslexia or dyscalculia, it would be great to hear your thoughts in the comments about how this has affected you.

Thanks!

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18 comments :

  1. When was the first time you heard about Dyspraxia? I have never heard of the name before. It's crazy that you went so long without knowing, I can't imagine how disheartening it was. The fact you did your exams and got accepted to uni is just a testament to how smart and determined you are. really interesting post!!

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    1. Thanks so much Christina! I heard about it when I was reading about Florence and the Machine who suffers from the condition, I had no idea it was a thing before that either. Thanks for your kind words and I'm glad you enjoyed the post :) xxx

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  2. I don't suffer the same "disability" as you but I do sympathize as I know what suffering from psychic health issues is. I wish you the best. XOXO

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  3. I'd always heard about this but actually never really made the effort to look up what it really is so thanks for the explanation lovely. My sister has dyslexia (which is obviously not the same) but I know how hard it has been for her sometimes especially because peoples reactions to it can be a bit insensitive. But anyways lovely, thank you for educating me about it - you explained it really well x :)

    vvnightingale.com

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  4. Thank you for sharing your story and writing about this. I had heard of the term but I was never really aware of what it was. xx

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  5. Thanks for educating me on this. I (embarrassingly) thought it was the number version of dyslexia - cringe! Thanks for sharing :)

    Becky :: ACCOOOHTREMENTS LIFE + STYLE BLOG

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  6. I'd never heard of this condition before so this post was really interesting to me. It's a little heartbreaking that you were hard on yourself for so long when you didn't know what was wrong. Still, it's great that you know now.

    Claire // Technicolour Dreamer

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  7. How very interesting. I definitely now feel informed on a new topic. I hate how people can brush off an illness or condition as unimportant, or non existent just because they haven't heard of it.
    Tegan xx - Permanent Procrastination

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  8. Amazing post dear! I love it:)

    www.theprintedsea.blogspot.com

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  9. Thanks for writing this blogpost. I'm sure it wasn't easy for you, but I'd like you to know that you that you really made a stranger from half a world away's day. My son is 6 and recently has been diagnosed with a CDC disorder. For a parent it's a very strange and scary thing to think about. He's somewhat socially awkward with his peers, terrible at almost every kind of sporting activity and teaching him to write and work out math problems is very frustrating. Looking at all the research and coping tips it feels he's been sentenced to a lifetime struggle. He's still so young that it's hard to know what this means for him personally; it feels like there's no light and nothing but more tunnel. However, seeing the honest blogpost of such an obviously bright young lady gives me something I've been missing for a bit - hope. So I sincerely thank you.

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    1. Hi, this is such a sweet comment and it means a lot to me that you've left it, I'm glad that writing about my experiences has been of some help to you. It certainly is a concern but I have no doubt that with a bit of encouragement and support your son will find something in life to be genuinely passionate about, and his difficulties won't be such a hindrance. I think having difficult experiences like this can actually be the creative inspiration that you need to achieve something really great. I wish you both the best and thanks for checking in :) xx

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  10. Thank you for sharing this with us. It was an interesting read for me about something I was not familiar with.

    M xx
    Come say hi: Lois Lennon

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  11. You are a star!
    I am married to someone with unverified Dyspraxia and possibly high functioning ASD (it was labelled as other things due to lack of knowledge of non-neurotypical disorders at that time). His unique view of the world is largely what attracted me to him. It's a challenge for both of us at times, but he is teaching me lots of things about my communication style which has a positive impact on my work with students with disabilities and learning obstacles. His challenges make my challenges smaller, quicker (if that makes sense) and I am grateful for that.
    The most surprising thing is that what frustrates him most has become his passion. He is training to become a certified Krav Maga instructor. My husband works super-hard, but his progress has influenced not only his fitness and Krav skill, but has found an improvement in his everyday activity (thanks to the over learning/automisation). He is about to grade up in three weeks.
    Thanks for sharing your story. There needs to be more discussion around Dyspraxia so it's not so invisible anymore.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for this lovely comment Naomi. It really makes me so happy to hear that your husband has been able to teach you something new about communication, as well as the fact he is overcoming his difficulties and making them his passion, that really inspires me and I'm sure many other people reading! Glad you enjoyed the post and best of luck to both of you :) xxx

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Thank you so so much for your comment! It makes me smile everytime I see a new one pop up. If you leave me a link to your blog I will aim to get back to you within 2 days because I love looking at all your blogs too!
If you want to continue the conversation, tweet me @thebelphoebejar

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