What is it like to have dyspraxia?
What is dyspraxia? This is a question which I have been asked so many times, and during Dyspraxia Awareness Week last year I wrote a blog post which gave an insight into dyspraxia from my point of view. However, I wanted to do something a little different to increase understanding. That’s why I have decided to write this, not just describing dyspraxia to you but trying to get you to imagine what it is like to be dyspraxic. I would just like to point out that everyone with dyspraxia is, of course, unique so please don’t assume that every single person will experience every single difficulty!
Firstly, I will start off with the basics. For all of us to perform any task, our brain will send our body signals telling it what to do. For most people, these signals are transmitted succesfully. However, for someone who is dyspraxic these signals get muddled along the way – you could even picture them as tangled wires. This can affect us in a variety of ways, from physical difficulties to social difficulties.
Physical difficulties are, in my opinion, the most understood aspect of dyspraxia (and even then the understanding isn’t great!) Imagine you’re on a walk and you start walking down a hill. For the majority of people, their brains will send their body the signal so that their body can balance out and compensate for this. But when you’re dyspraxic, due to the ‘tangled wires’ your body does not successfully receive this message and you are more likely to lose balance – we’re known for being prone to tripping over!
Coordination is another aspect affected by dyspraxia. Whether it’s attempting to rub your belly and pat your head at the same time, or coordinating your legs and arms while walking, coordination comes into a wide range of things. Although we know the action we want to perform, actually getting our body to do it is a different matter! This is due to the signal getting muddled, therefore getting our bodies to coordinate themselves is difficult.
When someone throws you something, you would usually be able to catch it without too much difficulty. But imagine what this is like for someone whose signals from their brain to their body get muddled…even when we do manage to catch an object, it will often slip out of our hands – an example of our difficulty with gross motor skills. Trying to catch an object can be made even more difficult due to the fact that it requires good spatial awareness, whereas our spatial awareness is not so good! This means that we have difficulty judging where the object is in relation to ourselves, so we may attempt to catch the object too early or too late.
Similarly to gross motor skills, fine motor skills, are also something that can be a challenge for dyspraxics. This can involve using cutlery and handwriting. You know when you hold a pen in your non-dominant hand and just can’t seem to get the grip on it right? That’s what those of us with dyspraxia experience when handwriting, and also getting the right strength of grip is difficult. Imagine gripping onto a pen really tightly while writing, your hand would soon tire wouldn’t it? We also have difficulty in writing quickly too, those muddled signals mean that we physically can’t perform the action quickly. You can probably imagine that due to these difficulties our handwriting isn’t usually very neat! Typing is a much better option, it still presents the difficulties with fine motor skills but at least we don’t have to worry about the grip!
I think that’s most of the physical difficulties covered for now. So next I’ll talk about sensory issues. Personally, I find that I strongly dislike certain textures of food, and I’m very sensitive to certain temperatures. This is not just disliking foods, it is absolutely hating the feel of them. With temperature, I find that I get cold easily. Again this isn’t just “Oh, I feel cold”, it’s having your teeth chattering while other people aren’t even wearing their coats. Other sensory issues people with dyspraxia might have are being over sensitive to loud noises, touch, etc.
As you may have noticed, sensory issues are something that overlap with autism. There are a quite a lot of aspects where there is this overlap, which I’m not sure many people who aren’t particularly familiar with dyspraxia are aware of. One of these aspects is routine. Now, you may be thinking “But most people like to be organised and have things planned.” Yes, that may be true, but there is a lot more to it than that when it comes to dyspraxia. Imagine yourself when you are extremely stressed out about something, or you are overthinking with a million “What if?”‘s whizzing around your brain. That’s the situation created when our routine changes. There are all sorts of examples of what I’m talking about by changes in routines. It can range from the smallest things such as having to suddenly change what you’re wearing in the morning because you’ve spilt something on your clothes or to bigger things such as living away from home at university (one of the reasons why I’m choosing to live at home when going to university!)
Other ways in which dyspraxia relates to autism are social difficulties. Imagine you are talking to someone, and despite trying to make eye contact, you find it very difficult to keep it and don’t really make eye contact very much. It may look like we’re not interested or not really listening, but honestly we are. Another thing is taking things literally. People use sarcasm quite a lot and for those of us who are very literal thinkers this can be confusing. A lot of the time I find it amusing really, “I’m confused” is one of my most-used phrases. Then there’s being in large groups of people. Lots of people can engage in conversations in quite big groups fairly easily, but imagine there being a delay in processing what is being said and then thinking of what to say in response to it. Often by the time I’ve thought of something to say they’ve moved onto the next topic! I find smaller groups easier as there’s much less going on, it can be difficult for a dyspraxic brain to process everything that’s going on in a large group. There’s been so many times when I’ve been told I’m quiet, and 99% of those times are when I’ve been in a large group! In addition to this, it is made even more difficult when there is lots of background noise. This is not to do with our actual hearing, but with dyspraxia it can be difficult to distinguish noises from each other – our brain sort of merges them all into one. This means that we have to really focus to work out what someone is saying when there is background noise, and it may come across as though we can’t actually hear them! Meeting new people and making new friends is also something that can be difficult and we may come across as quiet and shy.
Relating back to what I said about concentration and background noise in large groups, concentration in other situations can be affected by dyspraxia. People often daydream, but for people with dyspraxia it is even easier to accidentally start daydreaming, despite how hard you try to concentrate. This can be annoying when concentrating in lessons. As strange as it sounds, I often take absolutely ages in the bath mainly due to the fact that I lose concentration and keep daydreaming! I just completely lose track of time (even with a clock in there!)
Another aspect of concentration is background noise. I genuinely can’t understand how people are able to concentrate on work while listening to music – that genuinely seems impossible to me! I literally have to work in complete silence, the slightest noise and I just cannot concentrate!
When you overthink something, it’s like you have a never-ending stream of thoughts. This experience is normal for those of us with dyspraxia, it’s like we’re constantly thinking of something a million things at once. The other day I saw something that I thought was a good way of describing it “My brain has too many tabs open”. This has an affect when we’re trying to sleep. I know lots of people have difficulty sleeping due to thinking, but it’s even more so for dyspraxics and is described as “the inability to ‘shut down’ the brain”.
All these jumbled thoughts can make organisation difficult, I rely so much on writing things down. Memory also plays a part in this. Many people will walk into a room and forget what they walked in there for, and this is very common for dyspraxics! Short term memory can be a struggle for us. An example of this is the other day when I was making my lunch and managed to completely forget to put butter in my roll. It didn’t even occur to me until I was putting the knife in the sink and realised that it looked exactly the same as when I got it out of the drawer, I found that quite funny! On the other hand, for some reason those of us with dyspraxia often have a very good long term memory. We can remember conversations from years ago clearly, so often I’ll say to my friends “Do you remember *insert conversation here*?” and they’re just like “No…” We can often remember not only the conversation itself, but the situation it was in etc.
Do you ever experience when you know what you want to say but you just can’t word it right when you say it? That’s something else that’s quite common for us dyspraxics. Often we’ll pause, stutter, and get our words muddled up when speaking. You could imagine it as the words you want to say travelling down the wires from the brain to the body, and because these wires are tangled for those of us with dyspraxia, the sentences we say are often muddled. Another aspect to speech is controlling the tone and volume of speech, which for most people is something that comes naturally. But for me it’s as though there’s a fault in the ‘volume control button’ and I often speak really loudly without even realising until someone points it out. This can be embarrassing when it’s somewhere really quiet, but again it can be rather funny!
Our sense of direction can also be affected. My sense of direction is awful! If I’m with someone else I rely on them so much for directions, basically just going whatever way they’re going. I notice this when I’m going to the same place on my own when I end up making a wrong turning!
Telling left and right apart is something else that links into directions, and is something else that we can have difficulty with. I find that I know which side is left and which side is right, but it just takes me longer to think of it, due to the ‘tangled wires’. Also, if someone says something like “Look at that to your left!” I’ll often look to my right due to the fact that I know I need to look quickly to see what it is, but my brain can’t process quickly enough which way to look.
Another aspect of dyspraxia is getting stressed and frustrated easily. To other people, some of the things I get stressed/frustrated over might seem so little, but to my brain it’s a big thing! People have said I’m a perfectionist. Although the things I do certainly don’t end up looking ‘perfect’ I do think my brain tends to notice more when little things are different, therefore if it’s different to my normal ‘routine’ this can cause a lot of stress and frustration. Another thing I find is that due to the difficulties in social situations, I’ll often spend a lot of time worrying how I’m going to say something to someone, how I’ll word it, whether it might sound rude, what their response might be, how I’ll react to that, etc. So often if I know I need to ask something about someone, I’ll plan exactly how I’m going to say it beforehand. Even after a conversation I’ll often overthink it, especially if my sentences came out a bit jumbled. I’ll be thinking “Did they know what I meant?” “I hope they didn’t think that…” etc. So as you can probably guess, this is something else that can cause us to become stressed or frustrated.
As I have already mentioned, processing is slower for us dyspraxics. This comes into the things I have talked about, but also relates to other situations as well. For example, with school work it will take me longer to read a question, understand what it is asking me, form an answer, and then put that answer into words. The end result may be the same as everyone else, that I get the answer down. It’s just like the process is put into slow motion added with a few differences along the way.
Due to all of these aspects that are affected by dyspraxia, you can imagine it takes our brain much more effort to perform everyday tasks. This can result in getting very tired despite getting extremely early nights, something I’ve experienced a lot when in sixth form!
It’s not all bad though! There’s certainly lots of amusing moments to laugh about when you’re dyspraxic, such as the fact that you’ve just walked into a door. Plus thinking differently can be a good thing, it would be boring if everyone thought from the same perspective!
I am aware this is a very long post, so I would just like to say a huge thank you if you’re still reading this! I really hope it has helped you to gain a better understanding of dyspraxia if you didn’t know already. And if you have dyspraxia, I hope that you’ve found it relatable!
Raising awareness of dyspraxia is something that I feel is important to me, dyspraxia doesn’t have nearly the amount of recognition as some other conditions do and I really hope that one day it will have more recognition and understanding!
So thank you once again for reading this!