As someone with dyspraxia there are day to day tasks that, although may seem easy to others, I struggle with. Over time I’ve found my own way of doing certain things, so I thought I would write a blog post where I give some tips based on some of the things I do. Some of them are very little things, and some may be things that anyone might do regardless of whether they have a disability or not. Hopefully you’ll find some of them useful though!
Firstly, there’s getting ready in the mornings. Being dyspraxic means it can take us twice as long to get ready as everyone else, so getting clothes ready the night before can be helpful and save a lot of time! Saying that, it’s not always easy to remember to actually do it (I need to start remembering to do it myself!) – memory/organisation is a topic I’ll come on to later in this post.
In addition to the amount of extra time it physically takes me to get ready in the mornings, a lot of the time is also spent daydreaming! No matter how hard I try not to, I just find myself daydreaming and I completely lose track of time. Especially in the bath…I’ll be in there and before I know it I’ll hear a knock on the bathroom door from my dad or brother asking if I’m nearly done (the only toilet we have in our house is in the bathroom)…I’ll then look at the clock to find I’ve spent an hour and a half in the bath (that’s honestly no exaggeration)! I saw somewhere that using a kitchen timer can be helpful for dyspraxics when getting ready, to help with time management, so I decided to buy a kitchen timer and it has helped so much! I went from taking an hour and a half to have a bath to just half an hour, or sometimes even 20 minutes! That worked really well for a while, until the steam and water broke the kitchen timer. So I got another one, and that broke too…but then I got a waterproof timer – it’s even in the shape of a droplet! I’ve only had it for a few weeks but it seems to be living up to its name so far…Trying to take the shampoo & conditioner bottles off the shelf without knocking all the other bottles over in the process can be tricky. In addition to then trying to squeeze the shampoo/conditioner on your hand and not in the bath! My mum had got some shampooo and conditioner that she didn’t like but asked if I wanted them as they were in bottles with a pump, which she thought I might find it easier. I did find this easier as it meant I could just keep the bottles where they were and it also made it easier to get the right amount. I stopped using them though, as I preferred other brands. I do sometimes use 2 in 1 shampoo & conditioner though for when I need to be quick, as it saves a lot of time!
For shaving I use an electric shaver. I’ve never attempted to use a normal razor, but it’s probably a good idea that I haven’t, considering I find it hard to judge the amount of pressure to apply to things! If you do use an electric shaver though, make sure you have plenty of spare batteries! I got myself into a bit of a dilemma once where I had shaved one leg, and half of my other leg (not top or bottom halves, one side of my leg) and suddenly the battery ran out. So I went downstairs to ask my dad if we had any spare batteries, but we didn’t! If I was wearing jeans the next day it wouldn’t have been so bad, but this was in the summer and the weather was extremely hot which meant I was going to be wearing shorts the next day! Very awkward but so funny at the same time. Luckily my dad found some spare batteries in a remote control, so the dilemma was solved. So if you do use an electric shaver, make sure you have plenty of batteries…or just buy a rechargeable one instead!
Next, what to wear? I wear jeggings quite a lot, as the material for them seems to be mostly the same as jeans anyway. I find them really comfortable, but there’s also the benefit of having an elasticated waist, which means no belts! Belts aren’t something I find majorly difficult, but finding out I’ve missed out a belt loop when putting it on can be annoying, and they take me that little bit longer to do up. Although I haven’t tried them myself, I’ve heard of EasyBelts, which are belts with a velcro fastening, so are easier to do up.
During winter time when you need to wear a coat, having a coat with zipped pockets can be helpful. Although I didn’t choose it deliberately because of this, when I bought a new coat last year the pockets on it were zipped, whereas my old coats had pockets with no zips. I know it’s a simple thing, but it is so much easier as being able to keep things in your pockets saves lots of time that would otherwise be spent fiddling through your bag trying to find what it is you’re looking for. I still use a bag as well, but find that putting things like my phone and train tickets in my pocket is helpful.
Next it’s shoes…which for many people with disabilities (including me) are a nightmare! Trying to find a pair of shoes that won’t wear down in a matter of weeks can be very difficult, although it is much easier to find a sturdy pair of shoes for the winter than summer. I rarely wear sandals in the summer, partly because I find most of them uncomfortable and also because they just wear down extremely quickly. I did find a pair of open shoes for summer a couple of years ago that were perfect – they were really comfortable and they lasted a while…but two years later and they had completely worn down and I couldn’t find another pair the same again! Converse style shoes are good for summer, if you’re like me and most sandals wouldn’t last you long, especially the lighter colours which tend to go with most summer outfits.
I can do laces up but find it takes me slightly longer, sometimes it will go wrong and I’ll have to start again, and they never seem to stay done up for very long either! I always double knot my laces now, but believe it or not even double knots I’ve done have come undone quite a few times! A useful thing for laces is to do an extra wrap at the beginning (this website explains it: http://www.fieggen.com/shoelace/doublestartknot.htm). You then don’t have to worry about holding it tightly in place while doing all the other stages. The only problem is, though, that it means the actual shoelace knot itself is looser so can come undone more easily (I didn’t find this out until just now when I looked on that website, but it makes sense). You can also get elastic laces (I haven’t tried them before so I have no idea what they’re like) so that you don’t have to worry about tying your laces. Or slip on shoes might be easier, then there’s no laces involved at all! I did have a pair of slip on shoes at one point, until the elastic bit on the tongue of the shoe broke (shoes just never last long with me do they?)
After you’ve got ready, time to eat breakfast! Or if you’re like me this will be the first thing you do in the morning. If my food involves anything that is spillable, then 99.9% of the time I will spill something. For this reason I always get changed into pyjamas or old clothes when eating something with any sort of sauce. Not an option when you’re round a friend’s house or eating out, but useful for at home.
You know there’s a proper way you’re meant to hold cutlery? Yep, I never stick to it. Using my fork in my left hand would be difficult for me, so I hold it in my right hand. Then I hold my knife in my left hand if it’s something that is really easy to cut, but for cutting most things I swap my knife over to my right hand. Who needs cutlery rules when you can have your own? Or even easier, wherever possible use a spoon!
My favourite drink by far is tea. I even used to drink it from when I was around 7 years old.
But as you can imagine, a dyspraxic 7 year old trying to drink a hot drink out of a mug with no lid isn’t the best idea! So I used to use cups like this (yes, I still have one of them now!)
As I got older I started to use a mug to drink tea, but would spill it so much of the time that I would always drink it in the kitchen so I didn’t spill it on the sofa. A few years later I thought I’d be alright drinking it in the lounge again, only to then attempt drinking it in the lounge and spill it on the sofa! So it was back to drinking it in the kitchen.
One day I spilt it all over my clothes about 10 minutes before having to leave for school. The panic as I had to suddenly find completely different clothes to wear and get changed into them so soon before we had to leave. My dad then suggested for me to start using a straw, so I did and it was much easier!
Okay, I didn’t use straws quite like that…
Although straws stopped me from spilling it on my clothes, they didn’t stop me from knocking my drink and spilling it, so I still couldn’t drink tea in the lounge. I then saw something online, called safe-sips. They’re silicone lids that can go over the top of any cup, and even if the cup is knocked over the drink won’t spill. They’re perfect! So useful, as they mean I can now have tea in the lounge, upstairs (I can even carry it upstairs) without having to worrying about spilling it. Although the funny thing is, that the first time I tried to put the lid on I managed to spill my tea while putting the lid on that was meant to stop me from spilling it – the irony!
So I mentioned that when I was younger I used to like drinking tea. However, there was no way I would be able to manage using a kettle. So my dad bought one of these:
All you have to do is fill up the container with water, press the button for hot or cold water and the water would come out. Ideal for me! For those of you who struggle using a kettle, you might find one of these easier to use. There’s a similar one on amazon here.
I used it for quite a few years but eventually tried using an actual kettle. I find that the plastic kettles are easier to use as they’re much lighter, and I also only fill it up as much as I need to. I do sometimes still spill some of the water, but nothing major that can’t easily be cleaned up.
As for preparing food, I could do with a few tips on that myself! I still live at home, and my dad does the cooking. I can just about do the basic stuff, sandwiches, beans on toast etc. Even then it still takes me a while to make sandwiches, and when cutting cheese I once used the knife the wrong way round and ended up cutting my finger when I pressed down on it! I’ve made pasta bake…well, twice. That’s quite simple to make when you’ve got a jar with the sauce in and all you need to add is pasta and cheese. Even for that, my dad showed me first how you make it which helped (and I probably asked him the stages again after that!) So as you can probably tell, food tech at school was one of my least favourite subjects!
They did have, though, some special equipment which was helpful and I would consider getting now. There were non-slip mats to place under chopping boards. There was also a chopping board with spikes to place fruit on when chopping it. I know there was a knife with more grip too. I can’t remember what else there was though, but they were the main things I used. I’m sure there’s all sorts of other useful specialist kitchen equipment.
One time fairly recently my dad and brother were out during the evening and I had to make my own dinner. My dad and brother both thought I would have made beans on toast and were shocked when they found out I’d actually put something inside the oven (it was only chips and breaded chicken!)
With cooking, it’s not just the physical aspect that can be tricky for us dyspraxics. It’s the following instructions and organisation aspect too. Organisation can affect lots of aspects of daily life. Being dyspraxic we often have to work so much harder than others to keep ourselves organised, it just doesn’t come naturally to us. Over the years it’s something I’ve noticed more, as when you’re 8 years old there’s not really a lot you have to be organised about! I rely a lot on technology (and reminders from my dad too, I have to admit) to keep myself organised. The funny thing is, other people seem to think that I come across as organised, but honestly it does not come naturally to me!
A lot of people use technology to keep themselves organised, so it’s not dyspraxia-specific but certain apps can be particularly useful for people with dyspraxia. I use google calendar so much! The best thing about it is that it syncs with your google account, so you’ve got it everywhere on any device. Google have recently intergrated their reminders feature into their calendar app, so the reminders appear within the calendar so you don’t have to view them by going into a separate app. I make reminders for practically everything, if I don’t write it down I will definitely forget it! It could even be something like remembering to reply to an email the next day (because I forgot the day before).
Another app I use a lot is google keep, which allows you to make notes. Like google calendar, it syncs across all your devices. Despite the fact that I’ve been at uni for 5 months now, I still have a list with checkboxes for the things I need to take with me to uni each day. Google Keep is also perfect for making a list of things to take with you for when you go away. I use it all the time for that now, after there being a few times when I have forgotten things!
For those of you who maybe don’t like technology so much, there’s always the traditional post-its for reminders. Desk calendars can be useful to write reminders on too, as you’ve got it right there in front of you one day at a time. When I’m in bed I have a tendency to suddenly remember things that I need to do, so either having your phone next to you or a bit of paper and pen where you can make a note of those things can be useful.
Another time making notes can be useful is for phone calls. If you’ve got a few different points to say then making a bullet point list of them can be helpful (I still hate making phone calls, even after having to make so many for my DSA application!) As well as making notes, going through roughly what you’re going to say in your head can be helpful (I’m terrible at thinking of how to phrase something on-the-spot).
I looked at the paper next to me to see what the next topic was that I was going to write about, while fiddling with the string of my hoodie, to find that the topic was fidgeting! A tangle can be good to fidget with, it saves fidgeting with something like your phone case only to find that it doesn’t last long before breaking (yes, that happened to me). For those of you who have no clue what I’m talking about, this is what a tangle is:
They’re also said to be useful to help with concentration, something else we can find difficult, so that makes them even more useful!
I love going shopping with friends, but carrying everything can be awkward at times. Especially when Christmas shopping! Taking a rucksack rather than a handbag might be easier. Firstly, there’s more room to fit things inside. Secondly, it doesn’t slip around so much and it leaves both hands free. Also, having a bag with zips can be easier. I’ve got a rucksack type bag that I really like, but it has a drawstring but where I have to tie it up to stop it coming undone. It takes ages for me to undo it and get things out of my bag. On the plus side, at least I know it’s secure!
Some of you with dyspraxia may find relaxing difficult, like I do. It often feels like we’ve got multiple tabs open in our brain.
Something that is great for relaxing is colouring. There are so many adult colouring books available now, there’s so much choice. Lots of them are extremely detailed with the tiniest bits to colour in…I avoid those ones! Far too fiddly for someone who has trouble with fine motor skills (although I still quite often go over the lines in the ones I have). These are the ones I’ve got:
I’ve heard quite a few dyspraxics (and non-dyspraxics) say that they like colouring, but on the other hand I’ve heard some people with dyspraxia say that they find it frustrating, which is understandable – it’s not relaxing for everyone.
Having difficulty relaxing can also mean that getting to sleep at night can be really difficult. Something that I find helps a lot is reading in bed before I go to sleep, it makes such a big difference for me! I get to sleep so much quicker when I read compared to when I don’t! And if you’re not that keen on reading, there’s always audio books too.
There are also apps you can get for your phone and laptop which reduce the blue light emitted, to help to prevent it from keeping you awake at night. There are a few different apps, but the ones I use are f.lux (for my laptop) and Twilight (for my phone – it can interfere with other apps on your phone).
Here’s a list of the tips I’ve talked about in this post:
- Getting clothes out the night before
- Kitchen timer (a waterproof one if you need to use it in the bathroom)
- Shampoo/conditioner bottles with a pump or 2 in 1 shampoo & conditioner
- Electric shaver, rather than a razor
- Jeggings (no belts needed) or EasyBelts
- Coat with zipped pockets
- Converse style shoes for summer
- Laces – extra wrap at beginning, elastic laces, slip on shoes
- Getting changed into pyjamas/old clothes first
- Use cutlery your own way, or use a spoon where you can
- Safesips with a straw
- Hot cup system
- Lightweight kettle & only fill up as much as you need
- Get someone to show you first
- Specialist kitchen equipment – e.g. non-slip mats, chopping board with spikes
- Google calendar – events + reminders
- Google keep – lists
- Desk calendar
- Phone/paper next to your bed for when getting to sleep
- Make a note of what you’re going to say
- Go through roughly what you’re going to say in your head
- Bag with zips
- Colouring books
If any of you have any other useful tips then please feel free to share them in the comments below so that everyone else can see them.