Dyspraxia and Social Skills
As those of you who read my blog will know, I’ve brought up how dyspraxia can affect you in social situations many times as it is one of the least understood aspects of dyspraxia (and as I have mentioned before, it is more commonly associated with autism). It has now been voted as the topic for members of the Dyspraxia Foundation’s Youth Focus Group to discuss, so this blog post will be specifically about dyspraxia and social skills.
Social skills is one of those aspects of dyspraxia, where unlike motor skills, is not a required difficulty for you to experience in order to be diagnosed with dyspraxia. If dyspraxia was a recipe, difficulties with motor skills would be the main essential ingredient that everyone immediately thinks of. Difficulties with social skills, however, would be the ingredient that isn’t necessary – it isn’t always there and can vary in it’s amounts, but when it is there it does make a difference.
For many of us with dyspraxia, social skills just don’t come as naturally and as easily to us as they do to others. There are quite a number of situations where I just don’t know how to naturally respond – it’s like I should know, but I just don’t. For this reason, I often find myself preparing in my head what to say beforehand if I know a particular situation is coming up. I’ve even asked my Dad before “If they say this, what should I say?”
Although sometimes in social situations I simply do not know what to say at all, there are also times when I just can’t think of what to say quickly enough. This is due to our slower thought processes. Personally I find large groups more difficult due to this. The conversation is going so quickly and between so many different people that it is hard to simply keep up with it at times. If I then think of something to say and how to word it etc., the group will quite often have gone past that point and onto another topic already! Even judging when it is the right time to interject can be difficult too.
Something that may help when you’re in a big group of people is to try just starting a conversation with the person next to you. It doesn’t matter that you’re not talking to the whole group straight away, it could end up turning into a discussion with the rest of the group anyway.
As I mentioned above, group conversations are a lot more difficult for me. On the other hand, when I’m in a smaller group/or just talking to one person, I quite often go on and on about one particular thing and don’t stop talking! That’s something I do sometimes worry about afterwards though, that I went on about something too much.
I think given the difficulties many of us with dyspraxia have in social situations we can often worry about them afterwards. We may be thinking things like “Did I get my words muddled up?” or “How embarrassing that I took that so literally!” But then most of the time they turn out to be things that the other person didn’t even notice or has forgotten about.
For many dyspraxics, we experience a certain amount of anxiety as part of our dyspraxia, and this includes anxiety around social situations. Personally I find that this affects me in new situations, particularly with people I don’t know. For me, it’s not so much during the social situation itself – it’s more the worrying before and after the social situation. For example, if I’ve got a new situation coming up with people I don’t know I tend to overthink the situation a bit more than other people might – this involves rehearsing in my head possible things I might say. Then there’s the overthinking after a situation too, as I mentioned above. There’s been times before where I’ve been worried after a situation that I’ve offended someone by something I’ve said, and I’ll keep on overthinking about it, when in fact it turns out I haven’t said anything wrong.
As I mentioned, many of us with dyspraxia experience a certain amount of anxiety, but for some people this anxiety is much more significant and will be a diagnosable mental health condition. I don’t have any mental health conditions myself, but I thought it was important to mention due to the link between dyspraxia and mental health – many dyspraxics also experience additional mental health issues, such as social anxiety.
Eye contact is something that dyspraxics may struggle with for different reasons. For some people it is the anxiety associated with it. For me, well…to be honest I don’t know why it is difficult, it just feels awkward. I’ve noticed recently that I seem to find it slightly easier to give eye contact when the other person in the conversation is talking but more difficult when it’s me that’s talking. One tip I’ve heard for eye contact though, if you do find it very difficult, is to look at the bridge of someone’s nose. This gives the appearance that you are making eye contact. It sounds like something that would be particularly useful in situations such as an interview, where you may come across ‘better’ if you give good eye contact.
Talking about how eye contact can be difficult, you’d think phone calls would be ideal. But surprisingly they are not! I absolutely hate making phone calls and so do many other people with dyspraxia. Something I do though that helps a little bit is write down a few bullet points of what I want to say. It’s helpful for the parts you can plan, but not so helpful for the unexpected questions!
There are lots of things that make phone calls difficult. For example, dyspraxia can affect our speech and I have a slight lisp so I always find it awkward when I have to give my postcode over the phone! My postcode ends in ‘S’, so 9 times out of 10 they will have to ask me whether I said ‘S’ or ‘F’!
Something else we can find difficult in terms of our speech – this can affect us in any social situation, not just phone calls – is judging the volume of our voice. This can be either way: talking too loudly or too quietly. Usually for me it’s talking too loudly! We don’t realise we’re doing it either…well, not until someone gently reminds us we’re talking very loudly in a quiet place! Linking on from this the tone of voice can be hard to judge too – in both our own and other people’s voices. In our own we may sound really bored or annoyed without meaning to and for others we may incorrectly interpret the tone of their voice.
Something I only actually found out in the past couple of years about dyspraxia is that conversations can be affected by background noise. Blocking out the background noise is always something I’ve found a bit more difficult than others – it takes me more effort to focus on what the person is saying, but previously I hadn’t put this down to dyspraxia.
Talking online has it’s advantages – no background noise, no eye contact, more time to process the information and respond. However, in some ways it can be even harder to interpret what the other person is saying! I remember someone on a dyspraxia group online once requested for people to use emoji’s at the end of what they were saying – it really does make it a lot easier!
Some people believe that the difficulties us dypsraxics face in social situations are a consequence of struggling with confidence (which we may struggle with due to being left out etc. due to our dyspraxia). I agree that confidence does play a role for some parts – whilst I’m not the most confident of people, I’m definitely more confident than I used to be and I do feel this helps in social situations. However, I personally feel confidence only plays a small role and that dyspraxics do have genuine difficulties with social situations that are simply due to being dyspraxic. Again, this may differ from person to person. Maybe some dyspraxics struggle socially only as a result of confidence whilst others struggle anyway regardless of confidence.
Although we may sometimes struggle in social situations, being dyspraxic does have its advantages socially too. The fact that we know what it is like to have a hidden disability means we’re more likely to be considerate of others in social situations and understand that not everyone finds social situations easy.
Don’t forget to take a look at the social skills information sheet on the Dyspraxia Foundation Youth website at the following link: https://www.dfyouth.org.uk/get-involved/dyspraxia-foundation-youth-poll/.