“She talks about her dyspraxia on the internet where anyone can see, she must find it so easy to explain dyspraxia to other people!” is what you may be thinking. However, that’s not completely true. Whilst blogging about dyspraxia has definitely given me more confidence when talking about it to other people, disclosing dyspraxia is something I still struggle with at times.
I think the main reason is due to the fact that dyspraxia is so widely unknown and misunderstood. If I knew that whenever I mentioned dyspraxia, the other person instantly knew what that meant, I’d be fine telling others about it. That’s not the case though, unfortunately! Instead, I’m thinking “It’s most likely this person has never heard of dyspraxia before, or they’ll think I said dyslexia. Here we go again…”.
In addition to this, it’s not like dyspraxia is something that’s simple to explain. It affects such a wide range of things that even if you live with it and know exactly what it is, it can be hard to explain that to others. If you mention dyspraxia in a conversation and someone asks what it is, you don’t exactly have the time to then go on to say: “Well, it affects the way the signals are transmitted from my brain to my body. This means it can affect my co-ordination, balance and gross and fine motor skills. Oh and it can also affect my concentration. And speech. And telling left and right apart. And sense of direction. And my thought processes. I ironically forgot, it can also affect memory. But for me that’s short term memory it affects, our long term memory is often good. It also has similarities to autism – I find changes in routine difficult, I find eye contact difficult, I have difficulties in social situations. It affects my spatial awareness too. And there’s probably a few other things I’ve forgotten, but that’s basically dyspraxia summed up…” It’s just not possible!
I personally haven’t found a short way of explaining dyspraxia that sums everything up. If I explain it just as being a difference in the way my brain sends signals to my body then I feel like people will think of it as just affecting me physically. If someone generally asks what dyspraxia is, then I’ll try to give a bit of an overview of a few of the things it affects. On the other hand, if it’s due to a particular situation I’ll tend to explain the aspect of my dyspraxia relevant to that situation. Quite often I’ll end up overthinking it afterwards though, thinking about how the explanation was not very representative of what dyspraxia is.
What I find quite hard is going into a new situation where no-one knows you have dyspraxia. Obviously whether you disclose it or not depends on the situation, but for me one of the most recent examples I can think of is starting university. I had actually already met someone on my course at an applicant day who I had mentioned my dyspraxia to, as it came up in conversation. So knowing that one person knew helped a little bit. But I was still really worried about how I would go about explaining it to others. And when would I disclose it? I kind of imagined it would be really noticeable that I was using a voice recorder in lectures, so I thought I would get asked about this. What I didn’t think of was that there would be quite a few others who use a voice recorder too. Although it was ironically this that led to me mentioning my dyspraxia. A friend also had a voice recorder and asked where I’d got mine from, which meant having to explain I’d got it as part of the Disabled Students’ Allowance. As I mentioned above though, blogging has helped when it comes to explaining dyspraxia to others, mostly by providing a way to bring it up in a conversation. For example, a few days after this a friend was asking me about my blogs and asked a bit about what dyspraxia is. As much as I hate answering the question “What is dyspraxia?”, at the same time it is useful when someone asks you about it in an open way where you’ve got lots of time as it gives you the chance to explain it in a bit more detail. Looking back, there wasn’t really any need to worry so much about explaining dyspraxia as my friends at university have all been really understanding!
So, friends at university are people who I would definitely make sure know I have dyspraxia…but who else? What about a comment made by someone who you’re not going to see again? (Alice has written a great blog post discussing this too: Who to tell…Does it really matter?) A lot of it is down to personal preference, some people don’t really talk about their dyspraxia at all. I personally would consider myself to be quite open about it (definitely in the world of blogging!) but there are some situations that I struggle with. For example, I once had a taxi driver tell me “It’s not far, it’s a nice day. You could have walked.” Looking back, I kind of wish I had mentioned my dyspraxia but at the time I just couldn’t think quickly enough on-the-spot of what to say in response. What really frustrated me about that comment is how that wouldn’t have been said if I had a visible disability… Anyway, there have been situations where I’ve looked back and regretted not mentioning my dyspraxia and have got frustrated over it. But, there have been times where I’ve been able to use this to think of what I’d say next time if a similar situation were to happen again (which has sometimes happened). I am getting a bit better at disclosing dyspraxia over time though and there have been a couple of situations recently where I’ve mentioned it.
Thinking of what to say in advance can also be useful if you know you have a particular situation coming up. This is helpful as you have the time to think about what aspects of your dyspraxia are relevant to that particular situation. I also recently bought a keyring card which gives an overview of dyspraxia. This can be purchased for £2 from the Dyspraxia Foundation website. I haven’t had to use it yet, but it’s helpful to know I have that in my bag if I’m ever in a situation where I need to explain my dyspraxia but I’m having trouble explaining it briefly.
As well as the initial disclosure of dyspraxia, I also feel there is a second aspect to disclosure. There are often times where people point out something, but it’s related to your dyspraxia and you need to point that out. This is despite the fact that the person already knows you’re dyspraxic – perhaps there are some aspects of it they are unaware of. Even though I know I’m not, there are times where I feel like I’m making excuses in situations like this. I do sometimes have difficulty deciding whether to mention dyspraxia or not. However, this often depends on who I’m with. If I’m with someone who I’ve known for a long time, then I find I’m quite comfortable with talking about my dyspraxia. In fact, there’ll be times I bring it up myself in terms of talking about my blogs etc. Whereas if it’s someone I don’t know that well I can be a bit more unsure about it (technically it should be the other way round, I should be willing to make them more aware…)
The fact that explaining dyspraxia involves quite a lot of thought processing and that dyspraxia affects thought processing isn’t quite the best combination! But when I think back to the beginning of secondary school, I am definitely more confident now in talking about my dyspraxia than I was then (although in primary school I was probably even more confident about it than now, as I innocently thought that most people knew what dyspraxia was!) I know for certain I’m confident in talking about dyspraxia across social media! It seems strange now to think I never posted anything dyspraxia related… Now just a few bits to work on in explaining it in face-to-face situations…
Disclosure was chosen as the current theme for Dyspraxia Foundation Youth. If you would like to take a look at the factsheet on this, here is the link: https://www.dfyouth.org.uk/support/factsheets/