Phyiscal Effects of Dyspraxia on Concentration – Part 1

Overview

To make sure this post isn’t too long, I will be splitting the effects of dyspraxia on concentration into two aspects. The physical and the cognitive.

Trying to find literature on concentration and dyspraxia has been difficult! Everywhere I looked I only read that dyspraxics have bad concentration and there was nothing more on the subject. I don’t think this represents the complexity of this struggle. People with dyspraxia aren’t just bad at concentrating. We have to concentrate more on the little things that others take for granted and we end up having little energy to spare for the important things.

Dyspraxia has an enormous negative effect on concentration. It can sometimes be difficult to be patient with a child who has dyspraxia or, for those with it, to be patient with themselves. Why can’t we just focus and concentrate instead of getting distracted and zoning out?! In today’s post I will try to explain some of  the physical effects of dyspraxia on my concentration. Hopefully this will lead to better understanding, which in turn will lead to better patience and practice of concentration.

We know that for DCD the physical aspects of life are predominantly difficult. Someone with dyspraxia will struggle with their coordination, balance and spatial awareness. This is due to the combined difficulties of having poor muscle development, the brain signals to the muscles being jumbled and not having good muscle memory. These aspects can negatively affect someone’s concentration since it takes more effort to control each movement.

Balance

From my own experience, just sitting on a chair can need my whole attention so that I don’t fall off. In lectures I found that others could sit and focus on what the lecturer was saying. However, any movement I made, however small, to shift my weight and become comfortable, would mean I had to focus all of my concentration on the movement and the balance of my body and limbs. I didn’t want to fall off my chair just because I decide to uncross my legs, but it did mean that I missed what the lecturer said.

When I had just been diagnosed and had a speech therapist, my mother was told to ensure I was sitting correctly when doing my work. This consisted of making sure my feet were flat on the floor, with the use of the yellow pages if the chair was too high, and making sure I sat straight in my chair. Although it wasn’t explicitly explained, these measures were there to ensure my centre of balance was correct and I didn’t get distracted by having to stay on my chair.

Coordination

Sitting on a chair is probably the easiest thing to do. If I find that difficult and I don’t even struggle with the physical side of dyspraxia as much as other dyspraxics, every other physical activity is going to be a challenge. Take, for instance, walking. Easy enough I guess. You only need to put one foot in front of the other, but what happens when you have poor muscle development, which leads to poor coordination? Well, your feet are going to be walking on top of each other instead.

It can be funny to some how a dyspraxic can trip over flat ground. For the dyspraxic it can be dangerous. I have fractured my ankle just walking and sprained them countless times when I was younger and playing with my friends. This will cause the person with dyspraxia to concentrate more on their movement because they don’t want to hurt or embarrass themselves. Since they are thinking more about their own movement, they will be less aware of what is happening around them.

Muscle Memory

Due to having bad muscle memory, writing is another time I have to use all of my concentration. It starts with having to focus on the words that I need to write. Then I have to ensure my hand makes the right movements to produce the correct letters. This acculmanates in me being a very slow writer. Where others only have to think of the sentence and their hand does the rest, I sometimes have to write the same word or sentence a few times before my hand gets the right letters or words.

All of this is part of the reason why you cannot expect someone with dyspraxia to multi-task. Just doing the one task has multiple aspects to concentrate on. It’s tiring having to concentrate so much to make your limbs do what you want just to fit in and be safe in an environment.

Tune in next week for my post about how the mental side of dyspraxia can affect someone’s concentration. Also, please leave a comment below if you or someone close to you has to struggle to concentrate on their own movements and how this affects them.

My best wishes for all of you.

Jessica

The Positives of Dyspraxia

As it’s the last day of Dyspraxia Awareness Week, I thought it would be a good idea to end on a positive after a week talking about all the negatives. This post has been the most difficult to write because I still struggle with thoughts that dyspraxia holds me back, but I know I wouldn’t be who I am today without it. So, without further ado, here are my 10 personal positives of living with Dyspraxia.

1. Thinking in a different way has meant that I am able to give a more unique perspective in discussions.

2. It has also meant that my imagination and creativity can be wild and unrestrained.

3. Having dyspraxia has made me more sensitive to other people’s difficulties.

4. Dyspraxia has meant that I have learnt to persevere.

5. Dyspraxia has given me lots of practice at become good at laughing at myself.

6. Some would say I can be obsessive, but I would say I am passionate in what interests me and what I believe in – I do nothing half heartedly!

7. I have had to learn to be self aware, which means that I am more in tune with the smaller details of my life.

8. Dyspraxia has meant that I am patient with others because I know everyone works at different speeds.

9. Dyspraxia has forced me to slow down and appreciate the small things in life.10. I would be an evil genius if I didn’t have dyspraxia 😉

When I was going through a dyspraxia phase, I googled this to try and improve my confidence, sadly I only found forums saying there weren’t any positives. I would be fascinated to hear if anyone has other positives for having dyspraxia.  Lets spread the positivity and try to lift each other up.

Of course, this isn’t the end and only the beginning for my Fearless Equality blog so, stay tuned next week when I will be going into depth about how dyspraxia can affect someone’s concentration.

My best wishes for all of you.

Jessica
P.S.
I saw this poem on Facebook and thought it would be good to share it here since it has made my day.
I am Colour by Gill Dixon – Dyspraxia Awareness Week 2017

The Working World

BECOMING A SALES ASSISTANT

The job that I have now is my second proper job. When I started I was nervous that it would end the same way my last job did – getting fired for being ill when I was in hospital. Plus, I knew working in retail would challenge the social difficulties that I have because of my dyspraxia. When I started, it was only a part time job during the week, so I was introduced to this environment when it was at it’s quietest.

However, it was still a challenge. I would go home exhausted from the day of interacting with customers. This was due to two things I believe. The first being, it takes me longer to process new information and learn new systems. This meant that, whilst other new sales assistants were able to remember where everything was and what to do, I was left lost not being able to remember what clothes we had or the procedures we had to go through to make the sale.

There was also the fact that I had to use a lot more energy and concentration to be able to talk to new people. Knowing what to say and when is difficult when my thought processes are slower. Some customers were patient with me and others would think I had no idea what I was talking about since it took me longer to get the words out. This all culminated in me sleeping whenever I was not at work and feeling physically, mentally and emotionally drained when I was at work.

MY CONFESSION

It took me a while to confess to my employer that I had Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia. I am very fortunate that my employer is patient! With each fail he was always understanding and willing to give me another chance. The reason I decided to tell him why I had such great difficulties with some things was because my failures were adding up fast.

Of course, when I did, it was a mess. I had rehearsed what I was going to say, but when I was in front of my employer and had his full attention, my mind went blank. Only random words popped up and I couldn’t remember how they connected to what I said. My employer told me to take my time. Slowly, I started to remember what I wanted to say, but it was coming out in the wrong order. I knew I was confusing him.

Slowly but surely, I have been telling him bits and pieces about how my dyspraxia affects me in the workplace. Part of the reason I have been finding it difficult is because I know some people don’t believe there is something “wrong” with me. I have learnt how to blend in and not bring attention to my difficulties.

Maybe I should ask him to read this since my writing is more succinct than my speech (if you’re reading this Mr. Boss, I really do appreciate all of your patience and the faith you have in my abilities. Thank you.).

TYPICAL CLUMSY CHILD

I had never really experienced any of the usual effects of dyspraxia since the verbal side is what I’m actually bad at, but once I got onto the floor of a retail shop, this changed. I had to move around more which meant that I was walking into rails and unfortunate customers. At first I thought it was just a phase, maybe my hormones affecting my spatial awareness, but three years on and I am still reeking havoc.

Something else that I wasn’t used to was losing my balance and falling into things. It usually happens when I am turning around. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because my inner ear reacts too much to the motion. Once I have turned around, I feel myself slowly falling to one side like I am an extra from Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal and then having to find the closest solid object to push myself upright again.

At work there are two sets of stairs on the shop floor. For some reason my dyspraxia has decided to make me the clown of the shop by tripping me on my way up the stairs. At first my colleagues were concerned when this happened (I make an impressive bang when falling), but now, we are all used to it and have a good laugh about the gravitational pull the stairs have on me. Luckily my colleagues haven’t realised how much I fall or walk into things, I don’t want to give too much laughing material in one go.

LEARNING THE TILL

Somehow I was making a good impression on my employer. He started to give me more responsibilities starting with learning the till. Luckily I have used computers for a lot of my life so, using the keyboard was something that I could do, although, I do make a few mistakes when trying to go faster and probably scare the customers when I growl at myself and hit my head after trying to key in the style number for the third time! When at the till I can be slower since my eyes take longer to focus from the computer screen to the item style number and back again. This is something that I have recently noticed. When under pressure to read the style number and then look at the computer, it can take a few seconds for my eyes to adjust and see the computer screen in focus. Not helpful when there is a queue of customers waiting to pay.

When there are a lot of people waiting to pay, two people usually do the till. One person to key in the right things at the till and another person to take the security tag off and fold the clothes. This is another area that I am slower at than my colleagues. I don’t have the dexterity when folding the clothes and putting them into the bag. It can be embarrassing when the customer has paid and received their receipt and are now waiting for me to fumble my way through trying to put their new item neatly into the bag. Sometimes they take the item from me and do it themselves. This makes me feel like a bigger failure.

After I had learnt the till, it was time for the next big step. I was given the key so that I could do openings. This was an exciting and petrifying new experience. I was so happy that I was being entrusted with this, but also nervous at the prospect of being the one in charge in the morning (even if it was only for an hour). This became a bigger responsibility as my employer slowly increased the amount of hours I was left in the morning, always checking in to see how everything was going.

BECOMING ASSISTANT MANAGER

I guess I proved my self capable because in the new year, my employer asked me if I was interested in becoming Assistant Manager. This was the biggest step and I knew I couldn’t say no to the offer. Although working in a clothes shop challenges my dyspraxia in ways that are always mentally and physically exhausting (I am also one of those people against consumerism – it’s very conflicting), I knew that learning how to be assistant manager with a manager and employer who are supportive and understanding, was something that would be rare to come by.

So, I said I wanted to be assistant manager with enthusiasm and I got to work. My enthusiasm slowly waned though. I started to become insecure with my ability as I tried to stay on top of my responsibilities. It wasn’t because I was given too many responsibilities. Both my manager and employer were slowly giving me new responsibilities as I became more efficient with the ones that I had. I became insecure because I was stressing myself with thoughts that I needed to be doing more to be a better assistant manager. It didn’t help my insecurities that some of my colleagues seemed to be doing a better job of being assistant manager when they were still sales assistants.

Before I could fully settle into this new role, I had a family holiday for 10 days just a few months into my new position. I was already feeling unsettled by the new routine that I had to learn, making a further change to my routine by going away was the tipping point. I didn’t realise at the time, but I had entered a “dyspraxic phase”. I have had these all of my life and they can last for a couple of weeks to a couple of months or even years. I had learnt that I get these phases where my memory gets worse and my processing of information becomes slower, but I had never fully known what could trigger them. This made it difficult to identify my dyspraxic phase until it was over.

During my holiday I felt out of sorts the whole time. At night I was having nightmares about failing at work and during the day I felt like I couldn’t fully relax and enjoy myself. There was always the thought of work making me feel on edge.

Once I got back to work, things didn’t improve. We were trying out a different system for selling and I was getting lost amongst the changes. I didn’t know what to do and my mind became a place of chaos. Due to this, my memory worsened so that, when someone asked what a customer had bought a few minutes ago, I couldn’t say. My employer would tell me information that I would relay wrong to my colleagues and I would forget to follow through on a task (if I had remembered that task at all). All of this lead to my manager, employer and some of my colleagues double checking everything that I had done.

Life was exhausting! Not being able to do my job properly and the emotions it produced in me meant that I was stuck in a body incapable of doing anything. After work I would go home and go to sleep straight away, and on my days off I would stay in bed unable to do anything because I didn’t have the energy and concentration to focus, not even to watch mindless tv.

Now that I am out the other side of this most recent dyspraxic phase, I am staying on top of most things, but I am still treated like the forgetful dyspraxic I was a few months ago. Although I find this difficult. I understand that they don’t realise what had happened to my brain at the time and the fact that I am better now (especially since I can’t verbalise it even if I try).

There are other things that I am still yet to learn. Like what to say when my employer asks my opinion on different things. This gives me a confidence boost, but since I was previously so preoccupied with just getting through my education I had never learnt how to critically think. This meant I would give him an answer, but was rarely able to give him a reason and sometimes my only reason would be because I had a feeling it was right.

I also need to learn how to be flexible with rules and procedures. I will follow rules and procedures to the letter and so, if someone changes these I have a mental block. This happens mainly when I ask my employer or manager how to do something or how to deal with people in a certain situation. They will tell me to follow a certain procedure, but say there are exceptions. In my head there can be no exceptions to a rule because it complicates things and I find it difficult to see the proper exceptions.

BECOMING MANAGER

This is the next big step. In a few months I will become manager. This wasn’t an easy decision to make compared to when I became assistant manager. I know that it will mean longer hours and having to close the shop, both of which will disrupt my eating and sleeping patterns (the autistic side of my dyspraxia is having a break down). Managing the staff is also going to be a challenge. How are they expected to be able to follow me when I can’t even communicate properly?

Despite all of this, I know it will be an invaluable experience. I will need this if I am going to one day achieve my goal of creating a charity that supports young people who are experiencing specific challenges in their lives and ultimately help them to fulfill their own dreams.

Please feel free to comment below about your own experiences in the working world and how you are managing/coping. Stay tuned for the last post of Dyspraxia Awareness Week tomorrow when I will be talking about the positives of having dyspraxia.

My best wishes for all of you

Jessica.

University

Heads up. This post is going to be a long one. During university there were so many hurdles and unexpected events to deal with on top of my academic work. In the end though it has taught me more about myself and dyspraxia than any other part of my education has done so far.

GAP YEAR

Before stepping into the exciting world of university, I took a year out. This wasn’t so that I could go off travelling. I was only just used to public transport in London, travelling to other countries would need more preparation. No, this time was for me to grow up a little bit more (my mum was hoping that I would become more savvy and independent).

Unfortunately, this didn’t go to plan. I became quite ill due to the stress of trying to survive in the real world. This lead to me losing my retail job. However, during this time I was slowly beginning to recognise some of the warning signs of my dyspraxia. By paying attention to these signs, it would lessen the impact when and if things went wrong.

FIRST YEAR

After my gap year I was ready to finally get back into education. In university things are very different. Although you still go to classes, get homework and have teachers/lecturers that help you, everything about Uni is independent. The assignments I was given for each lecture were announced at the beginning of the academic year. Somehow I had to use my time management skills to assess when I should focus on them so that I handed them in on time. I was also having to travel across London to get to Uni, which in itself provided plenty of things to challenge me.

Due to my lack of time management skills, I got by with my usual technique. I would start my assignments the day before and stay up all night to finish them and my revision involved re-reading the lecture slides multiple times during the week before a test.

University is supposed to be the time when you socialise by going to all of the uni events and joining different societies. I tried to do this, but juggling a social life and my studies was difficult. Especially since I needed to include time to be by myself to recuperate and time to talk to my family to help me process what had happened that day.

I didn’t prioritise my school/home/ social life well since I didn’t take into consideration the fact that the first year doesn’t count towards the final grade. This meant that I studied more when I should have been making friends. It also didn’t help that I lived 2 hours away from uni and I really need 10 hours sleep to function properly. In the new year my attendance progressively dropped so that I could focus on trying to revise for my end of year exams. I wanted to use the four hour commute each day for studying instead of being on the train.

SECOND YEAR

During the summer holiday I had decided that enough was enough. I started to research how to study better, trying to work out what would be the best way for me. I spent hours reading articles and going through wikiHow, but this changed once I found out my grades. Yet again, due to my success the previous year, I became complacent and started the year wanting to make friends and prioritising my social life (I really am a bit backwards with my prioritising).

However, I managed to stay on top of my assignments with the same old tricks, but this time I wasn’t getting the results. Since this year counted, I needed to properly plan my essays so that I was able to go into the depth that was needed for each assignment and my revision was getting lost since re-reading the lecture slides wasn’t making the information stick in my head anymore.

Then something I wasn’t expecting happened. Someone close to me was in a road accident and was in hospital for two months. This threw out the window any flimsy plans I might have had for my academic year. I tried revising in the hospital every day I was there, after my friend was discharged there were still many more appointments that would ultimately take up my whole day. As a direct result of all of this my attendance plummeted, I had to balance supporting my friend and getting ready for my exams. I knew by now that I wouldn’t be able to manage two major events in my life simultaneously and I informed my tutor of what was happening (a bit late, but they say better late than never). Luckily, they were able to postpone my assignments and exams.

THIRD YEAR (FINAL YEAR – TAKE 1)

This year I decided to be an independent woman and I moved out. It Probably wasn’t the best time to spread my wings, but I had had enough of the two hour commute to university and I wanted to experience uni life properly before it was over.

I went into this new adventure knowing that it was going to challenge my dyspraxia in a way I had never experienced. Living with my family had meant that I always had the security and support I needed if something went wrong. My mum had been training me for this by slowly increasing my responsibilities in the house like doing my own clothes washing, which is simple for some, but for me it can be difficult to find the right time when I have enough energy and not preoccupied with stressing over something else.

Money management was something else I had to learn. Now that I was paying rent and utilities, my money wasn’t my own to do as I wished. I didn’t put into place any plan for managing my money and ended up getting an overdraft to fund my new life. Unfortunately, the overdraft lasted about as long as the student loan that was all but a distant memory by this time. Ultimately, I had to let my mum know what sort of mess I had got myself into. I had managed to hide all of my financial difficulties from her and so it came as a bit of a shock to her to find out I wasn’t managing. With my families help we were able to work out a plan to pay off my overdraft and get me back to square one. I had gotten myself into this mess due to the fact that, when I spent money, I used my card. I couldn’t see how each time I bought food or clothes, it was adding up and my money disappearing.

In the end, I failed the year and decided to take a year out, before throwing myself back into it all again.

FOURTH YEAR (FINAL YEAR – TAKE 2)

At the beginning of the summer holiday I moved back in with my family. My mum was due to have a back operation and I had found a job near my family home. During this time I came to realise that the real world was not for me and I started to miss the safety of education. I knew I was doing the right thing by taking some time out to learn more about myself and my dyspraxia. Dyspraxia had been a hindrance my whole life and I was determined to find a way to thrive with it (and maybe conquer it… I was so naive).

However, there were people in my life telling me that this was the wrong thing to do, it would not look good to future employers and getting back into the swing of education would be difficult. So, I decided to go back the following academic year.

Instead of learning from my mistakes, I went back to uni and kept the job I had gotten in the summer. I knew this would be difficult because I was pushing more onto my saucer sized plate instead of focusing on passing third year this time. What I didn’t know was that there were going to be more hurdles to come.

The first time I met my dissertation supervisor was horrible. I went into the room feeling positive, but once I sat down, my supervisor pointed out my falling grades and asked me what “issues” I had. My heart dropped and I politely pointed out that I had a learning difficulty. I wasn’t allowed to say anything more and she told me what I was going to do. I had done preparation and research into the subject I wanted, but apparently I wasn’t allowed a say. The following meetings with her didn’t improve and she continued to treat me like a lazy student until she said she wouldn’t help me anymore and I had to do it by alone.

Luckily I had someone on my side when I signed u to have a disability support person during this year. I could have taken advantage of this resource from my first year, but I believed that I could do it all by myself. I mean, I had sort of successfully managed my own education up until this point. This was the most valuable time since I became more accepting of my dyspraxia and the challenges it creates, it was also amazing to finally speak to someone who had an understanding of my difficulties and could help me find the right tools to manage them.

This year was another year for a set back. Unfortunately it was in the form of my grandfather’s death. We had known it was coming, he had been diagnosed with cancer at the end of the previous year, but it was a short and intense illness. This meant that I had to postpone my dissertation so that I could focus on processing what had happened and trying to prepare for my final exams.

To prepare for my final exams I started to go to the library every day and trying my hand at revision notes, but mainly relying on the lecture slides that I had highlighted and made notes on.

Even though I had postponed my dissertation I managed to miss the deadline. The final deadline was during the summer when I was on holiday half way across the world. I had spent most of the holiday trying to finish my dissertation instead of spending the day with my family. I worked really hard to have it ready for the deadline to find the university had changed the deadline from late afternoon to early morning. It didn’t help that I was on US time and didn’t take this into consideration. Yet again, my tutor had to fix my mistake.

FIFTH YEAR (FINAL YEAR – TAKE 3)

Luckily I was allowed yet more time to finish off my dissertation. Since I had passed all of my other modules, I didn’t have to go into university. Instead my tutor became my supervisor and I met with him a few times during the year and we corresponded through email. When asked about what had happened with my previous supervisor, I tried to tell him without being too negative, but luckily other disability students had come up against her as well and he understood.

Although, my tutor was helpful and encouraging, I had had enough. I had been trying to finish this year for three years. I did what I could with the little energy I had left and decided to hand in my dissertation knowing I wouldn’t get the top marks my tutor said I could. My only thought was to get it over with and continue the rest of my life instead of being stuck with the same monotonous procedures.

Well with that all said and done, I am now a graduate of Biomedical Sciences with a 2:1… If I had only put in a bit more effort at the end maybe I would have gotten a 1st, but there is no point regretting! I know that my family and friends are proud of me.

So, you are all caught up on my life up until now and so tomorrow I will be talking about my life right now as a working woman. I hope to see you guys there.

My best wishes for all of you.

Jessica

Secondary School

THE BEGINNING

It took half a year to find a school my mum was happy with me going to. This was because the schools that were offered weren’t accessible to me. They expected me to take long and complicated bus journeys when I had never been on a bus by myself before.

In that time I was home schooled and found out that I was capable of learning and understanding. I started to become confident in my academic abilities since my tutor was always praising how well I understood new concepts and how fast I could work out problems.

SETTLING IN

When I finally went to secondary school, I knew it was my time to make a good impression on this group of people who didn’t know me. What I wasn’t expecting was having to adjust to a new environment and routine.

I spent an afternoon being shown around to see where my class for registration was, where I could get lunch and meeting some of my teachers. However, when it got to my first day, I was late for registration. This was because, even though I was shown where it was, too much time had elapsed and everything looked different with all of the other students getting to their own class. Panic set in whilst I was standing in the stairwell and tears started to form in my eyes. Everyone was rushing around me making my head fog up and my thoughts disappear. Once the chaos had lessened, I tried asking someone where I needed to go, but of course, they were in a different year and didn’t know. When the corridors were empty, I walked around and eventually found the right room. Not a great start to my new beginning.

When it came to the classroom, now that I knew I was capable, my work improved. I stayed on top of my homework since the friends I made would do it at break time and we would sit in the computer room.

But I still wasn’t happy. I could now make friends, but keeping them was the next big step. Due to my social struggles in primary school, my confidence and self esteem were low and I believed that no one would stay friends with me once they got to know me.

My peers thought I wasn’t very smart and never believed anything I said. If they asked me the answer to a question in class, they would double check it with the teacher and I was always right.

I didn’t know where I belonged. I wasn’t articulate enough to be friends with the smart pupils, but I wasn’t rebellious enough to be friends with the pupils who misbehaved.

GCSES

GCSEs were the highlight of my secondary education. I had found a group of friends that accepted me (I am still friends with some of them) and I was top in some of my classes.

However, at the time I didn’t realise, but to cope with the pressure of my GCSEs I became obsessed with the 18th Century. This included designing my own house. I looked into the architectural designs for this period of time and I researched and made sure to make blueprints that were architecturally correct. I studied the language they used and I tried to make dresses that were of this time.

I got by with the minimum work. I had never been taught how to prepare for essays and exams. Of course it was touched on in classes, but I didn’t have the concentration to learn it properly and there was no alternative given for  someone who didn’t understand.

A-LEVELS

For A-levels I became complacent. I had done better than I thought possible in my GCSEs and so I relaxed more with my work, but I was also unused to the independent learning I had to now do. No one told me that I would be given essays to write with a deadline 6 months later, and that writing notes during my lessons would be important for my exams.

Of course, in hindsight it’s obvious that this would be the case. However, because no one had explicitly told me , I wasn’t prepared for the work load. My education up until now was supposed to supply me with the tools for this, but nobody had taught me how to learn.

Taking notes was a mystery. I didn’t know what to focus on and my writing was too slow to keep up in lessons. Independent revision was something that I had done the week, sometimes even the night before my exams by just re-reading everything in the text book. This meant that I wasn’t able to make suitable revision notes for myself. I tried different methods for revising like: recording myself and listening back to it, but this wasn’t right since talking into the dictaphone was difficult and it took too much energy to hear and understand what I was listening to; I tried making revision notes, but I would end up copying word for word since I couldn’t distinguish which of the words were important and which weren’t; I also tried making powerpoint slides, which was good since I am a visual learner, but in the end it took up too much precious time.

Time management is something I still find difficult and at the time I just floated through my A-levels. I copied what my peers did, but I was a different learner to them. My concentration was shorter, which meant, whilst they wrote lines upon lines on their revision flashcards, I would sit there bored and angry at myself for not being able to focus.

To deal with the pressure I yet again used escapism and became obsessed with fanfiction, where I could get lost in another world and forget my stress. All of this resulted in A level grades that did not reflect my true ability and a sense of inadequacy that I wasn’t sure how to deal with.

Ultimately, it all worked out in the end, which has meant that I am able to tell you about going to university. So, tune in tomorrow to hear about this new adventure and please leave a comment below about your own experience with secondary school and the ways you handled time management and  the home/school/social life balance.

My best wishes for all of you.

Jessica.

Primary School

During primary school I was diagnosed with Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia. This improved my life at home greatly since my family could begin to understand me, but at school, it was a different story.

SCHOOL LIFE

I don’t really remember what it was like when I first went to primary school, but I have been told that, before going, I was confident and assertive. However, I started school and that changed. Through the years it became obvious that I was different. Not only did I start school not being able to speak English (I had my own language that my family tried to understand), but with each year I was falling behind my peer group educationally and socially.

As time went on I made more enemies within my year and the teaching staff. My peers didn’t like me since they couldn’t understand me and I found this frustrating, which I was likely to show through a few kicks and a hit. As you can probably guess this escalated their dislike for me. With teachers, I became known as “dangerous” and was used as the example for the class of what stupid looked like.

All of this fed into the paranoia that I began to experience. If someone didn’t hear me speak to them, I thought they were ignoring me on purpose. If another person was day dreaming in my direction, I truly believed that they were looking at me with hate. It didn’t help that I found reading people’s body language and tone of voice difficult too.

Although I didn’t have terrible coordination, spatial awareness or balance, I never enjoyed P.E.. I was always the slowest and the weakest. I would try everything to get out of this humiliating activity. I know that this can be a more troubling and distressing lesson during our school time when it is so important to fit in and seem “normal”. Part of the problem is, the two sides of the body cannot cross over to the other side when performing physical tasks (crossing the midline). This was most prominent for me in classes when I was told to sit straight on my chair, but then found it difficult to write. My right hand would have to start writing on the left side of the page, this was physically uncomfortable, and forming the letters became harder because, when my right hand is moving on the left side of me, it feels as though I have very little control over the movement (as though I was trying to write with someone else’s hand). This meant I had to concentrate more on my hand movements, which in turn would make my writing even slower.

None of this improved when I was diagnosed. I was diagnosed privately at the age of 9, instead of through the NHS, since it would have been years instead of weeks before we found out what was “wrong” with me. My teachers refused to recognise that I had a disability. They didn’t put anything in place to help me, but continued to treat me like a bad student. Had the diagnosis been made through the NHS then maybe the school would have recognised it?

However, the Principal Clinical Psychologist who diagnosed me saw potential. She told my mum that, if I learnt how to learn with my dyspraxia, I had the ability to go to university. Something my mum hadn’t thought possible. But there was a lot of work to do. Once I started speech therapy, I had to be re-taught the alphabet as well as playing games to teach the right and left side of my brain to work together.

In the classroom I was always left to my own devices. Being on the table with the other people who were struggling, we would always distract each other and this didn’t help my already bad concentration. One teacher confessed, with an uncomfortable laugh,  that I would stare out of the window all day. Probably trying to find peace in the busy classroom.

In the playground I was being bullied, but I couldn’t verbalise this to my family or the teachers. My bullies took advantage of my lack of communication and told the teachers that I was bullying them. Of course, the teachers believed them and I was told off whilst they laughed in the background.

There were a couple of teachers that supported me and tried to help me be happier in school, but this unfortunately wasn’t enough. I left primary school believing people would never like me and I just wasn’t smart enough.

HOME LIFE

I was never shouted at again after being diagnosed. With a label, my mum was able to find information on  what was going on inside my head.  My family were able to understand.

My mum would always get angry with me for being late out of school. She couldn’t understand why I was always the last one out when I said I hated being at school in the first place. When I was diagnosed though, she understood that I found the rush of the class to get their things and quickly get out difficult. I would stand back because, to enter the craze, I would need to be able to quickly respond to the others moving around me. This I couldn’t do since my mind would go blank with panic from the busyness and I would feel suffocated. It was easier to let them get first. After, I could do what I needed carefully and at my own pace. I didn’t have to worry about concentrating on not being pushed away from my things or dropping my bag in the cramped space where people might step on it. But, of course I couldn’t verbalise this.

With each year my psychosomatic illnesses became more frequent and my mum would give me more “mental health days”. She knew I wasn’t happy at school, but didn’t know how to get the teachers to listen.

I hope this post can help parents support their children and see these formative years from the dyspraxic child’s point of view. It’s difficult in the first place as a child not having the vocabulary to express oneself, but to add dyspraxia, where communicating is difficult and there are challenges that aren’t always visible, it is tough for the child being so internalised with frustration, embarrassment and loneliness.

Check tomorrows post where I will be explaining some of the difficulties I faced in Secondary School.

My best wishes for all of you.

Jessica

Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia

Since there is not a lot of information on Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia, this post is going to be more anecdotal.

DVD EFFECTS

For me, having DVD has meant that I sometimes have bad coordination, spatial awareness and balance, but the main thing I struggle with is my thought process and communication.

I believe that the process of talking is the same for everyone; the only difference is, it’s such a slow process for me that I am able to observe each moment as it slowly progresses.

It goes something like this:

There is a feeling. No words, just an emotion that is felt through my body. Next the feeling becomes sounds. Sort of like when a baby is learning to talk, but they can only make one syllable sounds. I then need to make those sounds into intelligible words, but they are in the wrong order and it doesn’t make sense. At this stage I have to then put the words into the correct order to make sentences the listener will be able to understand.

It can be frustrating, not being able to freely talk and having to go through this sometimes agonising process. It usually happens in new situations where I have not been able to learn the correct response to that particular situation and/or person. This can be made more difficult when my emotions are heightened or I am under stress.

What happens is that I get stuck on the sounds or a word and cannot move on to form the sentence. I then end up stuttering, saying an irrelevant word or not being able to say anything at all.

Sometimes my mind will go blank mid sentence and I will completely forget what I was saying and will have to start from the beginning of this process. This can make a difficult situation harder when having an important discussion.

Getting the words out isn’t the only thing affected. Controlling my volume when speaking is difficult too. When I start talking after a long period of silence, I may speak more quietly or loudly then I had meant to. I am especially prone to speaking too loudly when I am trying to say something quietly – this can lead to awkward situations when saying something private…

Pronouncing words can be difficult as well. When speaking, my mouth may not make the right movements and so, I will mispronounce words or mumble. This happens even if I have said a word a thousand times. It is sort of like the muscles in my mouth forget the movements.

Sometimes my mind will be fast and I know exactly what I want to say, but the muscles in my mouth go on strike. They will refuse to move and make sounds. It feels like I am hitting my head against a brick wall that won’t get out of the way and I am left gaping like a fish.

SITUATIONS THAT CAN ARISE

Many times I have had people complain because I  speak too slowly. They tell me to just say what’s in my head, but they don’t realise that what is in my head is a jumble of sounds and words.

It can also be difficult for people to understand me. Sometimes I experience a mixture of all my DVD effects at once, like speaking too quietly whilst mispronouncing words. I will be asked to repeat, but by then I will be embarrassed and end up going blank or stuttering. I know this can be frustrating for the listener as well.

So, day two finished and there is so much more to come. I hope to see you tomorrow when I will be talking about my experience in primary school and being diagnosed with Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia.

Please comment below about your own experiences. I am fascinated to understand how dyspraxia affects others!

My best wishes for all of you.

Jessica

Dyspraxia Overview

OVERVIEW

Dyspraxia is the disorganisation of thoughts with either movement or speech. Everything works fine, the person with dyspraxia can know what they want to say or do, but the connections between the brain and the different parts of the body are a bit jumbled. However, it isn’t as simple as that since dyspraxia can also affect short term memory, organisation, concentration, social communication, time management, planning, multitasking and so much more!

THE TYPES OF DYSPRAXIA

When talking about dyspraxia there are different types, which may need to be distinguished between when talking to certain people. Lets begin with why someone may have dyspraxia. There is “Dyspraxia” and “Developmental Dyspraxia”. The first is for those who have acquired dyspraxia from brain trauma, such as a stroke or head injury. Developmental Dyspraxia is used for those who were born with dyspraxia and is usually hereditary – others in their family will also have dyspraxia. There are two other types dependent on how dyspraxia affects you. Dyspraxia can affect a person’s movement, “Co-ordination Dyspraxia”, or speech, “Verbal Dyspraxia”. So for example, I was diagnosed with Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia (DVD). This means that I was born with the difficulty to process my thoughts and communicate verbally.

BALANCING DYSPRAXIA

Dyspraxia can cause people to have difficulties that “normal” people may have as well. Examples of this are: getting confused when things go wrong or adjusting to a new routine. This feeds into the notion that we are “normal” and just like to complain a lot. However, people with dyspraxia and other learning difficulties will experience these hurdles more intensely. In fact we experience everything more intensely. If we like something, we will become obsessive and want to know everything about it. When something goes wrong, however, it will disrupt everything in our lives for a week to even a year.

One way things are likely to overwhelm someone is when one tries to balance too much. I sometimes find myself having to explain that, when I say my plate is full, I don’t have the average sized plate… it’s more like a saucer… Someone once said that most people can only focus on three things in their life at one time. The most important being our health. After that, there is family, friends, work, education and hobbies to choose from. But make sure to prioritise so that you are focusing on the three most important things! For example, at the moment my focus is: (1) my health; (2) work and (3) this blog. After a few months I will revisit this and decide if my time should be focused on other things. If anyone spreads their energy amongst too many things, they will experience stress, fatigue and may get ill.

DYSPRAXIC PHASES

Some days can be good and other days, dyspraxia can feel like it is on a rampage to ruin my life. This is when I will have a dyspraxic phase, which can last a week to a year. During that time my short term memory will worsen, I will walk into everything, gravity will seem to want me to fall all of the time and communicating my thoughts and feelings will become more scattered.

Of course this will be different for everybody due to the fact that the effects of dyspraxia will vary from person to person. The important thing to do is to find out how dyspraxia might affect you and then self reflect on how it actually does. If you know and understand the problem, you can find tools to move past these difficulties. Then you will adapt and thrive in your environment.

THE FUTURE

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of information out there on dyspraxia – even if knowledge has grown since I was a child – and even less on Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia. There is also almost nothing to help adults and what has been written, is quite basic. It is like dyspraxic adults are supposed to just survive the lives we have been given, but we are capable of so much more. I want us all to thrive and enjoy our lives. The way we can do that is by helping and supporting each other.

Now, I know that sounds like a big task… there is only so much that  we can do at any given time, but if we all input a little whenever we feel we can, we will definitely be able to grow together and be a positive influence on each other, whilst getting the support we need in return.

So, I hope this post has given you a bit more insight into what it is like to be dyspraxic. I realise that this post hasn’t gone into much depth, but there is just so much to talk about that one post will never be enough. Please let me know in the comments below if you have dyspraxia or know someone with dyspraxia and what this has been like. The more we voice the difficulties we face, the better understanding we will experience from our communities.

Tune in tomorrow for my next post where I will be writing further on some of the specific struggles of having DVD.

My best wishes for all of you.

Jessica.

References:

NHS, (2016) “Developmental co-ordination disorder (dyspraxia) in children”, NHS | Choices, Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dyspraxia-(childhood)/Pages/Introduction.aspx, (accessed: 26/12/2016)

Dyspraxia Foundation, “Dyspraxia at a glance – What is Dyspraxia”, Available at: https://dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk/about-dyspraxia/dyspraxia-glance/, (accessed: 26/12/2016)