Coping mechanisms


Every dyspraxic knows what it’s like to lose your keys five times a day or forget someone’s name as soon as you’ve heard it. Poor short-term memory is a big challenge but there are plenty of ways to get around it.

5) The Invisible Security Guard

The number of wallets, phones and sets of keys I’ve lost over the years doesn’t bear thinking about. As a teenager, I’d leave at least one of these on the bus or at school at least once a month. It must have cost me a small fortune, but in recent years I rarely lose any of these items. My older sister Becky, a special needs teacher, came up with the idea to pretend there was an invisible security guard standing at every door I passed through. The guard would only allow me to pass if I had my “ticket” in the form of my keys, wallet and phone. It took me a little while to remember to imagine the guard but once it became habit, it really worked out for me. Whenever I’m leaving the house these days, the guard is waiting for me and if I’ve not got my “ticket”, I have to turn back and get it.

I focus on my keys, wallet and phone because they’re all relatively important things I bring with me everywhere I go. If there’s something else that’s particularly important to you, then you can make that part of your “ticket” and check yourself at every door (or at least every time you go outside) for it. It’s always worked for me and I’m sure there are plenty of invisible security guards out there just waiting to help you remember your stuff.

4) Email yourself!

As if we didn’t have enough to remember in the real world, there’s the digital world to consider too. The internet can be an overwhelming place with information spread across millions of websites. It can be difficult to remember where we found the information that we want. Sure, we can mark a website as a favourite and come back to it later, but that doesn’t always work.

Let’s imagine you’re at work on your lunchbreak, reading articles on a work computer. You find an article you’d really like to read later at home, but how to remember the web address? One of the best things you can do is to make an electronic record. Send the web address to yourself in an email or post it to your own Facebook page. That way, you’ll have a permanent record of what you want to look at and it’ll be stored in a place you’re likely to check again later anyway.

3) Use Traditional Memory Aids

Sometimes, the old ways are best. There are lots of traditional ways of helping memory problems. Simple things like bringing a shopping list to the supermarket or marking appointments on a calendar can often do the world of good. Sometimes millennials like me aren’t in the habit of using the more old-fashioned methods, but they can work wonders if you give them a try.

Sticky notes or signs stuck up around the house are another great way to help you remember the important stuff. I have laminated sheets in the kitchen telling me how to use the cooker (and reminding me to turn it off) as well as reminding me to lock the door when I leave the house.

Ned Flanders from The Simpsons knew what it was all about when he covered his holiday home in helpful labels, including marking the ice cube tray; “fill me…with water”. You might not want to go that far but a few notes here or there won’t go amiss!

2) Use a Notebook…or a Phone!

One of the best ways we can remember things we have to do is to write it down. That’s obvious, but it’s a method that many dyspraxic people (me included) avoid, often because physically writing is painful or uncomfortable. The good news is, there are plenty of ways we can make a note to ourselves without the use of pen and paper.

I personally have a fake number in my phone which I text with anything I need to remember. None of the texts ever get delivered, but my phone keeps a note of the failed deliveries which I can look at whenever I like. Alternatively, you can save a text as a draft, just make sure you don’t make the mistake I made and text your shopping list to your boss.

Another good way to make notes on a phone is to use to record an audio message. The Voice Notes app is downloadable on i-Phones and allows you to simply dictate a message which can be played back later, a great option for those uncomfortable with writing or typing

1) Talk About It

Forgetting stuff can be embarrassing. When someone tells you how to do something and within five seconds you’ve forgotten what they said, it can be pretty awkward.

The way to deal with this really depends on you. It’s about what you want and how you feel. But I personally feel communication is key. In certain situations, it can be a good idea to explain to people why you’re having trouble remembering. If I’m working with a new colleague for the first time and persistently forgetting the instructions they’re giving me, I’ll probably give them a brief explanation of dyspraxia and ask them to bear with me whilst I write everything they’re saying down.

In other less formal scenarios I might take a different tack. I’m absolutely abysmal at remembering people’s names, but I don’t necessarily want to explain about dyspraxia to two dozen people I might see once a fortnight! But in those cases, simply saying something along the lines of, “Sorry, I’m terrible with names!” normally gets a laugh and a friendly word in response.

At any rate, talking about it one way or another can be really helpful and as with most things in the world of dyspraxia, communication is key.

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  1. I love the Imaginary security guard! Definitely going to suggest that to my son. Thanks for the tips & sharing your experience!


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Jonny Keen
Jonny was diagnosed with Dyspraxia aged 7 after his teachers noticed he was incapable of sitting in a chair without falling out of it. He is a writer with two published books to his name and also contributes articles to a number of publications, on subjects ranging from football to film, travel to childcare. Jonny is 25 years old and lives in Manchester.
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