I’ve always felt ‘different’, often a bit of an outsider looking in, and never really understood why. At school, I found that when left doing something such as reading or research, basically anything working alone, I’d be happy, but when faced with the ritual humiliation of P.E. classes or group activities I felt like I was more of a burden than the teammate people wanted. Growing up and heading into the world of work and some of the leftover hang-ups from the humiliation of school were very evident. Put me in a noisy office full of people and I struggle with everything, send me off to use a printer or photocopier and unless it has easy, step-by-step instructions I’ll be stood in front of the thing for an extraordinary amount of time trying to make sense of the buttons and process. Ask me to organise anything other than myself and can’t seem to find a beginning to start at and get really overwhelmed with the task. And as for getting ready in the mornings, well, I generally need to be up around 3 hours before I go anywhere – and it’s not as my boyfriend would comment because I need ‘ all that time for my hair and make-up so I don’t scare people’. But rather, because in order to leave the house with everything I need for the day I have to be able to be prepared and organised in my own way, at my own pace, and if I’m interrupted or can’t find my things I get very anxious and react in an overly emotional way, meaning my morning may take a lot of recovering to get back on track!
As I’ve got older I’ve realised that all these ‘differences’ and ‘difficulties’ could be assumed to be Dyspraxia – but what if it wasn’t? What if I was just unable to walk through a door frame without walking into it? What if I was just terrible at sport and had never been able to swim? What if the fact I can’t handwrite anything so it’s readable (even to me) just means I should have trained to be a doctor instead? What if my photosensitive eyesight and discomfort with certain environments weren’t really ‘a thing’? And as for parking the car straight and in a bay, don’t get me started! So rather than keep questioning my ‘idiosyncrasies’ I thought maybe it was time to take the plunge and pay the £785 fee to speak to a professional. I didn’t want to go on holiday this year anyway!
I did my research first, checked the Dyspraxia UK website and decided that as it is a lot of money I should probably speak with the Occupational Therapist first before I go throwing the best part of £800 (and my chances of a holiday) away just to be told I’m clumsy and unfocused. I made email contact through the Dyspraxia UK website and had a response the next day to be told the OT would be in touch for me to have a chat with so I could make an informed decision whether I should proceed. They also gave me a really helpful, extensive amount of information to read through, so I knew what to expect from the appointment for my diagnosis.
Within a few days at an agreed time I was called by the OT and had the opportunity to discuss all the challenges I have which led me to this point. That in itself was quite therapeutic – I seem to spend quite a lot of my time explaining to people why I have to do things the way I do and to have a chance to talk to someone who knows how that feels was really helpful in itself. So helpful in fact I decided that paying the £785 would actually be quite a good investment for my mental health as much as finding some answers. It was also great to know that as Dyspraxia is an official disability the diagnosis is formal so therefore recognised by GPs and other professionals, and that was also a factor in my decision to proceed. It’s helpful to have the formal evidence that I have a particular set of challenges that may require additional support or understanding in writing to offer to anyone who might need to see it. It also means I can request support from my employer – who for the record is outstandingly supportive and a genuine advocate for diversity in all forms anyway – I’m lucky I have an awesome job I love. I do also work from home primarily so that I don’t face the ‘9 to 5’ challenges a lot of Dyspraxics endure.
So yes, I digress; I paid my money via the website and awaited an appointment. The date was given and in the meantime, I was sent some paperwork to fill in and return before I met the OT. Now for someone like me who massively struggles with handwriting, I looked at it and my heart sank. The questionnaire part was straightforward enough but I knew this was going to require a fair bit of additional information. So I typed it all out on a Word document and printed it off to avoid the handwriting. Filling out the forms was a bit emotional – questions about my birth and how I behaved as a toddler are tricky to answer as my mum passed away a few years ago and my dad wouldn’t remember such things. Some of them also made me laugh; ‘Can you pack a suitcase?’ – well no, I take everything away with me but the kitchen sink even for one night. And another one; ‘Can you swim?’ – again no, I sink and swallow my body weight in water. By the time I’d filled it all in and ticked all the boxes what I basically held in my hand was a really good indication that this was about to be money well spent.
The day of the appointment for my assessment came – it’s a day in 2019 everyone will remember as it was the hottest day on record for the UK and getting there characteristically early I parked nearby at a local pub. I was told on the email for the appointment the venue was in a small cul-de-sac – words that strike horror in me as someone whose spatial awareness and parking abilities are legendarily awful so I opted for a short walk to the venue instead. Over the next two and a half hours the OT performed a series of tests, some physical, some visual and, my least favourite, an assessment of my handwriting. I won’t go into to detail for confidentiality (and word count) reasons but at the end of it I had learned some pretty interesting things, and aspects of myself and personality were starting to make more sense. For example, I know I had a traumatic birth and nearly died; well my lack of certain reflexes and co-ordination may be an outcome of that. I also know that some of the tests performed were ok for me under those circumstances but had there been music on or someone talking to me I’d have performed much worse as distractions are a real problem for me.
At the end of the session, after a few final questions from me, the OT gave me her opinion, yes, I am officially Dyspraxic. A full report followed a couple of weeks later which explained in over 30 pages of detail a lot of stuff about me that I’d been guessing at for decades along with some recommendations and practical help and advice.
Would I recommend it? Well, the money, of course, is a factor. I appreciate that £785 is a substantial wedge of cash to spend on anything, but essentially if you want an official diagnosis with a view to finding therapies that might be helpful, then why wouldn’t you make the investment in yourself? As I said earlier, for me it means a holiday I won’t have this year and a few other sacrifices. If you wouldn’t take the diagnosis further and just want a ‘label’ then no, it’s probably not worth it. From personal experience I think most of us Dyspraxics just know, don’t we? We’re a bit special, a bit different and have skills and abilities that make up for the lack of co-ordination and chaos that surrounds us, and that’s fine. Who wants to be just like everyone else anyway?