A Brief intro to Dyspaxia
The neurons (cells that transport signals around the brain and to the body) of dyspraxic people work in a consistently different way to people who are not dyspraxic.
There are many things that may cause this difference; not getting enough oxygen at birth, brain injury, infection, but a lot of the time it is just the way you are genetically designed (i.e. born that way). Dyspraxia that is a result of a genetic difference is called Developmental Coordination Disorder.
I don’t know what the cause of my dyspraxia is and I will probably never be able to find out (although I have a suspicion it’s genetic – yes I’m looking at you, dad).
A more accurate depiction of dyspraxia is that the signals travelling from the senses to the brain, as well as signals travelling from the brain to the body, can get mixed up, lost, weakened or amplified:
How I see it
Sometimes I imagine my body is like an old man with declining hearing. It will take a while and a lot of repetition for him to hear what I’m saying.
Other times I imagine my body is like a hyper and inattentive puppy that just wants to please. The puppy often mishears what I’m saying and rushes into doing the wrong thing.
The ways it affects me
Because the way I process senses can get muddled up in unpredictable ways (fig. 1);
- sometimes I might not perceive something (example = don’t hear someone saying my name)
- or, I might perceive too much of something (example = when looking at my computer screen feels like looking at the sun)
- or, I might perceive the wrong thing (example = nearly getting run down by a car because it looked further away than it actually was).
For me, these issues make it hard being in social groups larger than 2 and being in places where I cannot physically control my sensory environment.
Because the way I perform movements can get muddled up in unpredictable ways
- sometimes my actions might be over exaggerated (example = talking too loud)
- or, my actions might be under exaggerated (example = talking too quiet)
- or, my actions might be entirely different to my intentions (example = wanting to say one word but saying another).
For me, these issues make it hard to cook and clean (which I rarely do because there are too many opportunities for accidents) and enjoy my hobbies (drawing, sewing, playing guitar, gaming can often feel like a chore). It can be very frustrating when you intend to one thing and your body does another.
Because both my senses and my movements can get muddled up, I always have to be ‘on guard’ and double checking that my body is doing what I intend it to, to avoid accidents and miscommunication. This means that I need to put extra cognitive effort into any action I make, which is why I feel tired a lot and really struggle with fatigue. Accidents and miscommunications happen nearly constantly when I am not placing my full conscious attention on what my body is doing – unfortunately, tiredness and stress make it harder to pay attention.
Basically, how I see it is, dyspraxia exacerbates the ‘tiredness-clumsiness cycle’ . (fig. 2). In Figure 3 I’ve made an example cycle for someone who is not dyspraxic and for someone who is.
The terms I use
I don’t say that I ‘have’ dyspraxia because it is not a ‘thing’ (or lack of thing) that I carry around with me. Instead, it is a ‘way of being’ due to the particular way my neurons work. Instead, I say I ‘am’ dyspraxic. I also say things like, ‘I’m having a particularly dyspraxic day to day’ or ‘I did a really dyspraxic thing earlier’ – so I guess in my conception of dyspraxia, people, days and actions can all be dyspraxic.
I use the terms ‘dyspraxia’ when I am referring to a diagnosis and I use ‘dyspraxic’ when I am referring to being a certain way. A health professional will diagnose you with dyspraxia, if your dyspraxic-ness is negatively affecting the quality of your day-to-day life.
The most recognisable trait of dyspraxia is clumsiness because this trait is the most visible to other people. For example, falling over your own feet or bumping into things (doors is my thing, always bumping into doors). I’ll often have people say to me ‘why do you say you’re dyspraxic? why don’t you just say you’re clumsy?’. Telling people I’m clumsy doesn’t explain anything, and really it’s just telling them something that they can see for themselves. Telling people I’m dyspraxic necessarily explains why I am clumsy. It’s especially important in situation where people might judge you negatively because of assumptions they’ve made about your clumsiness. For example, a boss believing you ‘just need to pay more attention’.
Some causes of clumsiness:
How I got diagnosed.
I initially sought a diagnosis of dyslexia when I was in my final year of an undergrad degree at university. Thinking back now I can see that was misguided, as a quick read of the signs of dyslexia tells me I don’t have it, but I knew there was something different about the way my brain processed things and, although I was able to keep up with my peers academically, I could not keep up with them in life! (That is how it felt)
So – I went to the educational psychologist like ‘Hi. There’s something with me. Could it be dyslexia?’ and they were like ‘er.. no, not even a little’ and I was like ‘oh, right, its just… there’s something seriously up with me and its always been that way.’ and they were like ‘huh.. well what kind of things do you struggle with?” and that was when I was told about dyspraxia and we carried out a diagnostic test.
- Protect against sensory ‘over-processing’ by always having on your persons:
- noise cancelling headphones
- a nice smelling scarf
- multiple layers of cloths
- a plain tasting snack
- Build up a small number of close friendships with people who know you and accept you. Recognise and accept that the views other people might have about you are not important. (Consider this: the way you asked the bus driver for a ticket might have seemed weird but you still got a ticket and you travelled to where you were going. Start seeing situations like this as a job well done.)
- Have one notebook that is small enough to always carry on you and has a place that you can attach a pen and whenever you think of something that needs to be remembered write it down in this notebook.
- Have a very small bag that you keep things that you always need when you leave the house (e.g. keys, phone, money, ID cards, medication, notebook and pen). Then, whenever you go out, you can pop this bag in a pocket or into a larger bag and you have all your essentials on you. Also, you could put a hook on the inside of the front door and always store the bag there when you are in your house.