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DYSPRAXIC EXCELLENCE

I was the child who got lost in a square room, who couldn’t tie his shoe laces, or tie, and appeared to struggle with hand-eye coordination. I frequently arrived home with a missing sock and my shirt buttons in the wrong holes. So I know a thing or two about coordination (and organisation) difficulties. At 5 years old, presented with the difficulty of learning to write, I can remember wondering why I struggled so badly when my classmates simply didn’t have the same difficulties. My letters had a weird life of their own, the curves distorted by corrections to spinning off in different directions. Spiders would have been more legible.
It then occurred to me, why was I having so much difficulty with letters when I was good at drawing? At the time, I spent much of my free time drawing animals. So I decided to look at letters as if they were animals. Overnight, my letters became well formed and legible. I didn’t realise at the time, but this is the key to dyspraxic success with motor coordination ‘difficulties’. The problem is not achieving a task, but with how we are expected to do it, particularly if this becomes traumatic.

Consider the difference between writing letters and drawing animals. Letters require learning how to make arbitrary marks on paper. There is no rhyme or reason to the form of letters, they have been entirely made up. In contrast, drawing animals is not arbitrary at all. We make marks on paper with purpose, imagining the whole animal and how it can be represented; holistic, meaningful, and making what we can visualise concrete.

Another early challenge was catching balls, something I was highly motivated to do. I was told to watch the ball and move my hands to it. But this was too slow and cumbersome. What made the difference, was learning to catch balls in a way that built on my imagination and visualisation strengths; watching the ball was insufficient. I learned to imagine (visually anticipate) where the ball would be, and simultaneously imagine my hands to be where the ball would be at that immediate future moment. Sometimes, this slowed time right down. The strategy worked so well, that I became much better than my peers at catching balls (becoming leg slip in my school cricket team).

I could see this working for my dyspraxic daughter who loved to dance but always found it difficilt to learn dance routines step-by-step. In contrast, she could dance beautifully if she imagined the whole routine and danced by feel (holistic, intuitive, visual). In effect, we start with what others are only aiming for later when they have integrated all the steps and start to express themselves. We start by expressing ourselves and let the details take care of themselves in that context. Ironically, this is actually far more effective than learning ‘by the numbers’.

So if you are finding that you have difficulty with any coordination task, ask yourself, how have I been taught to do this? Was it step-by-step? Did someone well meaning try to ‘break it down’? If so, rethink how you might do this holistically, intutitively, by feel with purpose using your visualisation skills. You might find that you become better at it than your peers.
Ross Cooper

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