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My life with dyspraxia
I guess I have something to blame if I dont do something so well
It made me embarrassed growing up, I struggled with basic things, its not much fun
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- Introduction -
I decided to do this review after I came across an article online about the Harry Potter film star Daniel Radcliffe, who has recently said that he's been diagnosed with mild dyspraxia. This is something I can relate to, considering I was diagnosed with mild developmental dyspraxia myself, as a young child (I think it was when I was about 4 or 5 years old).
Dyspraxia is different to dyslexia, although they sound similar, indeed people have often presumed that when I mention I have dyspraxia, I meant dyslexia but I have no problems with reading, or writing really (apart from the ocassional writers block but hey, who doesn't get that).
I have found out that dyspraxia can affect you in different ways, some of them are physical and some of them are more mental but ill go into more detail about this later.
- My Primary School Years -
Okay, so right back at the start (and I apologise that my memory is pretty cloudy, when I first started school feel like (indeed it was!) sooo long ago now, im getting old! *eek*), when I first started school, I would see a therapist (educational therapist/psychologist(?) something like that) with my mum every so often. This is, like I say, a long time ago but I know that I was given certain tasks to complete, that would help them judge roughly how far behind other children my age, I was. I'd be given some exercises to do, with some items such as a small sort of cart thing I liked to pretend was a cool skateboard, I remember that lol and the main point behind it all was that if I practiced things that I found difficult and did it often enough, I would improve and all the work would help me be closer in ability to others my age. I put alot of work into it, especially/primarily into improving my physical problems (see below) and after a number of years, I had improved to the point that I was no lower in ability than the average child my age, which was a pretty good accomplishment. I think its important to tackle that sort of thing at a young age, when your able to learn quicker and things can just 'click' that little bit quicker perhaps.
Thats not to say that I didn't struggle at times while at school, I did. There were certain subjects that I felt very frustrated with, it wasn't that I didn't want to learn, or even that I couldn't learn but more that, again the repetitive thing comes in, I had to be shown the patterns behind things, such as in maths. I wouldn't be able to understand how to calculate something on the first explanation or based on one example, not right away, you have to be shown it and shown again and given a bit of extra time, to let it sink in until you get that familiar 'eureka' type of moment, once you've repeated it a few times and can do it yourself. It made me feel a bit, well less than genius but all the same, I was lucky during my primary school years, as far as friends go, I actually had quite a few friends (unlike in high school, unfortunately). Overall, I look back on my primary school years quite fondly, as long as I dont think too much about maths or gym classes, that is.
- Sound/Noise Sensitivity -
This is quite an embarrassing element, which I believe is linked to the dyspraxia. Basically, especially when I was much younger, I would find it difficult to hear loud pitched noises, certain noises like the hoover or a brass band playing in town, or one phobia I used to have, which I still have to this day, is of balloons being burst. I'm too squeamish about that sort of thing, if I think there's going to be a sudden loud noise, I'll get really quite nervous and freak out a little bit.
One day, during my last year in primary school, everyone in my class had organised this surprise party for our teacher because she had just got married. We had used a spare room to put balloons and some snacks and food and stuff and we all hid under the tables, at the end of our mid morning break, waiting for the teacher to come and find us, as we didn't return to the classroom after break. Anyway the people next to me hiding under one of the tables had party poppers and I just had to try and not run for the hills, knowing that all these poppers were going to suddenly be pulled off, it really freaked me out, I was desperate to put my hands over my ears and I was relieved after it was over, I probably had shaking hands after that. That wasn't much fun for me personally!
In order to help with this, the therapist made up a cassette tape that featured noises that would normally unsettle me, it was mainly of a hoover/vaccum cleaner running. Again, it was a case of listening to it and trying to become less agitated and uncomfortable the more I heard it. My parents asked me to play it once a day or so and I believe, if memory serves me right, I was given 10p every time I would listen to it right through to the end and in the end, while I still feel frustrated and agitated at times when I hear some random noises (the most random things, like people sipping tea and slurping, the noise of people moving cutlery and crockery, packets of crisps being scrunched, there are other things but I can't think of them off the top of my head), I feel it has helped to some extent. I used to not like the local parade in town with the brass bands that would march through the town, with the drums and the trombones and so on and that worried me when I wanted to see my first concert, I worried I wouldn't be able to cope with the loud music. I'd even feel quite claustrophobic and panic-y when I'd be at fairs that played loud music, with the mix of loud music I can't turn down myself and the busy crowds moving to and fro, that I didn't like at the time but it doesn't affect me now, as much as it used to and ive been to four BSB concerts, so, at least I know I can handle that lol. Although, having said that, what does worry me is the pyrotechnics that could be used. I have always been quite nervous and squeamish about fireworks too, I'll watch the towns fireworks display from outside the house as we're lucky, we get a good view of it where we live but I can't stand to be too close like in the grounds of the sports field they set them off in, the loud bangs give me the heeby-jeebies! (sp? lol). I remember asking my best friend in London about any pyros used in the BSB concert, I wanted to be aware of when they were used, so I wouldn't be as jumpy or would react too extremely, although she thought it was strange I was asking, its just one of those things... im happier that their latest tour features no pyros and is more basic, for purely selfish reasons lol at least I didn't have to worry about that, at least... but the loud music doesn't frighten or worry me anymore...
- Physical Problems -
Dyspraxia affects you physically, mainly with balance and co-ordination issues. When I first started school, what must have been my first issue/problem was lerning to properly write, to get the correct shape of the letters written (ie the letters of the alphabet). Reading and writing really isn't a problem for me now but back then it did take a bit of extra work, where the issue was being able to grip the pencil and co-ordinate drawing out the letter. I had to practice that alot and I had a fancy pen or pencil that was particularly thick and it was made of a soft material that made it easy to grip and hold, which helped.
I would struggle quite alot in gym class, even fairly basic things I would find difficult. Other kids would, in their spare time or in the playground, play with skipping ropes or/and do somersaults and other such things which I wouldn't even attempt (or I might have done once but it wasn't pretty!). Even forming a straight line with my feet, one in front of the other (you know like the technique I believe the US police use to check if a driver is drunk) would be difficult, so it was a problem. I certainly hope I'm never pulled over if I visit the US and am asked to do that, though I'd probably be better at it now but you'd be naturally nervous anyway and I dont trust I wouldnt fail out of nerves! speaking of the US, it irks me that I believe they call this 'condition' clumsy child syndrome, which isn't too positive or nice a name for it, I feel - its not like I could help it and I didn't and don't like to be thought of as a clumsy child or clumsy person in general.
Apart from having problems with gym/physical education activities (rounders was always the sport I dreaded the most by the way, the rules seemed so complicated I never fully understood it... I guess im never meant to be a sports person!) and anything else that required good balance, some pretty basic skills baffled me and still do. For a start, you may not believe this but I never learnt to tie shoelaces. I found the co-ordination required to do that was just too much for me, to be honest. Its not something im proud of but there you go, ive managed to get by with shoes I pull straight on or with trainers with velcro, or another product my parents discovered that helped me, was something called Vizi/Vizzi (sp?) laces, which were these bright, neon coloured spiral shaped, sort of elastic things you could use instead of traditional laces in trainers and you only had to pull them to tighten them, as far as I remember, so no tying was required.
The other main physical task I never learnt to do is to swim properly. Now this doesn't mean I didn't try, oh trust me I tried, alot! my parents got me to take lessons in Edinburgh, at a place that trained instructors and I spent lots of time working on swimming. I could (well, still can) kick well and could co-ordinate my arms but both at once? I never managed to do it... it doesn't help that I am quite phobic of getting water in my eyes and one time an instructor took me out to the deep end and then let go which scared the you know whats out of me, that tactic did not work and im still not fully able to swim but oh well, I'll survive.
Apart from those, there were other things that took me longer than most kids to learn how to do, which I just remembered, such as how to pull the ring pull on cans (like of fanta or coke or whatever) and also how to open crisp packets. Here the problem at first was to do with co-ordinating my hands and fingers so I could grip the item and open it. I still have bad luck with opening crip packets, I dont know if its maybe partly because I'm left handed, so I kind of naturally pull it the wrong way but too often, it rips down the side or back of the bag, which is a nuisance.
- Learning Difficulties -
There are a number of different subjects and things that I have found particularly difficult to learn, which I'll go into detail about now.
Other basic 'life' skills - Apart from not learning to tie shoelaces and to swim, there were some pretty basic things that I used to get particularly muddled with. For example, when I was younger I would get mixed up with push and pull, if I saw push written on a door, I would pull it and realise I got it wrong. Others would learn the difference pretty much right away but I found I got confused by it for a fair while after everyone else, which was fairly embarrassing at the time. Again, as with most everything else, given some extra time and encountering enough doors and so on (lol), I started to get better and I wouldn't mix up the difference but I did find it confusing at first.
Another basic thing I mixed up was left and right. Another memory I have was of one time when we all had to line up in a big, long circle in the schools gym, the headmaster came in and would say either left or right to each pupil in line and they would have to hold up the correct hand (this still confuses me somewhat, I mean his right hand would be my left and all of that(!)) but I wasn't too good at it by this point (I must have only been about 5 or so) and I remember getting it wrong, which left me feeling quite ashamed at the time, considering it was in front of everyone.
Alphabet - The alphabet was something that I obviously knew of, since the start of school or whenever they first introduced it. However, I quite clearly remembering that I kept to myself that I never fully learnt the whole alphabet off by heart until quite late on, around primary 4 or so, I believe. The class rooms always had one of those visual alphabet posters (with an item to represent every letter), so I could always kind of cheat before then but I know I did take alot longer than others, to properly, fully learn it too and again it was a case of hearing and seeing it enough before it fully sunk in.
Maths - Oh maths classes, how I hate thee! maths was and is the worst of the worst, in my opinion lol it was the one subject (still is) where its clear that I have struggles. I always needed help with maths and I alwys struggled, to a certain extent anyway. Within the first few years at primary school, the times tables were introduced and I just found it so difficult, I really struggled to learn them, which was a problem for a good number of years afterwards. Eventually, while I was in high school (well our equivalent, the local academy), I discovered in town there was an after schools class called Kumon, which very much helped me properly re-learn the times tables and helped with basic arithmetic and so on.
I would worry in maths classes in school, that the teacher would ask me what the answer is because I could figure it out but it just always took me longer, first to really think how to figure out the answer and then to actually calculate it and write it down, so if a teacher turned and asked me 'whats 8x7' I'd freeze, not be able to think and say I didn't know, which made me seem pretty dumb in front of the whole class, so suffice to say, I wasn't keen on those times. I remember the teacher used to have a big plastic, toy clock and she'd make the hands point to different numbers or times on the clock and that would be the question, so one hand on seven and the other to nine, whats 9x7 and they'd point to someone to answer it and so on... grr I did not like that clock...
Another struggle within the maths classes that I remember was whats called SMP. The problem solving elements I found particularly difficult to understand. It would be full of things like a story about a farmer who died and left a certain percentage of money to each of his relatives and certain taxes or other things had to be taken away and so on. I found it hard to picture the actual calculation required, all the extra information didn't help. I would sometimes just stare at the paper and my mind would go blank. However, I did get some help, where possible, although I feel I got much better help with this sort of thing at high school, rather than at primary school.
Art & Design - I never much enjoyed art and design, both in primary and high school. I used to get annoyed at the end of primary school that we still had to do this, considering, as im sure I told the teacher, there was no real need of such a subject, for me I just knew it wasn't something I was particularly good at and it would make no difference in me getting a job, so why should I have to keep struggling with it? but no, I had to keep going... cheers(!). It wasn't difficult like maths, I just seem to be quite a perfectionist and I didn't like what I came up with, it was never quite as good as other peoples work and when it comes to working with clay, thats more difficult as far as co-ordination is concerned. With painting, perhaps co-ordination was awkward there too, to be honest I don't remember, its not something I've wanted to go back to, I just know I didn't enjoy it really. Though, funnily enough, I always did like to doodle in my school books, indeed I got told off for that on one of my first days in primary one, I do remember that! I like to draw doodles/cartoons because to me, im not a perfectionist as far as thats concerned. If I try to draw something and I have a photo or I know exactly what it looks like, it doesn't matter how hard I try, I can't re-create what I see in front of me, whats in my brain, well enough and it drives me mad but with cartoons, well thats different, to me anyway it is, its whatever you make up as you go along... so I like that...
Home economics - This was during my high school years, we had a couple of years or so worth of home economics classes. This is where we had to do some basic baking, which I found difficult, not only because of my dyspraxia but also because I'm left handed, which made using some cutting implements awkward. I had a lady from the LSS (see 'my high school years' below) who came to my classes and helped me out with this, which was a relief. I wouldn't say im great at cooking, its somethng I really ought to learn more of to be honest, the microwave is the one item for cooking I use most to be honest but there you go lol at the time I found it awkward though but it was so long ago, I can't really remember many details. I remember I got a special left handed cutter of some sort, to help me though. Sorry I can't really remember anymore specific details.
Craft, Design & Techonology - This was another class during my high school years that I found difficult and needed help from a lady from the LSS (see 'my high school years' below). In this class, we had to create fancy bluprint type things, where we had to calculate distances and draw them out to scale, which I found difficult. I also remember making a plastic trowel in this class, this I needed help with too.
- My High School Years -
So now I was a bit older and the rather large event of going to high, or secondary, school happened. I have to say, as much as I did struggle at times in primary school (especially the earlier years there), high school I don't feel I enjoyed very much overall at all, for one I didn't have the same number of friends at all and actually, personality wise, I feel I changed very quickly from being pretty relaxed and approachable to being very shy and finding it very difficult to start conversations with people I didn't know. Whether this is entirely, or only in part, due to the dyspraxia, well I think it did play a part, if only a small one. For one, I had help from the LSS ( Learning Support Services), where either I'd go to that department and they would teach me within a small group of other people with similar problems (dyslexia/dyspraxia etc.), so I wouldn't see all the people in the other parts of the school as long as I was there, otherwise in some classes, like home economics mentioned above, a lady from the LSS department would come and be with me and would help me during the class. This made me more self conscious, though I was glad for the help.
Unfortunately, as much as I tried my best to catch up with SMP and get better with maths, I wasn't scoring well enough to be able to sit the better grade exams when it came to the standard grade (the equivalent of o levels or whatever their called now in England) and I ended up having to go to a maths class, I had to stop going to the LSS department for classes there and it ended up that I was in basically the worst class I've ever been in. It was full of people who didnt care, they were rude, badly behaved and the teacher and I would both get driven mad by most of them. She tried to help me as much as she could and I ended up getting the highest grade I could out of the exam I was allowed to sit (for those interested, I got a 5 (foundation) in maths for standard grade), so I guess it was the best we could expect but I know I have it in me to learn more and be better, I just needed extra time and help and in this instance, the Scottish exam system just didn't seem to be able to accomodate that properly. Oh well, I've done alright for myself all the same, infact when I went to college, I completed two maths based higher national units, including business statistics, which makes me very proud.
Also, regarding maths, I started attending Kumon classes outside of school time, after my mum heard about it locally. It costs extra but for those who struggle with the basics, its very good. It worked well for me, as it involved repeating things over and over until it clicked, which seems to be the way to get over everything thats a problem with dyspraxia, or most things anyway, though some things ive still not learnt but hopefully you know what I mean.
Gym was still not my favourite class or activity but I generally got by alright. My balance and co-ordination definitely improved during my primary school years, so it wasn't so bad, infact I remember at times I was quite good at lacrosse and basketball. One time I even got what we called a positive referral (instead of only being told when you did something really wrong and getting in trouble, our school had this system so if you did something particularly well, you were given a slip which detailed it and congratulated you, which I liked) because I did so well in a game of basketball, which I was also proud of.
However, there is only really bad memory I have, regarding gym in high school. This was one day, when I was maybe half way through the school (so, like, when I was in around about the third year there, out of six years in total), we had an army or military recruitment day, when we were all encouraged to complete this assault course laid out in the gym. This struck some major fear into me at the time, I was in a line of people and could see everyone else doing it and I just froze, thinking no way can I do that stuff and knowing I was in front of all these people, so basically when it was my time and they called me forward, I just panicked and burst out crying. Now THATS embarrassing! that whole day is a nightmare in my mind, how embarrassing. I wish that never happened and why they made everyone try and do it, I dont know but I certainly don't appreciate it. Happy days, huh? ugh... so I wasn't very happy that day and when I got to the stage when we didn't have to go to gym at all, in senior years, I admit I was quite relieved.
Overall, really it was my shyness that made high school more miserable for me, which may be linked to my dyspraxia in part but I don't know enough about it to say whether its the whole cause, by any means. I was told off by teachers because they knew that I wasn't coming up to them when I was struggling with work and they said I should just let them know and ask for more help with things but for me it was a pride issue and I kept telling myself that I don't need to always tell them when im struggling but if I just read the question often enough and thought about it hard enough, I'd be able to do the work fine.
- Any Long Lasting Effects? -
Well, my self esteem isn't brilliant by anyones standards, my social life near where I live is extremely minimal, ever since high school really. My self confidence has been bad, or low but I have been to a short confidence course ran by the outpatients department in a nearby hospital, so I suppose that helped.
I still find maths a difficult subject (thank heck for calculators and google for maths calculations lol) and when I attend my yoga classes, I do hope they don't do too many of the complicated twists, thats what I struggle with, anything complicated to do with co-ordinating legs and arms and what-not. It does not help me personally if you say put your opposing knee parallel to your whatsit, sorry, I can't picture that at all, I'm stuck, help me please lol that sort of thing just goes over my head but I feel that attending a yoga class once a week, most weeks, it helps me, I can do some, if not most, of the moves to some extent, it helps to relax me and make me feel like I've achieved something, so that helps me now im a little older. I feel it should help in general to practice a little bit of balancing and such.
I still cant swim properly or tie fancy bows, blow up and tie a balloon or tie shoelaces but I wouldn't say that it means im a completely stupid person, I have a job and am independent in most ways. I'm lucky that I believe I have the mild form of dyspraxia and that its the developmental type, which means that through repetitive work, I can pick up the patterns and understand how to do things, such as times tables in maths.
- Simple vs Complicated -
This is something ive thought for some time. Basically, there's a part of me that feels that I tend to find the more basic tasks take more getting used to, be it cooking, making mental calculations or any kind of craft work, pretty much. I work in a college library and the new books have to be covered but I can't do that well, so someone else does that, yet I've done well in computing, I've ran basic websites and created databases. I used to do well at speaking foreign languages too, so it can seem as if I pick up how to do the more specialised, or complicated, things easier than the more basic tasks. I just thought its interesting, so I thought I'd that in there but I'm not calling myself an intellectual genius, im not a savant by any means lol I still have my limits.
- Useful Links -
The UK dyspraxia foundation - http://www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk/
Basic, easy to read information on dyspraxia (the things it affects etc.) - http://www.rdg.ac.uk/studyskills/dyslexia/dyspraxia%20info.htm
Kumon UK - http://www.kumon.co.uk/
- Something To Bare In Mind -
Yes, I feel I should make it clear that for me, I believe my form of dyspraxia is pretty mild and so my experiences are based on that. I have known someone who had a much more severe form of dyspraxia and she had alot more difficulties, she was prone to falling alot and struggled more. I'm really lucky to only have the mild form, I know and if someone is diagnosed with the severe type or form of this, then remember that obviously, symptoms will be stronger than mine.
- Conclusions -
I'd like to end this by letting you know how I've done. So...
Since leaving school, how have I done academically? well I got 6 college level standard grades, 3 university/college level highers (two Bs and a C, including a B in English!) and I graduated from a local college with an HND in Information Management in Business, which involved me doing two compulsory maths related higher national units, so really I feel ive done very well for myself. Not to mention the fact that in my current job, I do the cashing up twice a week and make sure the money balances against our records and I take money from people and pay it into the till, so despite my struggles with maths, ive now not only achieved two maths related higher national units but I can also put on my CV that I've handled money.
I wouldn't say that being diagnosed with this means the end of the world, in any way and I wouldn't say that its something that you'll never notice, never feel or that you can conquer it entirely with a couple of years work or anything like that... at times I still feel that it affects me, although, like dyslexia, it is normally thought of as something that just affects kids at school age.
I can only tell you my experiences, which is what this review contains. I hope that it might help you, whether you've been diagnosed with the same thing, whether your maybe curious about what it is in general or if a child of your own has recently been diagnosed. I would say that if your the latter, a parent with a recently diagnosed child, you should be sure to check with the school what extra support they offer and talk to him or her about it, they'll probably say their fine and not want to admit that their maybe struggling, so be sure to just let them know that your there for them, which is common sense but its the best thing I can think to say.
Thanks to everyone whos read through my review, this is the first time ive talked about this online in any kind of detail, I hope it proves useful for some at least. I like to feel as if perhaps my story is a good example of a success story in that I did well with grades at the end of school and graduated college, so even though I only have it mildly, I think it proves its not the end of the world by any means! anyway, what doesn't kill you (out of frustration and shame, if nothing else) makes us stronger, right?! Many thanks for all r/r/c's and please, no rude comments, thank you.