As a child, a significant part of your identity is formed from what you are and aren’t good at.
“You’ve always been a brilliant reader”
“Ellie’s accident prone”
“You always did think outside of the box”
These evaluations help us to form an image of ourselves as the world sees us, and in turn helps us to understand ourselves as we are at the current minute. Positive proclamations may become some of our proudest attributes, the negatives our grounding shame. As someone with a minor specific learning difficulty, they become vital to constructing your defence against a world which refuses to recognise your existence, and your particular set of strengths and weaknesses.
When I began to consider the idea that my chaotic existence may indicate a profile of dyspraxia, my brain immediately shot back realities of my childhood that destabilised my self diagnosis: But you’ve always behaved well in class. you were one of the top readers as a child. If you’re dyspraxic, then how could you have reached university without it affecting you. You’ve got it better than so many other people your age, so why does it even matter?
Looking past these quick assumptions, it had lay there all along, between the lines which I’d learned to understand myself: I always behaved in class, but was constantly chastised for my handwriting, rarely answered questions both from shyness and from failing to process the question in time, and developed excellent bullsh*tting skills from last minute homework and excuses. I was one of the top readers, but dreaded reading out loud and skipped sentences, paragraphs and indeed pages of the books I was reading – often without noticing. I reached university, but my organisational challenges contributed to the rapid decline of my mental health. I do have it better than so many other people my age, but these things matter because I deserve help and understanding.
Self-doubt is an easy quality to build when your existence is characterised by small disappointments. A dropped ball at a key moment of a team sport (or indeed, the one time you do successfully dribble the ball, dribbling it the wrong way), forgetting the project you spent hours completing, getting lost, being late, losing your prized possessions. Self-doubt is an easy quality to build when people capitalise on your failures to make themselves look superior. When your ‘friends’ in primary school learn that the best way to humiliate you is to run away, because any attempt to catch them up will doubtless result in embarrassment or injury. It’s an easy quality to build when you are constantly being told that if you tried just that little bit harder, got your head out of the clouds and prepared yourself for the real world, everything would be fine and you would stop being such an inconvenience to people.
This all sounds quite dramatic, and it is important to mention that those telling you to get yourself sorted out are the ones fighting in your corner, the ones who want to see you succeed. Most of what people tell you comes from a place of hope and compassion, even if it is masked in frustration, and it is often the receiver who distorts their words into a reflection upon their self worth. Still, it is clear to see how one can foster a less than excellent sense of self worth, which can impact on their belief in a diagnosis, especially when their expression of a disability is atypical. Unlike other specific learning difficulties, the realities of Dyspraxia are little understood. Although conditions such as autism and dyslexia come with a whole different set of preconceptions and stereotypes – Big Bang Theory, I’m looking at you – the specific issue for dyspraxic people is that so few people have even a basic awareness of what the condition entails. My computer’s spell check doesn’t even acknowledge that ‘Dyspraxic’ is even a word.
My own self-doubt was overcome mainly by my excellent disability mentor, as well as various online groups which I began to access around half a year after my official diagnosis, when I decided to look for others who shared my experiences. Confidence is the best defence. After being given specific advice about how to organise my life through mentoring, I realised the challenges I faced and learnt how to evaluate my successes and failures to overcome these challenges. Through groups, I learned that my experience was real and valid. This culminated in me having the confidence to tell people about my Dyspraxia when the difficulties it caused me became especially prominent, to ask for arrangemets in academia and work, to get the support that I need and deserve.
It should go without saying that if you are Dyspraxic, you can do amazing things. You are brilliant at thinking outside the lines, and you can make adjustments that ensure that you are not held back. The key is having the confidence to ask for what you need. Just because certain parts of your story aren’t in keeping with stereotypical diagnostic features, it doesn’t mean that the wider narrative doesn’t indicate towards your issue. Just because your wider narrative makes life difficult sometimes, that doesn’t mean you can’t be awesome. Just because people may not have heard of Dyspraxia, doesn’t mean its not an important part of you that deserves to be addressed and accounted for.