Life before I knew I had dyspraxia was full of unknown terrors and humiliations. Dyspraxia is a neurological disorder of motor coordination (usually apparent from childhood) that manifests as difficulty in thinking out, planning out, and executing planned movements or tasks. For example, I was 22 when I learned that I did not know how to blow my nose. When my brother asked, in response to observing the fruitless honking that passed for nose-blowing: “Kate, are you trying to close both nostrils?” I was. He thought this was hilarious but I was terrified. How had I gone my whole life without knowing how to perform a basic task? I was ashamed and fearful wondering what else was I doing wrong without knowing. Anxiety gnawed at me for days.
The second week in October is Dyspraxia Awareness Week. During last year’s awareness week a friend shared a Bustle article “27 Signs You May Have Dyspraxia”. I identified with 24 of the signs and began to see myself in a new light. I went to my doctor and asked about getting a formal diagnosis. He had me describe my symptoms and suggested that, since testing is expensive and I’m not looking for accommodations or funding, I should live my life assuming I have it. I’m confident in this assessment and I’ve confirmed my dyspraxia diagnosis with an excellent self-assessment tool from the University of South Wales.
I describe dyspraxia as similar to dyslexia (the conditions are closely related). People with dyslexia experience challenges with language and reading, but with dyspraxia people experience challenges with space and time. They are sometimes misdiagnosed as having autism, sensory processing disorder, or ADHD since the symptoms may overlap and some people have multiple disorders. Personally, I’d wondered if I had ADHD or SPD, but nothing quite fit.
In spite of two music degrees, I can’t play a musical instrument, or even clap along at concerts.
Many people with dyspraxia have a great deal of shame around their inability to perform tasks such as riding a bike, applying makeup, eating, and basic self-care. Driving is a particular challenge since it combines so many skills. Many people with dyspraxia choose not to drive or struggle with driving and navigation. I can only imagine how much easier I would have found my early driving experiences if I’d known I had dyspraxia.
I think part of what hid my dyspraxia was that I was high functioning. When I found out about the condition I was already several years into a professional career and had earned 3 degrees. Sure, I couldn’t clap along at concerts…but I had earned a music degree and performed as an opera singer. I didn’t let anyone know that I learned all of my rhythms by rote and that instead of counting the beats between verses, I would memorize the accompaniment and wait for cues. I was certain other musicians would see these coping mechanisms as laziness or self-indulgence. In spite of two music degrees, I can’t play a musical instrument, or even clap along at concerts. In public, I’d make sure to clap as quietly as possible so no one would notice when I wasn’t on the beat. I was never on the beat.
I, like many adults with dyspraxia, tried to cover for my symptoms for years. I’d knock something over or walk into a table and I’d lie and say I hadn’t been careful when the truth was that I was trying so hard to be careful. I was running late so I’d come up with an excuse rather than admit I’d gotten lost and travelled a substantial distance in the wrong direction.
While formal treatment isn’t readily available for adults, I am profoundly grateful to know that I have dyspraxia. For many dyspraxics, simply knowing they have the condition can have a positive impact. For me, when I could explain my struggles as symptoms of dyspraxia I was suddenly able to be gentler with myself.
Through online support groups and reading as much as I can, I’ve found emotional support and practical coping mechanisms. There’s great information about everything from how to thrive in the workplace to managing personal grooming (even ponytails are a struggle for me some days). I’ve also taken up swimming and yoga in an effort to improve my body awareness and co-ordination. I had tried yoga before my diagnosis but it’s easier now; knowing I’ll struggle with the sequences, I’ve given myself the freedom to explore and to enjoy the movement.
As I embrace my dyspraxia I’m happy to see that many employers are now are taking advantage of the assets dyspraxics bring, including creative problem solving and superior empathy and language skills. My dyspraxia has helped me to develop my teaching skills, as I’m able to break down nearly any process into manageable steps without sounding condescending. I’m intuitive with others and approach every encounter with kindness and empathy. I come up with creative solutions to problems and I have learned how to express myself clearly and with humour.
As I come to the end of the first year I’ve known about my dyspraxia I can look back and see how much my life has improved. By embracing coping mechanisms over shame I’m accomplishing things I never thought possible. Moving forward, my goal is to focus on the gifts: to find a way to celebrate my wonky brain, to find humour in my struggles, and to embrace my accidental slapstick moments. I’m moving beyond acceptance into celebration. This diagnosis has helped me to be more authentically myself and live without shame. Since I have to have dyspraxia might as well embrace it.