This week from the 11th-17th of October is Dyspraxia awareness week at the Dyspraxia Foundation and in recognition of awareness week I thought it was about time I wrote a new blog. There are many Dyspraxic adults and young people sat at computers up and down the country (probably as I type) writing blogs for awareness week, so far I’ve read blogs on Dyspraxia and mental health, life as a Dyspraxic student and the general daily life ups and downs. I have also heard a few news items and media coverage discussing Dyspraxia. I wanted to focus on something slightly different to the other blogs so far. The concept of organisation can at times without the right strategies in place be quite challenging for those of us with Dyspraxia, so for awareness week I would like to highlight this issue and the difficulties it can cause in life after school or university and onto employment. I dream of a day when invisible conditions and disabilities are not unheard of, that we have just as much recognition as those with visible disabilities and that we are listened to. Awareness week has given many of us a platform to have a voice and be heard. I hope people continue to feel empowered long after awareness week is over.
Organisation can incorporate many parts of our life, and as someone with Dyspraxia this can mean the difference between attending the right appointments at the correct time and going to a completely different city for said appointments. Organisation skills of those with Dyspraxia can vary massively and will impact on our life in very different ways. I remember reading my school reports and teachers commenting on my ‘good organisation skills’ but this was only because I worked incredibly hard to appear that way. Inside my head was a different story.
There are six areas that are important to me when it comes to organisation (and probably others with Dyspraxia too):
- Keeping things tidy
- Getting out on time
- Making sure I have the right things with me
- Meeting deadlines
- Following a routine
- Sequencing and processing information
One thing that I have always found difficult and has wound up more people than I can count on my hands, is how much longer it takes me to do things. I have realised that I would be no good to anyone in a fire and I would be terrible in any situation that requires a quick response. I like to take my time so that I can do things properly and I hate to be rushed especially when I have to leave the house (which is why I wouldn’t be great in a fire, although with a real threat of danger I might think differently!) I try to be as tidy as possible but sometimes my tidiness looks far from tidy to other people- I know it drives my younger sister up the wall and she dreads sharing a room with me when we go on holiday. Often my to-do list has ‘tidy up’ written on it but it will take me about a week before ‘tidy up’ is finally ticked off and I can start on job number two, although a week later I’m back to square one with ‘tidy up’ back at the top of my to do list and I have to start all over again. I don’t know how it happens- I wish I did. I have just accepted it as a Dyspraxic trait that I will never really understand but is part of who I am.
I try to plan my day around how much my senses can cope with- too much sensory stimulation can be overwhelming for many people with Dyspraxia and can make me exhausted. I think this is often hard for other people to understand and to visualise how uncomfortable some situations can make me feel. Contrasts between noise, crowds, lights, different or new people, levels of concentration needed and different ways to travel can make me feel stressed, on edge and overwhelmed easily. To deal with this and to process the environment around me I often need time to think and take in the new set of sensory information. So for example I will find it difficult to jump straight from the train to the pub- I will need time in the middle to collect my thoughts. I have also realised that I am sensitive to light, which means that I find night clubs physically painful and this even extends to looking directly at the flicker of candles- again this is hard to explain and I know difficult for others to comprehend.
For me time keeping is very important, despite it being one of the things I have always found the hardest. I want to attend meetings on time, meet up with friends when I’ve said I am going to be there and catch trains and other methods of public transport without a mad rush. Running late for anything fills me with anxiety and sometimes I’d rather not go at all than have to walk in late to a meeting. To ensure that I do get out of the house on time and to avoid letting people down, I start getting ready to leave earlier than most people would. Before I leave the house I have to check that I have everything I need probably more times than necessary but this process makes me feel confident and comfortable. I give myself extra time to get ready and to travel to the destination itself, normally half an hour before I have to leave. I often have to travel by train, it’s better for me to arrive at the train station with time to kill rather than getting there just as the train is pulling in onto the platform- this extra time gives me much needed processing time.
Many people with Dyspraxia have sequencing and processing difficulties, this means following the steps or instructions in the right order and being able to stick to them- this affects how successful we are in following routines. Many times I have had a plan of great things to do that day- but I simply run out of time to complete all of them. I am sure this happens to many of us from time to time, Dyspraxic and non Dyspraxic alike. Dyspraxia affects short term memory and organising your thoughts into actions, which means I really struggle to follow verbal instructions. I may remember to do the first couple of steps in a set of instructions but will get lost at steps three, four and five- processing simple sequences and doing them in the right order can be a real challenge for people with Dyspraxia. I often get misunderstood as lazy or forgetful, when actually the instructions have been relayed to me too quickly without enough time to process them and they haven’t been backed up in writing- I thrive when I see things written down.
Organisation for Dyspraxics also covers organising your movements so they are performed in a coordinated way, preferably in the right order. For example your brain may tell you to do something, such as pour the milk into the tea- pretty straightforward don’t you think? However the organisation of these seemingly simple movements gets muddled up and confused in a Dyspraxic brain when sending messages to the correct body parts to perform the action. This means that instead of pouring the milk into the tea, your body will organise you to pour milk onto the table. This can be very frustrating for many of us with Dyspraxia and embarrassing too when we are in someone else’s house. A good way to visualise this is that your brain is like that owl from Harry Potter who is often late delivering his messages and always encounters problems along the way, he gets there eventually but is often too late to deliver the right information. This owl is also not really understood and is seen as a bit useless. Not all of us can work as smoothly and organised as Hedwig. This owl is probably Dyspraxic too. I am aware that I have just gone and compared myself to an owl. It can be exhausting when your brain refuses to cooperate with your body, making me get tired easily and means that I need more sleep to compensate for working so much harder than everyone else.
The transition from university to employment can be a challenging one, but with the right support the jump doesn’t seem as overwhelming. With all the things I have conquered in my life, being able to be successful in the world of work has to be one of my greatest achievements- partly because many people didn’t believe that I would get here. At school and university there is always support systems available in the form of student services and SEN provision. At school I had a statement for special educational needs which meant that there were certain requirements and conditions that my teachers had to stick to and I have always had extra time in exams right up to degree level. The extra time was there to give me ample opportunity to read the questions and to process the information- sequencing and processing information corresponds to exam situations too and without this extra time I think I would have really struggled.
Just like school I think it is as equally difficult to be understood and for your needs to always be met at work. I hope that awareness week reaches employers too so that they can learn how to make a work environment easier for their employees with hidden conditions. Another dilemma that I know many face during the job application stage, is when should you disclose your Dyspraxia? I’ve found this question a pain to answer because I don’t think there’s a simple solution. I think a lot depends on the organisation you are applying to and how comfortable you feel with your differences. I’ve gone through stages when I didn’t disclose at all to writing ‘Dyspraxia’ on every application I completed. I have now realised that It’s important to be open from the start, so if there’s a ‘disability’ box I will disclose my Dyspraxia. If the organisation don’t want to offer me an interview or employ me because of my Dyspraxia, then quite frankly I don’t want to be working for that kind of organisation.
A challenge I have faced at work recently is being given lots of information and instructions without the time to process what I have just heard, this makes me feel incredibly overwhelmed, especially in a work situation when I want to prove that I am good at my job. To deal with this I try to take time out, away from my colleagues to collect my thoughts, I also remind people that I need things written down. Most people are accommodating of this. despite not really understanding. Sometimes it takes a bit of pushing to get the reasonable adjustments you deserve. I would like to think in the society we live in today people are accommodating and supportive of those with disabilities, I know that is far from the case in many employment sectors- sadly there is still the old fashioned view that if we can’t see it, it isn’t there. We need to work together to change this misconception.
It is more than likely that there will be someone with Dyspraxia in your workplace or university, that little bit of support and understanding can mean the world to them. When people write things down for me without being asked, I know that they are starting to ‘get it’ and having the extra time to do things is more valuable to me than anything else- I don’t think I’d be able to function without it.
This week is about talking about Dyspraxia. Adapting to support those whose brains are wired slightly differently should be the norm and not a rare occurrence. It’s time to offer a helping hand or an understanding nod to those who may sometimes struggle and to realise that the conditions needing more recognition and acceptance are those that we can not see.