The value of supporting others

We all have stories to tell whether it is about overcoming disabilities, mental health difficulties or career successes. We also learn so much from one another- one persons life is another persons learning. We all have skills and strengths that make us who we are, personally I have always excelled at literacy, I developed a real love for writing very early on in my life- I see the world in words and not pictures, as do many people with Dyspraxia. Definitely a positive to having your brain wired differently. Please see my recent blog post about visual perception to understand more.

Throughout  my life I have felt misunderstood, different to my peers and stupid because I couldn’t tell the time. I have realised that these events have all acted as positives to my life now, they have given me experiences that others can only imagine and allow me to relate to those going through similar challenges. I may not be good at maths, get lost more often than I’d like and stumble over my words in social situations- but that is only part of who I am. My Dyspraxia has given me a story to tell, a story that I am proud is part of me and a story that has made this blog possible. The teachers who wrote me off, decided that I wasn’t capable before I even tried and assumed that having a label meant limitations, were wrong and they lacked the education to have an understanding. The understanding to know that I worked in a different way, the understanding to know that being taken out of lessons to go to the ‘special needs room’ made me stand out, the understanding to realise that I needed more time to finish my lunch- I couldn’t just ‘hurry up’ and the understanding to know that I was ‘walking funny’ because it was near the end of the day, I was tired and had used all of my energy to perform simple tasks throughout that school day. This understanding can only come with education, and I am here to provide that education.

Recently I watched a documentary about the stage production of ‘a curious incident of a dog in the night time’ I remember reading the book when I was about 13 and being fascinated by the story. The book is about an autistic boy who becomes a detective as he tries to solve a murder mystery but also begins to understand the world around him. The book is also about the wider issues of being different and feeling misunderstood- not fitting into the world around you, and in many cases not understanding why. I related to much of the discussion in the documentary, although I am not autistic, I understand what it feels like when people don’t understand you- when they make assumptions, before asking the right questions. This stage adaptation of the curious incident, really opens your eyes to the struggles and barriers people can face when navigating what can seem so confusing and complicated. Simple tasks such as using public transport can be a nightmare- travelling to new places is still anxiety provoking for me and I have to take the time to prepare myself for the unknown. As a Dyspraxic teenager I was captivated by this book, I understood his frustrations and celebrated with him when he made small achievements. The book ends with the phrase ‘that means I can do anything’, this poignant ending allows people to understand that labels do not stop people being successful or achieving what to them is important in life. I believe that we can all do anything, having Dyspraxia may make some things harder, but it also means that we have talents that others do not. The book ends with his dreams and ambitions-  and the understanding that he is just as capable as everyone else. We will all get there, and this is the message that I want to convey to others.

I have found such comfort and satisfaction in writing, that I wanted to do more. I want to have an impact on people, to support others struggling to understand their Dyspraxia and talk about my own experiences. I have realised that I am also able to talk about how being different is a really wonderful thing and that people are inspired by what I have to say. When I tell people that I am Dyspraxic but have also been to Durham University to study for a Masters degree- I get reactions of amazement. Parents often feel relieved that their Dyspraxic children will also achieve a positive future too. A label definitely doesn’t mean the end to all aspirations for your child. With my drive to support those around me, in other ways than writing this blog I have set up a local Dyspraxia support group. A year ago I would have never imagined that I would be brave enough to do such a thing. It was scary to start with, but after a first meeting last weekend where I met young people with Dyspraxia and their parents for the first time- I found it incredibly empowering. I realised that I was able to talk about my experiences almost as well as I am able to write about them, and people were interested in what I have to say. They related to many of their children’s difficulties to things that I have dealt with in my life, but overcome. I talked about being shy and quiet at school, with literally no friends- struggling to make sense of my complex neurological conditions. I mentioned my achievements, going to India, travelling to Downing Street and getting my C in Maths. I empathised with the isolation that these young people are currently feeling and this made me determined to do something about it- I don’t want people to struggle to be accepted like I did at school. It’s important for you all to understand the difference between sympathy and empathy, sympathy is trying to imagine what it’s like down in the dark hole, whereas empathy is about getting down into the hole to experience it with them- to really start to learn how it makes them feel. I understand that it’s very difficult to empathise with someone with Dyspraxia if you have no difficulties yourself, but if you try and do up some buttons whilst wearing gloves or try to walk along a straight line whilst blind folded and drunk, I imagine you’d begin to understand some of the coordination and perception difficulties we face. There is so much value in supporting others, to overcome to them what may seem like the impossible- even if you don’t fully understand, taking the time to listen, making people feel accepted and cared for is invaluable. Society is a place to learn, but we can only carry out this learning if we share our experiences to understand each other. It makes me sad just how many young people are misunderstood, simply because people haven’t taken the time to show empathy. Through coordinating the support group, I want to create a place where young people and adults can go, where they can meet others who understand, participate in social activities and where they don’t have to worry about being ‘different.’

I am ready to share my story not only to other Dyspraxics but to teachers, professionals, those that work with people with specific learning difficulties and of course yourselves, so that you can all understand that there is a way through, your challenges will eventually turn into your strengths and it is possible to achieve in a world where at first it appeared that I don’t belong.

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