Friday, 24 June 2011

Dyspraxia & Work

    It can be strange, sometimes, how your dyspraxia often affects you in ways you don't always expect - and, no matter how many years you have to acclimatise to the condition, it will never cease to surprise you.

    For me, the latest occasion was this week, when I found out that I'd got a new job. It's a job I've been hoping to get for some time, and so to get the phone call telling me I'd got it was such an awesome feeling; anyone who's got a job they really want will know what I mean.

    Anyway, for the next couple of hours, I was as much use as a chocolate teapot; I dropped paperwork, knocked over books, forgot my password half a dozen times ... well, the list goes on. And on. And, quite possibly, on.

    I'm 30 now (D-Day - or B-Day - was last week, when I finally went kicking and screaming out of my 20's) and that's precisely how long I've had my dyspraxia. I've become a lot more adjusted to life with the condition, but when I have days like that - when my brain and body resolutely refuse to talk to each other - I've learnt to just go with the flow.

    For most of my life, I would have been bothered by that; having a day when my body doesn't seem to work. Now, however, I'm more inclined to laugh it off and just accept it. Why? Because I accept it as just being part of me; I can't change it - and don't want to change it, because it inspires me to be accepting and patient with others far more because I know what it's like to have an "invisible" condition.

    When I have a day where my dypraxia really comes to the fore, I just shrug my shoulders and get on with it; the next day, I was lugging a leaflet stand around and not letting anything get in my way. I'm fortunate to have got my new job, and I've proved to any residual demons residing in my own head that I can do a lot of things; I sometimes just have to think of different ways of approaching things. Dyspraxic people are creative and intelligent (at least that's what I tell myself!), so don't be afraid to put yourself out there and try things. If I can do it, I know you can.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Dyspraxia & BSL

    I've written before about my cross-over experiences between British Sign Language (BSL) and dyspraxia (find it here - - if you want to take a look), and I wanted to follow that up today.

    I previously discussed how BSL is a totally visual language, and how it relies a lot on having an understanding of facial expressions and body language: two things that DCD and autistic spectrum disorder sufferers can really struggle with. I know I did, and although I've got better at reading people, I'm still not brilliant at it.

    However, today I want to talk about the physical side of signing, and how my dyspraxia impacts on that. As anyone with the condition will know, dyspraxia strongly impacts your fine and gross motor skills; everything from grip to balance, from hand-eye coordination to handwriting and from gait to speech. BSL, on the other hand, relies on ... well, a lot of those things for communication.

    All sign languages are different in content; BSL and ASL (American Sign) are different enough to be different languages, despite the hearing people of both countries sharing a common language (well, for the most part - jello isn't a real word, surely??). However, all sign languages are gestural; signs replace speech in communicating thoughts, and as a dyspraxic person, I've sometimes struggled to accurately convey my thoughts because of my lack of coordination.

    For me, finger-spelling and numbers are the worst. Unlike ASL, BSL users use both hands for the alphabet, and certain letters (L, M and N, for example) always cause me trouble; thankfully, none of them appear in my name (Smithy, of course), but still - frustrating when I'm trying to spell something out.

    When I was younger, I had trouble with my speech - I simply couldn't pronounce certain words and letters - and so had to have intensive speech therapy to correct the problem. Whether that issue was down to verbal dyspraxia or not, I don't know, but it was still incredibly frustrating - and hard work to correct, although I'm so grateful to my speech therapist for teaching me how to almost completely remove the problem (I have a minor lisp and stutter, but barely noticeable).

    After I started learning BSL, I came up against my dyspraxia as I tried to coordinate my arms in creating the signs . For a while, it almost felt as if I had a "sign stutter", as my arms would occasionally not work in time with my head, and I had to repeat the sign in order to make sure it was clear.

    In all honesty, BSL has been a huge help to my arm coordination. When I realised the problem, I began tackling it almost in the same way as my speech therapist had done with my verbal issues, although I didn't realise I was doing it. I practised the same signs over and over again, making them smoother and faster; this, of course, had the added benefit of improving my sign retention as well as making it look a lot more "natural" - that is, as if I didn't have dyspraxia!

    I do still struggle with it; wherever possible, I try and rehearse what I'm going to sign in my head before I do it, just so I can try and make sure my arm movements are as fluid as possible. It doesn't always work, though, and my "sign stutter" does still come back! With practice, though, I suspect that will reduce, as did my verbal speech problems.

    It's ironic; I never suspected that BSL would help me quite so much. I'd started learning the language because I was fascinated by its beauty and how it would open up communication with a group of people in society who I'd never felt able to get close to before. Now, however, nearly a year on, I've learnt so much more about myself as well; how my dyspraxia works ... and how, in certain contexts, I can learn to control and overcome it to be a more effective signer.

    I certainly never thought BSL and dyspraxia would have those sorts of links. Shows how wrong I could be - and how learning new things can often increase your confidence in the most unexpected of ways. Never be frightened of trying something new - you never know where it might take you!