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!


  1. Wow, you have been through a lot and continue to battle with your problem. You sound like a real cool person to get to know, and I am glad I know you now. I couldn't imagine trying to learn it like you have. Good luck with your signing stutter and all the challenges you might come across.

  2. Congratulations, Smithy, for not giving up and succeeding learning BSL! I didn't know BSL and ASL are so different. You are just like my martial arts teacher, a woman with dyspraxia who also has to practice much more than her colleagues to learn the coordinated martial arts movements. You have both found the same solution to counter dyspraxia! She has not given up for 40-some years and is now the highest ranking woman in Kuk Sool Won. I wrote about how inspirational she is on my blog. Check it out when you can

  3. Really interesting! I have never been assessed for having dyspraxia but my mother who is a special needs teacher always used to say I had (in jest) because i have always been clumsy. I certainly don't have it to a severe level but now that I am 29 and have researched it i do think I may have a lesser degree of dyspraxia. I struggle to get my words out all the time. My understanding is fine but getting words out of my mouth and onto paper can be really tricky. I often stutter and have to change what I'm saying because the words wouldn't come out! I work with deaf people and I use BSL daily. I do struggle with it in the same way I do speech. My hands wont sign what I want them to! I'm starting a level 3 couse soon and I'm a bit nervous about it all...