This morning I had a conversation with a tutor that left me feeling somewhat alienated and disorientated. Conveying how I work to plan my progress to someone who doesn’t think as I do takes a huge amount of energy and feels unrewarding and unproductive.
Today, a Google search for anything about strategies for work or student life for adults with dyspraxia produces few results, with almost nothing easy to find our written from first hand experiences, despite how many people actually have dyspraxia.
Having read reassuring books by Ronald Dell Davis, who wrote the Gift of Dyslexia and Gift of Learning after finding solutions to his own learning style at the age of 38 in 1980, I underwent one of his programs, working with plasticine and learning about sight words, picture thinking and disorientation. I also read the Edison Gene by Thomas Hartmann, which led me on to reading Original Wisdom by Robert Wolff, the revealing, humane but sad story of the final demise of an indigenous people from Malaysia called the Senoi or Sng’oi, whose independent community ended as recently as the 1980s.
These books were empowering as they explained how I processed and thought and why I came up against so many jarring experiences during my working and student life. According to Hartmann, modern education started in Germany in 1850 to make people compliant to the industrial revolution.
Gone was universal thinking and multi-skilling, appreciation of natural beauty across many forms, broad discussions of culture and diverse, holistic interests. In came narrow specialisms and one trick ponies. But that seems to be good for people who focus on one thing at once, isn’t it?
In 2006, I found out that I had dyspraxia at the age of 35. By then I had a degree, a postgraduate certificate in periodical journalism from the London College of Printing and had only found an effective hearing aid after that. The combination of dyspraxia and hearing loss had hampered chances of qualifying to teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), it seemed after myriad attempts.
The dyspraxia diagnosis test is expensive, but I found a way around it and wrote an article about the process for a careers magazine in exchange for the test. One of the challenges was to recreate a 3-dimensional picture form with red and white diamond pieces. The assessor said that almost every student attending drama, dance, art, fashion, photography and music college had a dyspraxic or dyslexic profile. This is the first time a person, who may have been neurotypical, told me about recognising the strengths as well as the challenges and some of the solutions for an adult with dyspraxia.
This year in 2020, after creating solutions for various social issues in app form and starting to work out how to develop them, I then started another university course in something I had been focusing on, which seemed to be predominantly creative and for original, innovative thinkers and problem solvers. However, most of the course providers are neurotypical, meaning that my processing style is not represented, which opens a gulf of understanding between me and the majority, who validate each other.
To me it makes the world of difference if colleagues, tutors and employers recognise my processing style, relate and tasks and processes are inclusively designed to ensure I can access course materials and objectives equally to other people. I even had a study support person through the Accessibility team, who had no real compassion for the dyspraxic mind, making the experience draining, uncomfortable, invalidating and alienating. I could not forsee getting support from someone who’s worldview was so different to mine. It is such hard work articulating my experience to access support from someone who cannot imagine it at all.
It is also all so subjective. The people who have made the biggest differences to me have not been so disconnected and apart from my experience and existence. They have been able to validate my world view and then reveal their knowledge about the working of a human person’s mind and how to approach various life challenges constructively and effectively. It has not been all about me, which makes me feel isolated, alone, different, wrong, weird, alienated, unacceptable and invalidated.
For instance, I’m asked a question on something I have not been focusing on. Firstly, I’m baffled why I am asked this after so many attempts at explaining how my attention and focus works. Then I feel inadequate for not being able to answer well. Next I respond to say that knowing the objectives up ahead to aim for is the best way for me to work successfully towards them. I raise my concern that my learning requirements are not being met and that being heard, validated and understood supported me to work more confidently.
Their response is that being able to relate to each other’s subjective reality is not important. This is a dismissal of my point of view, which isn’t easy to describe, relate to and I really do not see why it is so hard to imagine or understand. I’m having to work very hard to here to put it on a plate as clearly and best as I can, which is riddled with risks and exposing me to more question.
Therefore, I thought I’d share my experiences with dyspraxia and how I believe I can fulfil my potential in an environment created by and catering for verbal, linear neurotypical thinkers.
Even though Dyspraxia is hereditary, I feel constantly wrong and to blame for my different processing requirement.
Being able to understand these alternative processing methods is more difficult to identify when you are a minority and few others are around to swap experiences with.
I’ve written this much and haven’t even yet started on talking about the skills and perspectives which people with dyspraxia, picture thinkers, bring to the party. This is because the minority mindset is less validated then the majority, academia trained one. In humans this brings about a slanting scale of confidence, self-acceptance, entitlement and privilege. It puts me at a disadvantage, behind and asking for reasonable adjustments to those who have never had to think about them feels like playing a special needs card.
Dyspraxia appreciation and recognition – understanding and recognising approaches used by adults with dyspraxia at work and study:
- Creative, picture thinkers are good problem solvers as they see the whole jigsaw, not just one or two pieces of the problem.
- Providing clear objectives to be met in advance to allow for planning of tasks
- To allow for focusing on one particularly task at a time.
- To be aware of someone with dyspraxia holding the whole picture in their mind and needing to work out what to focus on next.
- Questions on something other than what we are focusing on requires a little extra time to recalibrate and see the whole story rather than just plucking out a page or phrase from the top of our heads.
To allow for a plan to carry out tasks, factoring in mastering new processes and time to move attention from one task to another for long enough to master the process required and create some kind of sensory memory to return to it when needed. Purely glancing on tasks intellectually without actually engaging in them to return at a later date does not suit people with a sensory an non-verbal memory.
Hunter Gatherers versus Farmers
Creative people work more like hunter-gatherers than farmers in their style. They are lateral, not linear, processing how to multiple things at once all to reach one goal. Despite the fact that humans were hunter gatherers for over a million or more years, before farming was phased in 10,000 years ago, a linear approach is now the dominant, majority and validated style of working.
Therefore, the objective, for instance hunting and foraging for the tribe’s dinner, will require finding a way through the trees, leaving a trail to get back home, identifying nearby water, making a fishing rod, catching a fish, digging up vegetables and carrying it back to the camp. A team of hunters may work together but be competing for food with other communities nearby for resources available.
On the other hand the farmer will plant seeds for various crops, sheer the wool from the sheep, collect the eggs, stop cattle thieves in the night, predict the next harvest for the market and have cheaper and bigger crops then the farmer next door.
Anyway, this is my view and my experience. If anyone relates to this, fantastic. I would also like to hear other’s experiences and can either find and join or create a dyspraxia diary on Facebook for everyone to share their own reflections and personal experiences at work, home, study or play.