Growing Up With Dyspraxia | Rachel Tuplin -UK
The first memory I have of dyspraxia-related struggles are from reception year at primary school (4-5 years old), and we were given puzzle booklets to complete over the duration of the term. The puzzles were yellow with red dots, intended to be traced over. The particular puzzle that I remember was a maze, and I was so perplexed by it. I spent the whole morning trying to find the correct way out of the maze, and it was like my mind just froze. Our teacher was not understanding at all – she immediately assumed that I was just a defiant child. I kept saying to her that I just didn’t understand it, but she kept me in over breaktime and made me keep attempting it – to her annoyance, I never figured it out.
Funnily enough, writing, reading, and spelling were always ‘strong points’ of mine throughout school, but I could have ripped my hair out attempting any form of mathematics. The connections were just unable to be made in my head, which was so frustrating, as I so wanted to understand and engage in maths lessons, but it was no good, it was like trying to shove a 3-pin plug into a 2-pin socket.
I think my English teachers would have been astounded if they had known that I’m dyslexic too – as I excelled in writing (and spelling, which is very peculiar!), particularly story-writing, which disguised my difficulties very well. That is a massive advantage of dyspraxia that isn’t acknowledged much - the depth of imagination and vivid imagery in the brain is quite spectacular (I describe my long-term memory as ‘video-graphic’, as I can watch memories and moments back like a TV episode, and it is so immersive, it is as though it is happening all over again, it is that vivacious in colour and motion). Ask me what happened 5 minutes ago, or what someone just said; however, and you’d realise that there is no storage cabinet for those things in my brain.
In most subjects, I could mask my symptoms fairly well, but PE was not one of those. Even in primary school, I was never chosen for events on sports day and 6-year-old me tried desperately to launch a beanbag into the hoop like everyone else, while it had other ideas, and would end up in a random corner of the school field somewhere.
The level of concentration while I swung a rounders bat as hard as I possibly could, just to miss the ball, and accidentally hurl the bat at an unsuspecting fielder. Team sports made me want to hide in a corner, as it was such an overwhelming environment, the dissonant noises gave me the same shivers as ‘nails on a chalkboard’ trigger, the ‘encouragement’ from raucous team members, which was usually a wild cacophony of shouting, ‘over here, over here’, ‘pass it – quick’, ‘no’, ‘no’, ‘why did you throw it to them?’, ‘pass it here’, ‘go, go, go’, disapproving sounds, headshaking, people bashing into my side, thudding of basketballs colliding with the sports hall floor – an experience that I always found to be torturous. All of the noise and competitive tension mixed together, which for an empathetic person, feels like an energy vacuum.
In everyday life, it is not uncommon for the kettle to end up almost being put in the fridge. I once came dangerously close to ‘draining’ my pan of vegetables over the hob instead of the sink, socks being put on back to front, unlocking my car about 4 times because I can’t remember if I unlocked it 2 seconds ago or not, etc.
One of the most frustrating things about having a neurological condition is the lack of understanding, because when people judge and say
"why did you do that?" - "I have no idea, perhaps because of the aberrant signalling in my brain!"
You wouldn’t say to someone with a broken arm struggling to lift an object, "why can’t you do that?" If there is a dysfunction of a part of your body, it is generally quite accepted unless that dysfunction is in your brain – then it is assumed that you made an executive decision to do said thing, but that is the issue, executive functioning and therefore, decision-making, is somewhat affected by mis-signalling of neurons.
Dyspraxia is not an obstacle to success (completely), although I have always struggled with the self-deprecating thoughts that I am often good at things, but just never ‘good enough’, as in, I am someone that would get an A or B, but not an A*, for example. At GCSE, I managed to get A’s and B’s, since managed to pass my driving test (after a lot of perseverance you can do whatever you put your mind to - when I was learning, I once drove all the way down the lane stalling every metre down the road, but there was no way that I was giving up). Since then, I have got a Level 3 qualification. Now, I am in my final year of a BSc (Hons) in Bio veterinary Science degree. You can absolutely achieve anything that you want, you may have to work 10 times harder than you first thought, but you 100% can do it.
When I was diagnosed with dyspraxia, dyslexia, and dyscalculia at the end of my second year of university, I felt a whirlwind of emotions, but most of all, I felt relieved.
All of my life, I felt so out of place in the world, unable to express how I feel to anyone else – even now, sometimes I feel slightly trapped in my own head. One of the unspoken problems I have is that although my emotions are extremely intense, I can never articulate precisely how I feel to someone else – it doesn’t help that as any dyspraxic-dyslexic will tell you, your facial expressions can be quite blank at times, or appear contrarily to how you feel.
This makes it easy for people to think that you’re fine when you’re not, underestimate how strongly you feel about a situation, and basically means that I can seem completely fine, until a subsequent emotional outburst.
Despite the challenges, I do believe that being neurodivergent is a gift. In a world where most brains are wired similarly, it is a true gift to be able to have a unique perception, a colourful imagination, and an ability to empathise so strongly with other people.