Dyspraxia – a Hidden Disability

In spite of numerous symptoms Dyspraxia is sometimes referred to as a hidden disability. This blog is my attempt to understand why we are not more aware of Dyspraxia and its effects.

Dyspraxia is a neurological disorder, also known as Developmental Coordination Disorder. Whilst the exact causes of dyspraxia are not yet fully understood, it is thought that parts of the motor cortex in the brain are immature and consequently messages to the body are not sent out in an efficient manner. Developmental Dyspraxia is present from birth.

Adults and children with Dyspraxia struggle with everyday tasks that others manage easily. Physical movement, behaviour, social interactions and emotions can all be affected by the condition. Added to this some people feel anxious and depressed as a result of the difficulties that they experience. 

Dyspraxia is not very visible in the sense that you would not know a person has the condition by looking at them. Their intelligence would also be unaffected. Whilst Dyspraxia is becoming more widely known and better understood, adults who were not diagnosed as children may still be unaware of why they struggle in so many situations. 

People with Dyspraxia might try to hide their differences, adding to the lack of visibility. Rather than letting others see that ‘simple tasks’ such as doing up shoe laces, reading a map and following directions are beyond them, they might prefer to wear slip on shoes and avoid visiting places which they cannot find. 

Some people hide their condition by steering clear of compromising situations for example discussions, interviews and public speaking where they might suffer the embarrassment of struggling to express their thoughts coherently. 

The symptoms of Dyspraxia and their severity vary from person to person. Certain symptoms might become less challenging as individuals learn to adapt over time. A person with Dyspraxia is more likely than average to have other neuro-diverse conditions. Neuro-Diversity is an umbrella term which refers to conditions that affect literacy, numeracy, memory, organisation, concentration, behaviour, perception, listening, communication and social skills. Perhaps Dyspraxia is obscured by the variations and adaptations as well as overlaps with other conditions. 

At the same time it seems to me that many of the symptoms of Dyspraxia are noticeable and not very easy to hide. In the past Dyspraxia was called 'clumsy child syndrome'. It was evident that children with the condition are prone to tripping over and bumping into people and objects. This is due to poor spatial awareness, poor coordination and weak balance. Dyspraxia continues into adulthood although over time some people become better at managing their clumsiness. 

For some Dyspraxic people running and walking looks awkward due to poor integration of the right and left sides of the body. In my view it is probable that others do notice these traits because they are difficult to miss.

Social awkwardness can also be apparent. This can include misunderstanding what is being expressed due to literal thinking. With literal thinking it is also difficult to get jokes and therefore to react appropriately. People with Dyspraxia might mistakenly interrupt others in a conversation because it is hard to judge when someone has finished speaking, this is particularly challenging in groups.

In general, some of us are more accident prone than others, not everyone has a good sense of direction, or clear handwriting. Occasionally we might fumble with small motor movements such as inserting a key in the correct position and then manipulating it to unlock a door. In order for Dyspraxia to be recognised as a disability it is important to understand that it is distinguished by the level of difficulty and the number of areas affected.

It seems to me that whilst Dyspraxia is to some extent hidden, there are also many signs of its existence. I wonder whether it is sometimes missed because we might see an aspect of Dyspraxia, say a person finding it impossible to park their car between the two lines in a designated space, without realising that this is the symptom of a disability. Dyspraxia is within our sight but we do not always know what we are looking at.

The joys of networking and what I have learnt

After qualifying as a person-centred counsellor I felt ready to start a private practice. At that time the main networking avenues were advertising in telephone directories, writing endless letters to doctor’s surgeries and schools and putting leaflets through people’s doors. Some of this was expensive, all of it was time consuming, and none of it brought me much work, just a trickle. 

It made sense to stay in my job as a nursery school teacher whilst continuing to see clients in voluntary placements. I recognized that working with a variety of client groups was broadening my counselling experience and at the same time I was eager to move on. My supervisor and I sat with the dilemma of wanting to do something practical towards building my private practice, whilst not knowing what to do.

Through our discussions I became more accepting of my situation, I felt calmer and able to empathise with my frustration and sense of stuckness. Inwardly this provided some extra space for fresh ideas to emerge. I could approach networking with interest and curiosity, I had a new enthusiasm for it.

I left supervision sessions feeling more grounded and optimistic. Amazingly I would return home to one or two enquiries left on my answer phone. This occurred enough times for me view it as one of those strange and mysterious things that tend to happen when something within me changes.

Discovering how things seem to work

Gradually my private practice built up. Most of the people who approached me for counselling had heard about my work from fellow trainees or former clients. I began to get an overall picture of how connections can result in an enquiry and that connections can go back many years, I still have a few recommendations from parents whose children were at the nursery school.

The internet allows for numerous connections. People landing on my website might be dismissed as a slight and fleeting moment. Nonetheless, in that moment a photo or a few words may catch their interest and perhaps they will return. I find that it helps to be visible in several places, my website, appropriate directories, Twitter, Pinterest and my Facebook business page. Then people can build up a picture of who I am and the therapeutic services that I offer. Contacting a therapist or supervisor can be daunting and I hope that with all the personal information available online this becomes a little easier.

I enjoy connecting with colleagues both online and offline. I like being sociable and there is great scope for supporting and learning from each other. This includes therapeutic theory and practice as well as understanding social media and how to use it for networking. I have found groups that are relevant to me through my professional organisations, friend and colleague recommendations, Facebook and LinkedIn. 

Coming across Onlinevents  https://www.onlinevents.co.uk has added to the richness of my learning and networking experiences. They are a brother and sister team offering wonderful learning resources for people who are working in the counselling / therapy field. Resources include online groups, free online CPD with therapy, networking and social media topics. They also run an online library with a collection of video interviews, workshops and conference presentations.

Social networking continues to develop and change, so when something new becomes available I have learnt to check my personal and professional boundaries to decide whether or not I want to engage with it. I take into account how much time it might require and whether this is something that I could enjoy, as well as the networking potential. Before posting something on social media I always reflect upon its possible effects for clients, supervisees and Focusing students.

I have discovered the joys of networking. For me it is a creative and sociable activity. I find that I can be openly myself whilst also taking care to post sensitively. I enjoy developing relationships with peers that are mutually supportive and helpful.