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Life with dyspraxia: A Guest blog from Sam Alston

When I try to explain dyspraxia, I often explain it as a wiring problem. My brain is connected slightly differently to many other people. It is designed differently to how the world assumes that it is designed.

This can lead to a number of problems. When learning to read an effective method for much of the population is to start with phonics. I am still unconvinced that I would be able to pass a 5 year olds’ phonics exam. Instead, I remember words and parts of words to make sounds. This means that if I come across a word that is completely unfamiliar, in a fantasy text, or another language I stand almost no chance of pronouncing it how the rest of the world would like to hear it. This does not mean that I cannot read. Aged seven to fifteen, I was perfectly likely to read though a three-hundred-page book a week.

I liked books as I understood what was going on in them. Since much of the social world operated according to obscure rules, where people would care about these strange things and make unclear conversational connections. I liked games and books where I knew what was going on. I cared about a few things at a time. In sequence, I was obsessed with and learned everything I could about: dogs, polar bears, dinosaurs, chess, cricket, Lord of the Rings etc. Some of these carried on into adulthood. When other children turned to general conversation or wanted to stop playing a set game, I was both lost and often bored.

As I got older, I learned that to interact with a lot of people in the world you needed to learn their rules, even the silly ones, like the rules about wearing ties. (Ties remain a highly uncomfortable nonsensical garment). It is a bit like tilting your head sideways to look at the world in a slightly different way. For it to work, you need to find the right angle and then practise. Eventually holding your head in a silly place, becomes something you do every day. It is still easier if there is a clearly articulated set of rules to an interaction, such as a game, or a reasonably fixed subject matter. It also helps if you can find people who accept that inside your head you will be thinking a bit differently.

Thus, I continued to participate enthusiastically in many games, though I realised reasonably quickly that I was terrible at any that required any sort of physical coordination. Indeed, any sort of coordination task requires more time for me that for others, particularly if it involved linking a number of actions together. This made learning to drive challenging. This extended to walking in a straight line, driving and much to my chagrin batting in cricket. However, with sufficient motivation the barrier was not insurmountable, a legacy of my cricket obsession is that I can now catch and throw with above average accuracy. While I rarely go in a straight line, hiking is still a hobby I enjoy.

Dyspraxia is, appropriately, it is a really hard term to spell. One of my constant struggles has been memorising seemly random sequences, such as spellings, passwords, phone numbers, names. The latter is particularly problematic as where I understand the meaning behind the name it often sticks straight away. Otherwise, the only chance I have to remember it is extensive association of the person with their identifying term. Facebook, which sticks people and names together is excellent in this regard. Generally, to remain safe I have developed a conversational style that avoids names as far as possible.

Spellings have proved a persistent foe. This was both at school where examiners would insist on my answers bearing a resemblance to the English language and at work where my aptitude for beating computerised spellcheckers meant that I have sent out emails to parents referring to them as parrots. Aged elven, I managed to get top levels on an English exam without getting a single mark for spelling. Word processing has been invaluable in this area, I typed all of my exams though my undergraduate qualification and my masters.

It is tempting to see dyslexia as a number of problems that need to be overcome. At the same time, it also brings advantages: obscure bits of text and trivia that others forget stick with me seemly indefinitely, when my brain becomes obsessed by something, I will be able to learn inordinate quantities of information about it. My dyspraxia allows me to approach and solve problems in different and creative ways, which might be much less obvious to those who are more neurotypical.

Sam Alston has a MSc in Climate Change and Energy Policy for SOAS. He is applying for teaching training. He can be found on Twitter at @MooseAlston.

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