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What Having a Little-Known Learning Disability Means to Me

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As a child, a significant part of your identity is formed from what you are and aren’t good at.

“You’ve always been a brilliant reader.”

“Ellie’s accident prone.”

“You always did think outside the box.”

These evaluations help us to form an image of ourselves as the world sees us, and in turn help us to understand ourselves as we are at the current minute. Positive proclamations may become some of our proudest attributes, and negatives our grounding shame. As someone with a minor specific learning difficulty, they can become vital to constructing your defense against a world which refuses to recognize your existence, and your particular set of strengths and weaknesses.

When I began to consider the idea that my chaotic existence may indicate a profile of dyspraxia, my brain immediately shot back realities of my childhood that destabilized my self-diagnosis: But you’ve always behaved well in class. You were one of the top readers as a child. If you’re dyspraxic, how could you have reached university without it affecting you? You’ve got it better than so many other people your age, so why does it even matter?

Looking past these quick assumptions, it had lay there all along, between the lines I’d learned to understand myself. I always behaved in class, but was constantly chastised for my handwriting, rarely answered questions because I couldn’t get the words out in the right order, and developed excellent bullsh*tting skills from last minute homework and excuses. I was one of the top readers, but dreaded reading out loud and skipped sentences, paragraphs and indeed pages of the books I was reading – often without noticing. I reached university, but my organizational challenges contributed to the rapid decline of my mental health. These things matter because I deserve help and understanding.

Self-doubt is an easy quality to build when your existence is characterized by small disappointments: a dropped ball at a key moment of a team sport (or indeed, the one time you do successfully dribble the ball, dribbling it the wrong way), forgetting the project you spent hours completing, getting lost, being late, losing your prized possessions. Self-doubt is an easy quality to build when people capitalize on your failures to make themselves look superior. When your “friends” in primary school learn the best way to humiliate you is to run away, because any attempt to catch up will doubtless result in embarrassment or injury. It’s an easy quality to build when you are constantly being told that if you tried just that little bit harder, got your head out of the clouds and prepared yourself for the real world, everything would be fine and you would stop being such an inconvenience to people.

This all sounds quite dramatic, and it is important to mention that often those telling you to get yourself sorted out are the ones fighting in your corner, the ones who want to see you succeed. Most of what people tell you comes from a place of hope and compassion, even if it is masked in frustration, and it is often the receiver who distorts their words into a reflection upon their self-worth. Still, it is clear to see how one can foster a less than excellent sense of self-esteem, which can have an impact on their belief in a diagnosis, especially when their expression of a disability is atypical. Unlike other specific learning difficulties, the realities of dyspraxia are little understood. Although conditions such as autism and dyslexia come with a whole different set of preconceptions and stereotypes – “Big Bang Theory,” I’m looking at you – the specific issue for dyspraxic people is that so few people have even a basic awareness of what the condition entails. My computer’s spell check doesn’t even acknowledge that “dyspraxic” is a word.

My own self-doubt was overcome mainly by my excellent disability mentor, as well as various online groups which I began to access around half a year after my official diagnosis, when I decided to look for others who shared my experiences. I’ve found confidence is the best defense. After being given specific advice about how to organize my life through mentoring, I realized the challenges I faced and learned how to evaluate my successes and failures to overcome these challenges. Through groups, I learned that my experience was real and valid. This culminated in me having the confidence to tell people about my dyspraxia when the difficulties it caused me became especially prominent, to ask for arrangements in academia and work, to get the support I need and deserve.

It should go without saying that if you are dyspraxic, you can do amazing things. You are brilliant at thinking outside the lines, and you can make adjustments that ensure you are not held back. The key is having the confidence to ask for what you need. Just because certain parts of your story aren’t in keeping with stereotypical diagnostic features, it doesn’t mean the wider narrative doesn’t indicate towards your issue. Just because your wider narrative makes life difficult sometimes, that doesn’t mean you can’t be awesome. Just because people may not have heard of dyspraxia doesn’t mean it’s not an important part of you that deserves to be accepted, addressed and taken into account.

This story originally appeared on Dyspraxia Survival Guide.

Getty image by Raywoo.

Originally published: January 21, 2019
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