Personal Stories, Dyspraxia

Dyspraxic and misunderstood

I hadn't heard about dyspraxia until 2 years ago, and was keen to learn more when I was contacted by someone who wished to share their story of being dyspraxic. Their story highlighted to me how challenging it can be in the workplace, some of the considerations that are needed, and the difference that being supported in the workplace can make.

This is their story.

Tell me about yourself?

I am female, work in retail and have Dyspraxia. It can be very hard especially in the work place to have such a condition and feel it is very misunderstood.

What do you want people to know about Dyspraxia?

I would like people to know that having Dyspraxia does not make me stupid or rude.

There have been times where co-workers have said I come across as rude and unfriendly because I answer questions in a abrupt and blunt manner. Also I have had people question my intelligence on a number of times.

I am not stupid, nor am I rude, but if more people knew about Dyspraxia, I believe they would begin to understand that all it takes is a little support and patience in order for someone with Dyspraxia to complete a task just as well as someone who is neurotypical.

When were you diagnosed?

I was diagnosed with Dyspraxia at 25, during my second year of University. I was very fortunate enough to know about Dyspraxia from age 17 after an assessment at college, so it was not a complete surprise to learn I had it aged 25.

But, I realised after being fired again from a job for being too slow, that I actually had to get an official diagnosis so I could gain the right support and to actually understand myself more.

How does being dyspraxic impact you?

I do struggle most days with menial and everyday tasks that other people can do in a heartbeat like tying shoelaces, putting the right shoe on the right foot, and writing a sentence in a legible manner.

I struggle connecting with people as I take things too literally, I don't use eye contact,  I come across abrupt, "weird" rude or dismissive and am sometimes unable to carry a conservation.

I also hate loud noises, struggle to remember information and  people's faces and have this strict need for people to stick to their time guidelines. If someone says they will be back in minutes, they need to be back in five minutes. I feel that is a side effect of being too literal.

I have had moments of pure despair because the factors highlighted have made me lose jobs and lose friends.

Did being diagnosed help you?

Getting a diagnosis really helped me and I started to accept myself more.

I had a job recently where I walked into the wrong room, only being in the right room ten minutes before. I walked in, said this isn't the room and started laughing to the teacher. She wasn't happy, but it's one of those things, and at the end of the day it wasn't a big deal.

I am starting to accept my shortcomings more, and can forgive myself if I accidentally spill something ... for example. Also with a clear diagnosis, I have been able to have coping strategies. I do laugh at myself, I rehearse things before hand and I carry a notebook with me. If I need to I write in there important details of a job.

Does work know that you are dyspraxic?

During my interview, I did reveal I had Dyspraxia.

When I first started, I was given a mentor to shadow and ask any questions, which I was fortunate to have.

Are they supportive of you?

I think generally yes. Even though the supervisors don't mention Dyspraxia to me, the majority of them are always encouraging me to write things down, speak to me in a direct yet unpatronising manner, and are fine if I ask where something over and over again.

So they are supportive and I am very lucky to have that support, as that support has not always been there in my previous jobs.

What strategies work for you?

I have realised that people are willing to help me when I ask them rather than struggling on my own.

When I first entered the world of work, I did used to struggle with certain tasks on my own. I thought asking for help would be a sign of me not coping and I didn't want to be labelled as not being able to manage. Now, if I am unable to do something, I will ask someone and they are generally fine with me asking because I have learnt people like to be appreciated.

The biggest thing that has changed though especially since my diagnosis, is I have more self-awareness of how I am coming across. I still make mistakes with how I act towards people, for example, in my current retail job I have had customers come up to me and ask whether there is a bigger/smaller size for an item. When I return from the stock room, I have competitively forget what they look like, so I am looking all over the shop, trying to find them.

I do try and prevent things that happen over and over from spiralling into a big event, and become more aware of how I can prevent it from happening. It is very difficult for me to hold a conservation and give eye contact, but because I know it is difficult, I play little games with myself like for example "How long can I talk to a new person and hold a conservation.

Generally I have become more relaxed and have developed a greater sense of self-awareness and I also practice things I can't do at work at home while reciting my notes from my notebook

What are you like when supported correctly

I see myself as a friendly, helpful and caring individual. My friends would say exactly the same but it can come across like I am rude at first because I have found it difficult talking about things that I have no interest in or don't know anything about. I will listen to them but because I did have the habit of changing the subject to something that I knew about, I was considered rude

I would say when I am supported correctly, I am a lot more productive.

I crave structure in my work and I need to know what I am doing. For example if I am working seven hours 7am to 2pm, in a care home I need to know what time to make and give out breakfast and lunch and other details like that.

While I understand that these things are not as rigid as I like them to be, I do need to know when abouts of these things so I can plan accordingly. In care homes this was impossible to stick by and work colleagues did get frustrated by my inflexibly.

The last job I had who also were very supportive, allowed me to become more productive and therefore a more hardworking individual as I had a timetable of what I had to achieve by the end of the night and by a certain time.

What would you include in an employers guide for Neurodiversity

I would include most importantly that everyone with Dyspraxia is different.

I can catch and throw with ease and if I was in a working environment where I had to catch and throw, I would be in my element. However, I am aware that most individuals with Dyspraxia can not and their hand eye co-ordination is not their their strongest element so everyone is different.

Secondly, get to know your Dyspraxic employee's strengths and weaknesses. I work in retail, where I get a choice of hanging or folding clothes. The majority of my supervisors place me in sections where I hang clothes. This is because folding clothes, especially T-shirts to a retail shop standard can affect my motor skills and I will not do as a good job as they want to, even with all the practice at home. Hanging clothes, on the other hand requires placing clothes in size order, something that is structured and to my strengths.

Thirdly, if you do have to alter your communication with an employee, do not do it in such a condescending manner and assume that were are stupid. I had one work colleague who instead of saying "Could you place this plate in the kitchen sink please" said "Go to the outskirts of the kitchen, stop, hand your plate to the cook. If she isn't there, step into the kitchen, move a couple of feet until you see the sink. Put the plate in there and walk out of the kitchen and find me again."

What benefits can employers get from dyspraxic employees

I think employers would gain an individual who is hard working, determined and compassionate. I also think, given the right support, employees with Dyspraxia are imaginative, creative and can come up with solutions that are maybe outside the box but are just as useful and worthwhile.

If you are autistic, dyslexic, dyspraxic, bipolar, Tourettes, OCD, ADHD, ADD, or Neurodivergent in another way, and would like to share your story and thoughts then please contact me.

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