Raising awareness of Neurodiversity: my lived experience of dyspraxia

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Dr Sarah Chicken Senior Lecturer in Childhood and Education at UWE marks Neurodiversity Celebration Week (15-21 March 2021) by taking the opportunity to raise awareness about dyspraxia by telling some of her personal story. 

I am a senior lecturer within the Department of Childhood and Education where I have worked for seventeen years.  I am also a member of the neurodivergent community with a diagnosis of dyspraxia.

Dyspraxia or Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is a complex neurological condition which affects the messages between the brain and the body impacting on movement and cognition.    Instead of a message going from A to B, for someone with dyspraxia, it can take a detour from A to X, Y and Z ( in no particular order) before making the journey back to B.  This can be exhausting! 

An important issue is that others may not understand how substantial some challenges can be; for example, I have been an educator for decades, I have a PhD and a range of Master’s level qualifications so when I find difficulties filling in forms, driving a car, finding my way around university systems and the world in general, this can seem perplexing to others.

However, a ‘spikey’ learning profile, (where there are significant discrepancies between the things that someone is good at and those that they struggle with) is a key feature of a neurodivergent profile.   In my own case, psychometric tests indicate a large gap between my verbal reasoning at the one end of the scale and my processing speed and working memory at the other end of the scale.

This often feels like I have a fantastic computer which has been ill-matched with some rather outdated software and I spend a lot of time feeling out of synch.   This can impact on my physical co-ordination (my dancing is legendary for all of the wrong reasons 😊) and my speech and cognition which sometimes is not quite connected.   When I am tired or anxious, I can stumble over words or words can tumble out of my mouth in ‘my incoherent soup’. This anxiety-inducing prospect can lead to remaining quiet in large group situations despite having lots of ideas.  On other occasions, I end up talking over the top of people as I can’t quite find the right place to come into a conversation and this can appear impolite. 

Many neurodivergent people have issues with the processing of sensory information; whilst I can hear words in busy environments, I am not always sure if I have fully processed the meaning. Harsh lighting is challenging for me   and can cause eye disturbances which feel as if I am looking through a kaleidoscope with pieces of the picture all jumbled up.     Unfortunately, this is often the case in many parts of my working environment including shared social spaces. 

At the same time, I am determined and driven (pardon the pun), whilst it took me 17 years to pass my driving test, I got there in the end!   This is because, I have limited spatial awareness or depth perception, whilst I can physically see space, I can’t quite ‘feel’ or judge if my car ( or body) can fit.    On the odd occasions that I have been brave enough to drive to work, students have found great amusement as I have tried to park my car, I don’t blame them, I need a runway!

To return to my computer analogy, the cognitive pressure of too much multi-tasking can feel like having too many tabs open at the same time and I start to slow down – now throw into the mix the mismatch between my computer and out- of-date software and there is a danger that I could shut down altogether.  Since my diagnosis I realise that this has implications for my work and life and I am far more successful when I can really concentrate on a small range of activities ( I am a details person)  rather than being spread thinly across many. 

At the same time, my dyspraxia can be viewed as a gift and a superpower.   It offers a unique perspective of the world leading to creative and ‘outside of the box’ thinking when I am in environments where I feel ‘safe’ and valued.  I have a good sense of humour; I have to see the funny side of often tripping over and bumping into things and jumbling up my words. Like others with dyspraxia, I have a ‘stick with it ‘attitude, I am solution focussed, analytical and very empathetic.  I am fortunate to be in a job where I can draw on these strengths to design and deliver teaching, learning and research opportunities which engage and inspire and most of all where I am able to celebrate the wonderful range of diversity seen within the human race.

Dr Sarah Chicken Senior Fellow HEA

Senior Lecturer  Childhood and Education  

I am a champion of neurodiversity. 

Watch this short film produced by the British Dyslexia Association to find out more about neurodiversity. 

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