By the time my driving instructor asked me to ‘pull the car over in a safe place’, I was crying. After months of lessons and three failed driving tests, he had finally had enough of me. Safely parked, I gulped and angrily swiped at my eyes as the instructor told me that he could no longer continue with the lessons. I was ‘unteachable’. Images of me aged 40, groveling for lifts from my friends and navigating bus routes with a pushchair flooded my brain, and I was hardly listening as the instructor advised me to get checked for a co-ordination disorder. According to him, my lack of spatial awareness and inability to coordinate a simple three-point turn could be a sign of ‘dyspraxia’. Dyspraxia; the word was ugly and foreign to me, but it sparked a dawning realisation that my clumsiness might be something more problematic.
My first year at university was tough. I had worked hard for my place but, while I enjoyed writing essays and voicing my thoughts in tutorials, student living was a nightmare. Boiling water for pasta was a perilous activity. Gathering my keys, phone, wallet, and laptop for the day’s lectures was a stressful half-hour enterprise and I often arrived late. I would go to the library to check out a specific book, only to emerge hours later, dazed and befuddled, with no book and no idea how I spent that time. Being self-sufficient is always a struggle for new students, but for me it was utterly exhausting. Although I loved my course, I was beginning to entertain thoughts of dropping out.
I did not know it, but that moment in the car marked a turning point for me. After a meeting with the Disability Service, I was quickly set up for a test and diagnosed with ‘dyspraxia’. The psychologist explained that although my verbal reasoning skills were high, my physical co-ordination and organisational skills were well below average.
Still reeling from the shock of the diagnosis, I began obsessively googling “coping with dyspraxia” and “famous people with dyspraxia”. I gained courage from the fact that some of the world’s best creatives and inventors have dyspraxia (Richard Branson and Albert Einstein for example) and began plastering my flat with post-it notes reminding myself to “REMEMBER KEYS!!” My mental health improved as I stopped berating myself for my ‘scatterbrain’ and slowly started to understand that what I lack in practical skills, I make up for in other areas. I frequently turn up for appointments on the wrong day and get lost in familiar places but I can always be relied on to invent a new drinking game or come up with an idea for a fun day out (just don’t ask me to organise it!). I can tell when a friend is upset just by the tone of their voice on the phone. I am not flawed, but gifted.
Alison Patrick, expert in specific learning difficulties, notes that “one of the key features of dyspraxia is ‘thinking differently’. When engaged in a task, the dyspraxic is likely to approach it from a different angle and this can lead to an inventive or creative perspective.” In other words, dyspraxics are wired to think outside the box. Lateral thinking is a trait that is becoming increasingly valuable in the modern economy. The world needs entrepreneurs, innovators and game-changers, people who embrace difference and are not afraid to deviate from the norm.
The Ancient Greeks have a saying: ‘know thyself’. Some might consider having to live with an incurable disability unfortunate, and some days I wish I was more organised or more graceful. My university experience has been affected by dyspraxia, but the positives have made up for the negatives. Dyspraxia forces me to work with my weaknesses and embrace my strengths. Perhaps I will never pass my driving test, but I do know myself. That, I believe, is far more valuable than a driving license.
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