I’m approaching this post from the point of view of someone with Dyspraxia and/or female Asperger’s – a high functioning version of Autism. It’s really difficult to tell where Dyspraxia ends and Aspergers begins as symptoms overlap regularly and quite often people have both! Here are some behaviours which are related to Dyspraxia and/or Aspergers that are obvious in children/teens if you know what to look for. Clearly no one in my life new about these and were just totally perplexed as to why I was so different, including myself. Hopefully this post will make things easier for anyone who can relate personally or parents who are confused.
Skipping the crawling stage
Lots of babies with Dyspraxia/Autism/Developmental Disorders go straight from sitting and reaching out to walking. It’s like we just don’t have that crawling instinct in us! I used to pull myself up and wobble my way around the room going from couch to couch at a really early age. My parents and Paediatrician thought this was astonishing progress but it’s actually more of a red flag of a hidden condition.
Sensory issues with food, clothing, loud noise, touch or movement
This can just be Sensory Processing Disorder in-and-of it’s self but I usually find it’s related to Dyspraxia and/or Aspergers. Quite often it’s the texture of the food that the child might struggle with or too many flavours in their mouth at once. I used to eat every food separately but I didn’t mind if different foods touched on my plate.
I was highly sensitive to the texture of fabric (and still am). Anything vaguely rough i.e. not soft, used to make me itch and squirm like crazy! Also sitting on cheapo carpet for story time, I’d have to sit on my coat. I also need weight on me to feel snuggly and calm. So even in the middle of Summer I can’t sleep without a duvet on me. I remember my Mum telling me every time I’d be upset I’d wrap myself in this really soft and (more importantly I realise now) rather heavy blanket, and I’d instantly calm down.
As a kid if there was a sudden loud repetitive noise it would debilitate me to the point where I couldn’t even think straight or move properly. Even slightly high pitched sounds cause me physical pain so I have to wear noise cancelling ear plugs to concerts.
My eyes have always be light sensitive so these days I have transitions lenses in my glasses and a great pair of sunglasses that are polarised and anti-glare.
I’m mostly under sensitive to touch meaning as a kid I loved my hair platted, brushed and cut but I know some kids find this painful and stressful even when it’s done gently.
I loved swinging, bouncing, jumping, rocking motions, anything with speed and movement. I found it really exciting and calming in equal measure. I’ve gotten more sensitive to movement as I’ve gotten older though.
Questioning and Analytical Personality
From a young age, maybe seven or eight, I started wondering about EVERYTHING. What is the meaning of life? Why can’t we feel the earth spinning and why don’t we get dizzy? If we evolved from Apes will we evolve into something better than human or is this as good as it gets? If fate existed then who would decide it? Why do different people around the world all think that their god is the real one? What exactly is oxygen and gravity and where does it come from? Are there aliens out there and would they think that we were the aliens if they saw us? I’d contemplate these things with my best friend for at least half of playtime each day and then we’d go home and ask our parents these baffling and sometimes amusing questions.
Issues with Co-ordination, Balance and Spacial Awareness
Our bodies internal compas and steering tends to be calibrated wrongly making it hard for us to do things like throw and catch a ball, ride a bike and swim. I only learned to ride a bike when I was 7 and my mate lent me hers (mine still had stabilisers on) and pushed me down a gentle grassy hill. For once, momentum worked in my favour. When I’d try to throw a ball my hand would open to late and I chuck it at the ground in front of me. Same for catching, I’d react to late and it would just hit me.
Special awareness can mean the object around you, your own limbs and how much space both things occupy and the space between them. A person who cannot automatically judge these things will end up bouncing off things, walking into things and falling over things. I get bruised daily from this. I also do not possess the natural reflex to put me hands up when I fall or if someone suddenly throws something at me, so I’ve amassed a rather wonderful collection of scars.
Difficulty with Spontaneous and Unstructured Play
At the age of around three Mum dropped me off at a play group to learn social skills and how to exist separately from her. The assistant suggested I might like to go on the slide after me pointing at it while jumping up and down enthusiastically the moment we got there. When my Mum came to pick me up it turned out that’s ALL I had done. For an hour. My Mum was a little annoyed that the assistants hadn’t suggested to me that I do something else because she knew that it wouldn’t naturally occur to me, even though I was surrounded with other things to play with. I hadn’t talked to any other kids either, again because it hadn’t naturally occurred to me that this is what I was meant to be doing, simply because no one had explained this option to me.
No Idea of Boundaries or What is Unsafe
Oddly enough, considering my lack of communication with little kids my own age, I would enthusiastically say a loud “Hiya!” to any adult within 12ft. As I was getting older I started acting fearlessly when it came to jumping off stuff that was too high or climbing giant trees or play fighting really roughly or standing up on swings and wondering if it might be fun to let go of the chains (it really wasn’t). Yet, at the same time I’d be stupidly scared of going on fairground rides with the theory that if I couldn’t cope with it, I’d essentially be stuck on the bloody thing until it finished. Having tested this logic a couple of times as an adult – with literally sickening consequences – I now stick rigidly to it!
At the age of 10 I got chatting to one of the keepers at the zoo we were visiting who was around 18 I reckon. When I say chatting, it was more strolling and chatting to the point where my parents where awkwardly tagging along behind. My ability to make this guy laugh and to ask questions and tell him facts about the animals that he actually found intriguing, both pleased and worried them equally and think they were very glad that he was an employee of the zoo and not some random man. I think this behaviour also ties in with being able to communicate/feeling more comfortable with people who are much younger or older than ones self.
Not Getting the Natural Rhythm and Impulse Control in Conversations.
I would butt in constantly because a) I would mistake someone taking a breath or pausing to think as them finishing their sentence. b) It would take me so long to process what someone was saying and think of a response, that they would have moved onto another topic. I’d suddenly blurt out (but actually I’d been waiting for a gap in conversation and missed many of them) what my thought on their previous topic was and they’d look at me like I was nuts. c) I’d be constantly saying “Oh I did that as well.” or “Well, when I did that…” not because I was self absorbed but because I was delighted to have something in common with some one (proving I was normal) and I was desperately trying to empathise with them. Not the best idea though when someone is trying to tell you something important that’s bothering them or what they did well etc.
Sometimes I blurt out something which is meant as a compliment and certainly sounded like it in my head but seems to get lost in translation between my brain and my gob. As a teen I enthusiastically said to a lad I fancied “Your hair gel makes you look like Sonic The Hedgehog!” I thought Sonic was The.Best.Thing.Ever at the time but everyone laughed and the poor kid just looked mortified. Oops!
Something that amuses me is when I’m deep in thought with an imaginary scenario going through my head I might end up saying a bit of it aloud by mistake. I swear my imagination has a life of it’s own and not just in my really vivid hyper-real dreams. Something that drives my bloke mad is when I don’t answer him because I’ve thought the answer in my head so strongly that I’m sure I have said it aloud already.
I tend to take people with dry humour very literally, even though I’m quite dry humoured myself, which is odd. With expressions that I might not have heard before, it never occurs to me that it’s a tern of phrase and I take those literally as well.
Memory and Concentration and ‘learning difficulties’
I’ve put ‘learning difficulties’ in quotes because I think a lot of people with Dyspraxia and/or Aspergers are fairly bright but struggle to learn things because of short term-memory, recall and concentration probs. As a kid in class I would have this whole amazing adventure in my head and I mean an epically long adventure. What completely escaped me was the fact I only had just under an hour to get it down on paper so a) It should be a manageable length and b) I should start writing as I went along, not think it all up first and then start writing five minutes before the end of the lesson. When these two things were explained to me I attempted some vague time management but again and again I disappeared into my own thoughts where it was like time stood still.
My recall is useless, it’s like I know I know something but I can’t figure out where my brain has stored that piece of knowledge. In Junior school my hand would fly up and I’d look chuffed that I knew the answer but when the teacher picked me I’d just sit silently with a very confused look on my face as the answer slid away the more I tried to think of it. I confidently told the teacher once “Give me a minute, It’ll come back to me.” and everyone laughed, apart from the teacher who frowned and told me “Question and answer time doesn’t work like that as you well know!” I didn’t know or should I say I hadn’t remembered how structured it was. After that, I didn’t put my hand up again until I was well into high-school many years later.
When you notice absolutely everything it’s hard to filter out what’s not relevant to be able to concentrate. The sound of the clock ticking, the smell of someone’s deodorant (or lack of it), what the weather is doing outside, how tight the neck of your top is, what you’d like for dinner, that joke about the llama last night, why is there a stupid silent ‘gh’ in words. Ah, right, what was I doing again? Why is this in my hand? I can use that as a clue!
Sequencing (thinking straight) and Logic
My thought processes seem to go from A-B-D-A-E-D and then No! Now it’s ALL slipped away! Those logic questions like ‘If Suzanne had 12 apples and she shared 3 with Bobby and…” Bloody Suzanne and her frickin apples! Why’d she have to share them unevenly anyway! Even as a teenager I would physically have to arrange my pens and pencils into groups as if they were the apples (using them as counters essentially) to be able to answer these questions. My logic does not work in a straight line. I’d think myself into a loop with the same two bits of the equation going round and round yet I’d manage to miss out the third part entirely and I’d go straight to the last bit, then be utterly confounded as to why my answer was wrong.
In high school I started making notes for maths. Notes which looked nonsensical to anyone else. I was utterly delighted when the teacher said we had to show our ‘working out’ to show her our logic. I made my copious notes in a circle all around the sum and crossed out each one as I used it so I could keep track and proudly handed it in. Her face was an absolute picture! She had no idea that these scribbles even were mathematical notes. I learned how to write my notes to keep track of all foggy, sum related thoughts on a separate piece of paper, then I’d neatly write down my working out in the style that they wanted to see in my text book. This meant I took twice as long to do every sum/problem and never finished the page, making the teacher think I didn’t understand the questions in the first place. *face palm*
Not the case at all. I found a lot of questions in high school – mathematical or otherwise – mind numbingly boring. Not the actual subjects just the textbook questions so I liked to ask my own, which drove teachers crazy, partly because they didn’t always have the answer – unless it was in the textbook and on that particular page and partly because they had a lesson plan to follow.
A lot of the time I loose the point of my sentence and then just try to wing it but end up coming to an increasingly quieter waffle that just trails off. It helps to quickly loosely plan the structure of my sentence before I open my mouth when I’m around new people. Sometimes when I’m listening to someone, by the time they’ve come to the end of their sentence, I’ve already forgotten what they said at the beginning. Sometimes when I’m telling someone something I don’t start at the beginning of the sentence so there’s no context to what I’m saying. I tend to recognise that specific confused look on people’s faces these days and quickly (almost as if it’s part of the original sentence) add on what should have been said at the beginning. This makes me talk backwards, like Yoda, a lot.
Sequencing issues also apply to the order of letters in a word and the order of the words in a sentence, which is why it’s taking me forever to write this post! If I left this utterly unedited, some words would be unrecognisable and some words would be left out and some words would be repeated twice etc. As well as everything mentioned in the paragraph above. It would read as jumbled up as I think basically.
Just not getting stuff
It used to be really difficult for me to weigh up new situations. I don’t naturally have the ability to asses what I’m supposed to be doing or how I’m meant to be doing it straight away. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just blundered straight into a situation and someone has said “Excuse me! Can I see your ticket?” and I’ve looked at them blankly, having walked right passed a very obvious illuminated ticket office. I remember being totally sensory-overloaded one summer after being stuck in a huge, noisy, meltingly hot cue at the post office, only to find out it was the wrong cue! I was told I’d have to cue up all over again in the right one. I tried to reason with the lady that it wasn’t fair but ended up bursting into tears. It was a really good lesson though as it taught me to just pause for a moment and assess situations first before throwing myself into them. I’m actually really quick at assessing stuff these days because of that.
After saying all of this I need to state that Dyspraxia/Asperger’s does not effect intelligence unless there are other developmental problems.
Honesty, Naivety, Tactlessness and Manipulation
My honesty meant that I was blunt to the point of being tactless. Often if someone was avoiding saying a certain thing or they’d messed up in some way and were trying to wriggle out of it I’d assume that I mustn’t have understood the situation properly (pretty average occurance for me tbh) and so I’d say “Yes, you did! You told her that blah blah…” or “I thought you knew you were supposed to do blah blah because I was there when they told you to.” That made me really popular in the first years of high school!
My natural in-built honesty meant that up until I was around 11-12 it never occurred to me that people lie. They lie to make themselves look good, feel better, to get ahead, to stir things up or simply to see if you are daft enough (or naive enough) to believe them. I was. Even aged 12-13 I believed that if someone was your friend then they wouldn’t play a joke on you or manipulate you because that’s a mean thing to do and friends are never mean. Wrong! It would take someone else to notice what was going on and point it out (practically bang me over the head with it) before I’d realise. Luckily this stopped when I got friends who were more mature and realised that I had ‘difficulties’ in certain areas that they shouldn’t take advantage of.
Oddly enough I became a really quick study in reading people as I got into my mid-late teens in order to fit in and appear ‘normal’. I think this is why Dyspraxia/Aspergers is so overlooked in females as we can be great chameleons at blending in. I’d never just go along with stuff to be popular but I was good at staying quiet and observing peoples tone of voice, or little gestures or how they would back track and subtly change their meaning if what they were saying wasn’t going down well with others. I started to notice people’s pride and the need to be popular and the fact that they were more prone to agreeing to do something if they thought it was their idea in the first place. I also learned that people like people who listen and give just enough advice that’s helpful but doesn’t entirely go against what they ultimately have already decided to do anyway.
I was becoming, without realising it, a little manipulative. All those years of studying human nature to be able to understand it was meaning I was now able to predict it and use it. I’d say 80% of the time it was just to talk my way out of forgetting something yet again or to hide something quirky thing about myself or to pretend I’d listened to or understood what was being said but the other 20% was to get my own way. I found it easier than people respecting me enough to take my opinion seriously, especially when I was struggling to explain it properly. Plus, when I couldn’t mentally keep up with group conversations to be able to give my input at the time, manipulation was a handy short cut to steer things the way I chose later on. I was only strongly presenting the pro’s of what I wanted to do and none of the cons but still kinda manipulative.
Turns out I was so emotionally guarded (to make sure I didn’t get my very fragile emotions hurt), sarcastic (sometimes I was being serious), ironic (again thanks to my many observations of situations), totally calm in stressful situations (naturally detached) that my group of friends thought I was actually kinda cool. Bahaahaa! No. Apparently I was also cool because they (mistakenly) thought I didn’t care that much about social norms and had a strong sense of self. It was more that I just didn’t get them. Like when someone dies and you say “I’m sorry” to the relatives. My reply was “I’m not saying sorry. It’s not like I killed them!” Dark humour right? Nope, just being honest. I did know exactly who I was but that was someone who was clearly from another planet. I had been getting the distinct message from teachers and society in general that I was wrong in some way, which was upsetting and so confusing. It was due to my amazing friends and in-part to my parents love and patience that I fought to keep myself as myself and not change too much.
My naivety still effected me into my mid 20’s as a travelling temporary Admin Assistant where I wouldn’t be able to tell if groups of people were just humouring me and letting me hang out with them, as they felt too mean to ignore me. I would think I was genuinely friends with these people until others strongly hinted otherwise.
Empathy and Highly Sensitive Emotions
A lot of females with Dyspraxia and/or Aspergers feel emotions really deeply so things like a situation being unfair, involving us or another person can really bother us. When we empathise with some we really empathise with them to the point of feeling upset because they are and crying and we might end up crying with them! It took me all of my teens and 20’s to realise that even nice people don’t always behave in a fair way though, and just because you may have massively gone out of your way for someone many times does not always mean that will do the same for you.
Me: You didn’t do that important thing for me.
Friend: I was a bit busy with, er, something.
Me: But I did that thing for you that time and you knew it was really inconvenient for me.
Friend: I didn’t make you, that was your choice.
I realised that a) It’s not fair to expect everyone to be as emotionally involved and intense with everything as you are, including your friendship b) There is such a thing as being too nice to the point where people take you for granted or even take advantage. c) Self respect comes from setting boundaries with yourself and others. d) EVERYONE makes mistakes or forgets things, or stops paying attention, it’s human nature and it doesn’t mean they don’t care. However, it’s good to keep in mind just how regularly this occurs as they might be trying to tell you something!
Coping with Change and Unexpected Situations
I’m still getting there, day by day. However, I no longer have a melt down over takeaway orders being wrong – even if I’ve looked forward all week to the one thing they’ve forgotten to include. Recently my bloke suddenly suggested we go to a Thai restaurant in town which we’d literally just read about and which closed at 11.00. It was 9.30 so we had to go right away. I was in my PJ’s and in relaxed slob mode but I calmly said “Yeah let’s go”. I acted (notice I say ‘acted’) like a serene in control person the whole time I was putting together my outfit and tidying my hair and applying concealer all within a 15 minute time slot before the cab arrived.
That would have been completely out of the questions 6 months ago. The mere idea would have been ridiculous to me because I would have immediately felt anxious. Anxious because I hadn’t expected and therefore gotten my head around what was happening. I’d have been in the totally different mind set of “Of course I can’t.”
It’s also about things not happening. Looking forward to going clubbing all week and then people saying they’re not in the mood. I’d be gutted. I’d planned it. I’d gone through scenarios in my head about it on a loop. ALL WEEK. I’d skip straight over distraught onto determined – determined that the person would go! Now I realise that’s selfish and slightly insane. I deal with unexpected situations a hell of a lot better these days. It’s all just part of life and no big deal most of the time. The unexpected can even be a good thing. That Thai place was great!
I hope this has helped people to feel a little less weird or to be proud of how weird they are. Remember that your neuro-diversity means you are just different (to Neuro-typical people) and not inherently wrong. And as comedian Francesca Martinez says “What the F**k is normal anyway!?”