This week has been National Dyspraxia Awareness Week (to include this weekend). Dyspraxia is a developmental coordination disorder (DCD) that impacts fine and/or gross motor skills, which can impede everything from following verbal instructions to learning to drive a car.
Although every dyspraxic is different and may therefore present with different symptoms, one of the main areas they may struggle in is education and learning – with distance learning sometimes presenting a particularly unique challenge. However, as someone who is both dyspraxic and studied GCSEs and A-Levels through distance learning, I can also attest that there are many rewards and benefits to distance learning for dyspraxics. Dyspraxia, though a difficult and frequently misunderstood condition, need not prevent students from thriving in an educational environment.
Dyspraxia does not affect intelligence, but it can result in difficulties with memory, planning and organisation of thoughts, auditory processing, and concentration – all of which are important to succeed in education. Dyspraxia can occasionally occur alongside other conditions, such as ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, or autism spectrum disorder.
As someone who wasn’t officially diagnosed with dyspraxia until adulthood, I often became frustrated by the fact I couldn’t understand things as easily as my peers – remembering verbal instructions were nearly impossible and I often had to read a page multiple times to take in the information, which slowed down my progress. Despite these hurdles, through trial and error, I found ways of managing my condition, as well as techniques that improved my concentration and ability to learn. For any dyspraxic students out there who are embarking on distance learning, I’d like to share some advice on getting the most out of your learning, as well as sharing some of the things that worked well for me.
Dyspraxia is a hugely misunderstood condition. People who do not understand it often conflate it with dyslexia or simply label the dyspraxic individual as ‘clumsy,’ making it even harder to talk about. When commencing your distance learning journey, make sure that your personal tutor is aware of your condition from the beginning, and, if you feel comfortable, perhaps share with them how you feel your condition is making certain aspects of learning particularly challenging. When I was studying my English degree at University College London, I disclosed my condition to my tutor in my second year, who was extremely understanding and supportive. The area I was struggling with was structuring essays in a straightforward, cohesive way. After our conversation, we were able to work on this together, with my tutor offering suggestions to help me streamline my technique and improve clarity moving forwards.
Dyspraxics can often get extra support with their exams and coursework, such as extra time, coursework extensions, breaks and so on. This is usually done via a letter from their GP which confirms the diagnosis and recommends provisions.
The great news is that dyspraxics tend to excel with one-to-one tuition. So make the most out of your tutor, communicate regularly and don’t be afraid to ask for suggestions. Your tutor wants you to succeed – and guiding you is what they’re there for!
Just because you have dyspraxia doesn’t necessarily mean you know everything there is to know about the condition – I’m still learning new things years on. The positive side of knowing lots about your condition is that you can educate friends and family members about it, which will make it easier for them to support you. Dyspraxia Foundation Youth is a great place to start, being both informative and extremely supportive. The Dyspraxia Foundation also has fantastic resources for your parents, so they can learn more about your condition and guide you every step of the way on your distance learning journey.
As someone who has always hated the rigidity of timetables, this was a difficult one for me, but I cannot emphasise enough the importance of this for students with dyspraxia, who often struggle with sticking to a good routine.
For your studies, it’s a good idea to create a daily timetable, as well as a long-term plan, with short-term, medium-term and long-term goals and deadlines. It’s easy for a deadline such as written coursework to creep up on us, almost without us noticing, so it’s a good habit to review your deadlines weekly and make sure you are making incremental progress each week. If you find the idea of sticking to a schedule off-putting, it doesn’t need to be extremely rigid. Create a flexible schedule where you can swap out a subject or topic for another if you’re having a difficult day.
And remember, a ‘routine’ is not just about developing good study habits. You should also endeavour to follow a good routine in other areas of your life. Due to processing and sensory issues, many dyspraxics struggle with getting to sleep, so creating a bedtime routine where you unwind and de-stress is incredibly important. Eating healthily, getting regular exercise and socialising with family or friends (where possible) is also vital to keeping yourself in a good routine. Not only is this imperative to your wellbeing, it will also have a positive effect on your study sessions.
Every dyspraxic will have different experiences of the condition and consequently, some techniques will be more effective than others. These are just a few of the methods that help me study more effectively.
Like most people, I love the smell of the pages in a good old-fashioned book, the beautiful illustrations and holding it in my hands. But unfortunately for me, my concentration and traditional books don’t go together. When I arrived at university and was faced with the prospect of having to read up to four complex texts a week, I soon found myself falling behind. Reading on a Kindle – where you can change the font size, highlight sections to come back to and search for specific phrases – was a complete game-changer for me. I found combining listening to an audiobook with ‘reading’ the text an even more powerful technique for enhancing my reading speed and concentration.
For dyspraxics that struggle with concentration, spending long hours studying without a break is typically draining and ineffective. I tried out lots of time management systems and found the Pomodoro technique, where you study for twenty minutes, followed by a five-minute break, very effective when studying for my A-Levels through distance learning. If you’re easily distracted by the internet or social media, there are lots of apps such as Forest, StayFocused or Freedom to keep yourself on track.
Almost every subject requires us to use our memories at some point. Whilst studying for A-Levels I had to memorise everything from literature quotes to thought-experiments for Philosophy. I personally found active recall – recalling the information without reference to the text – one of the most effective techniques, with the Question and Answer format being particularly helpful for me. I used Quizlet extensively. It’s a great resource as not only does it have flashcards for the most popular topics, it also gives you the chance to create your own customised decks, and even have the answer read out to you, which is particularly helpful if you’re an auditory learner.
The use of mnemonics and The Memory Palace are also often underused but extremely powerful methods for dyspraxics. The technique essentially involves converting information into images – the wackier the better! Many dyspraxics are highly creative individuals – and this is a fantastic way of utilising that creativity whilst learning.
This is a bit more difficult under current lockdown restrictions, but I found that regularly changing the environment that I studied in was a good way of refreshing my mind. Some days I would study at home, other days I’d go to the library, the park, a coffee shop or even study with a friend. If your region is currently under strict lockdown restrictions or you are shielding, you can try changing your environment within the home. You could move from studying at a desk to a kitchen table or sofa throughout the day. This is an effective way of preventing fatigue and boredom that often accompanies studying in the same spot all day.
Dyspraxia is a lifelong condition, but it is by no means a life sentence. Dyspraxics are highly creative and sensitive individuals, with their unique perspective on life even aiding problem-solving skills in the workplace. Some of the world’s most famous stars, from actor Daniel Radcliffe to musician Florence Welch, have dyspraxia, showing that it needn’t get in the way of leading a successful life.
Jessica is a freelance copywriter and content writer based in Richmond-Upon-Thames. With a degree in English Literature from University College London, she has experience as a private tutor for 14-18 years olds and adult learners. She has also worked in Widening Participation as a Mentor, Student Ambassador, and Student Leader. As someone who achieved A-Levels through distance-learning, Jessica has first-hand experience of the unique challenges and rewards that distance-learning offers. She regularly contributes content to educational websites including eNotes and Tutorful.