Friday, 18 November 2011

Dyspraxia & Sign Language

    There's two things I'm really interested in (outside of writing) - autism / dyspraxia studies and Deaf awareness / sign language. I have the former (dyspraxia) and am studying the latter (just started Level 2 British Sign Language).

    Before I started BSL, I never considered how it could link up with my dyspraxia - I've discussed that before ( - but I'm conscious more than ever how they can impact each other, and improve my awareness of both my condition and my communication with others, both Deaf and hearing.

    My short-term memory is atrocious - genuinely, it is terrible, so I have to work hard and for longer to retain information. I'm also a very visual people, so I don't always rely on reams of notes to get me through a situation, but rehearsing and practicing over and over again, even in the confines of my own head, help me learn. I think I worry people sometimes, because they notice my lack of note-taking, but I much prefer visualising my learning; it makes it easier, and BSL is perfect for that - it's ALL visual! I don't make many notes in class, as I much prefer to practice in an almost rote-like fashion, and this makes my learning far more effective.

    There's another HUGE concept in BSL - that of multi-channel, where a concept or a phrase is communicated through hands, facial expression and body. All of sign is, of course, communicated like this, but multi-channel signs are whole concepts rather than individual signs; for example, "I've not seen you in ages" is a multi-channel sign. It uses the face and body as well as hands to communicate that entire phrase - and you need all those things to communicate it effectively.

    That makes it interesting for someone who isn't overly facially expressive for a majority of the time; when I am, it's usually because I'm in a comfortable setting, with people I know, and I'm confident with my emotions. For the rest of the time, if I'm unsure of how to project an emotion (sometimes!) or I have anxiety (sometimes) or not thinking about making an actual effort to project an emotion to make other people feel comfortable, or I just don't understand an emotion, then I will appear quite ... ahem ... serious.

    Visual and expressive emotion is a fun thing to study in BSL when you're like that, and it can increase my anxiety when I have to be overly expressive - although I can't entirely put my finger on why. That's a debate for another time, but learning BSL at level two is a lot harder than level one (in a good way), and so I have to be a lot more focused on the language and how non-manual features such as facial expressions are vital in communication.

    This is a "hearing" issue as well as a "dyspraxia" issue, I suspect; hearing people can use intonation as well, and don't need rely on facial expression to get across an emotion. So this is an awareness-raising discussion as well; for others as well as for me. I've always believed that hearing people need to have more deaf awareness, and have a more emotive face is certainly part of that - and clearly something that I will continue to learn!

Friday, 11 November 2011

Dyspraxia: Assessment Day

    Assessing people for dyspraxia and other DCD and autistic-spectrum disorders is a very specialised art - OT's and psychologists need specialised training in order to do the assessment effectively. Occupational Therapists (OT's) need effective training - and I was more than pleased to take part in this training, especially as it meant I could get an assessment out of it as well.

    I've taken part in a research study at Oxford Brookes University ( back in May 2011. I was glad to take part in it, but I had to be clear when I did that I had no formal diagnosis - merely an observed set of issues that my teachers thought added up to dyspraxia.

    However, this was a perfect opportunity to change that - Frances Beaumont, co-founder of the Kent Dyspraxia Association and a qualified and experienced OT herself had arranged a training day for OT's to be able to diagnose the condition, but of course needed volunteers for the OT's to assess.

    I wasn't likely to turn that opportunity down!

    I genuinely didn't know what to expect from the assessment; I know people who have been assessed - indeed, a very good friend of mine is dyspraxia and had a full assessment some time ago - but I deliberately avoided asking too many questions, because I didn't want to influence my own thoughts and responses when I was assessed.

    The assessment day was in Faversham, only a 40 minute train journey from where I live - and I was picked up from (and returned to) the station ... which I am grateful for. Not knowing Faversham AT ALL, it would have been a dead cert that I would have got lost. As it was, I felt a certain amount of anxiety about going to an unfamiliar place and with no advanced plan of action - it's an unsettling sensation for someone who likes to be in control of his day, but also good ... as it helped to explain to the OT what it felt like.

    There were six OT's to six volunteers, and I was "paired" with a Welsh-born, Birmingham resident called Laura, who had been an OT for some years and was looking to expand her knowledge. You always worry about getting on, but thankfully, that wasn't the case here - Laura and I got on famously.

    Frances led some interesting discussions in the morning, geared towards to OT's, but was fascinating to listen to, and then we began individual assessments in our pairs. I mentioned previously that I had to complete and two questionnaires; one being a Sensory Profile, about my reaction to different situations and circumstances, and the second being a more open questionnaire about my past, my life in general, etc. We spent a good couple of hours in discussion around these questionnaires, and it was fascinating to work through the forms and see how my Sensory Profile really does fit into a model of dyspraxia.

    The session was broken by lunch, and it was fascinating to mingle with the OT's ... and the other dspraxics. We had some brilliantly fascinating - and funny - conversations over lunch, and it was great to know that I wasn't the only one worried about missing my mouth whilst eating.

    After lunch - and more discussion - I did some manual tasks; walking on the balls and heels of my feet, finger dexterity and perception tests, and the old favourite ... balance tests. Oh how I love them! It was interesting to get feedback from Laura; clearly, I have terrible balance, but she noted how my body tried to compensate - by putting a hand into a pocket, for example. It seems my subconscious is already trying to help out a bit ... reassuring!

    It was a long day of discussion and testing - I got home about 5.30, but it felt later, and I felt exhausted. It was incredibly worth it, though; it gave me a deeper understanding of dyspraxia, intellectually, physically and emotionally. Having to concentrate on physical actions to a great depth than neurotypical people can be exhausting, and it certainly was that during the testing, because it was very focused - but don't think I'm complaining, because it was worthwhile for the end result.

    The OT's had a second day of training today, then are going off to write the report, so I should get the first draft within the next couple of weeks - and then we shall know the outcome. I'm very much treating it as a new chapter in my life, because I can choose what I want to do with the report - and if there are any changes I want to take on as a result.

    Whatever else, this year has been an incredibly interesting one - and this report will cap it very nicely!