Speak up, you are so quiet: Living with Dyspraxia

“I’m speaking to you, answer when you are spoken to.”

I did answer, you did not hear me.

“Speak up, Katy! She’s talking to you.”

I am speaking.

“She didn’t even say thank you when I got her a present.”

I did say thank you, you did not hear me.

Growing up received a lot of complaints about how quiet I am. Most of the time, people think I am being rude and not answering them. In reality, I have difficulty with volume control. For me, speaking up can become an unintentional shout. Most of the time I don’t even realise that I have spoken at the wrong volume. I don’t realise that the person over 5 metres away is not going to hear my usual volume voice, and that I need to raise my voice. I can’t help what I don’t realise is a problem, after all.

I started to realise it was a problem when I had the repeated problem of talking to people and getting no reply. I assumed that the people I was talking to just did not want to reply. I should add, 75% of the time I am talking to them, it is in reply to something they have said to me. After a while it started to affect my confidence in talking to people, what is the point in talking to them if they aren’t going to reply, or aren’t interested in talking to me.

Take my nan’s living room whilst all the family are inside catching up with each other. I don’t realise the noise around me will affect how someone will hear me, I talk at my regular volume. Then the person I am talking to blatantly ignores me (though in reality they could not hear me) and I end up not talking first to anyone for the rest of the time there. Not only is it a confidence thing, its also an anxiety thing. In crowded spaces I do get nervous and naturally my voice lowers in volume. It’s not something that I choose to do, at times it feels like someone is holding my tongue, preventing me from talking at all and it takes extra effort to speak in the first place.

It all comes into my Dyspraxic mind. One symptom of Dyspraxia is a lack of control in volume, pitch, and rate. I only learned that this was a symptom a couple of weeks ago and the issues I had been having suddenly clicked into place. All of the people ignoring me, people complaining of my impoliteness, my seemingly uncontrollably low voice, it all seemed to make sense. All that time I had not even realized that I was the one behaving incorrectly, speaking in a quieter voice than I meant to. However, at the end of the day, the way I speak is part of who I am and people should not try to change that by telling me to “speak louder.”

I feel that, because Dyspraxia is commonly known as a learning difficulty, people do not seem to realise that it doesn’t just effect reading and writing. It is so much more complicated than that. Through my blogs I want to express the ways that my difficulties do affect my life. Even if only one person reads my blog, at least one person will understand my Dyspraxic mind just a little bit more.  

My essential support from the University Wellbeing Center

It turns out that when you are actually seeking out the support services that you need, you will be able to get the support you need as they learn what help you need. About 2 months into teaching block one my assigned university disability officer met with me for the first time and after a chat she decided I might benefit from being referred to the university wellbeing centre.

A couple of weeks later the lady I was set to meet in the wellbeing centre for an initial assessment led me into a room filled with therapeutic decor such as candles, incense, succulents etc. I had some doubts about my benefits from this service when I saw this. She asked me multiple questions about myself and mentioned that there was an autism specialist wellbeing advisor that she could get me into contact with. 

About two more weeks later I went to meet with this “Autism specialist” lets call her Ada. Ada showed me into her office, introduced herself and then had me sit at her computer to do a quick survey filled with very personal questions. I tried to answer this survey as seriously as possible but I didn’t expect her to look at my results immediately afterwards. I thought it might have been a record thing but instead she asked me questions about my answers. 

After the awkward (for me) chat, she started to ask me some questions especially about my sensory awareness. She suspected I might have this, I guess you could call it a disorder; sensory sensitivity. This was then confirmed by yet another survey. I am mentioning quite a few surveys but they were not too difficult and helped her to work out my situation. 

I found that this diagnosis helped to explain some of the difficulties I have. Sensory sensitivity is when your brain can have a little difficulty responding to information sent through the senses. This can make me overly sensitive to certain things like sound (I carry hand sanitiser to avoid hand dryers) or textures (people often find it weird that I sieve all of my pasta sauces) but this can also mean that i’m so overwhelmed by one thing that I don’t notice another for example I will be so overwhelmed in social situations that I don’t realise I am sweating like crazy and need to take off my jumper. 

My point by sharing this story is that I usually do find it quite hard to ask for help when something is wrong but in this situation when I finally did I actually learned why it was wrong. I do still find it very difficult to trouble people when I feel as though something isn’t quite right but in this story I sought out help from my university and they gave me the diagnosis I didn’t know I needed and then provided me with some coping mechanisms. I am so glad that I am not just weird, and there is actually a real disorder behind it.

Myth: “You won’t be getting this much support at University”

When I left School I had already been informed by my past teachers that “you won’t be getting this much support at University”. With this in mind I came prepared to be independent with all of my work and try to be one of the best in my year: or so my optimism naively hoped I could.

Having a learning difficulty, I had already found that in some situations or activities I do need more instructions than other people. So, struggling with the idea of catching up on work whilst not completely understanding how to complete the work, I started to wonder if university was really for me. However, I was determined to stay so I started to ask other students for help and sometimes I managed to pluck up the courage to approach my lecturer at the end of a session.

When I had my first assignment returned the lecturer had sent out an email asking us to get into contact if we wanted to meet him so he could explain the feedback further. I felt like this meeting would be a little awkward but the lecturer was friendly and he answered all of the questions I had and gave me helpful advice. 

After this successful meeting with my lecturer I started to wonder if I could get help in other modules. Of course I was shy and unsure about plucking up the courage to ask for help but my mentor kept prompting me to do so and finally I gained more confidence to contact lecturers to discuss assignments or even just to ask them a question after a lecture.

The option to be able to ask for help significantly reduced my panic towards my assignments as, although they were still hard work, if there was anything I really couldn’t understand then I could ask for help. This definitely made university way less scary as it was now clear that it wasn’t just me against the world, I could still ask for help.

At times it can be slightly discouraging to ask for help and the lecturers can look pretty intimidating but at the end of the day they are paid to help you. Whilst you might be put off by them rushing off at the end of a lecture they can have busy schedules but, at least at my university, they are regularly contactable by email so that you can ask when they are available to meet with you. Personally I find emailing easier than approaching a lecturer in person and an added bonus of making plans via email is that you can read back over the email to double check the time and meeting place. 

Of course it isn’t a wider issue that students need help from their lecturers and tutors at University. I personally need extra help because I find it harder to break down tasks and sometimes things can be worded in a way that seriously confuses me so I do need some extra help. However, a lot of other students without a learning difficulty may also need help because, especially at university, academic work can be very difficult at times so don’t be discouraged if you also need to ask your lecturers a question or two or even have a meeting with them to discuss work or feedback. You are paying them to help you after all.

How to go home when uni is your new home

One of the more difficult parts of moving away for university is that you are leaving the home that you grew up in and are used to and plunging yourself into the unknown.

When I was choosing between universities I decided that I wanted to live away from home. Not at all because I didn’t like being at home but because I liked the idea of an adventure of moving away and living with other students. Of course I had the usual worries like what if I couldn’t make any friends (though I actually ended up making my first friend on the day of moving in) and what if my flatmates weren’t nice (I had very nice flatmates in the end).

As soon as my mum left after helping me move into my room, it hit me that I was on my own now and I was determined to make the most of independent living. But after a couple of weeks I really started to miss things that were at home. I tried printing out photos and my mum had photos sent to me as well which did help but nothing can replace the real thing. A big part of missing home was my dog. That might sound weird but I could video call most other people but I obviously couldn’t for my dog.

When consolidation week finally came around I took advantage and took the train home. A three hour long journey but I had always been a fan of trains so I largely enjoyed it. However I was slightly overwhelmed when I got home and quickly had to readjust from the student halls setting to the family setting. A weird part for me was that whilst in halls everyone would be up until 1am at the earliest, at home everyone was suddenly in bed by 8pm leaving me on my own to wonder what I would do with this new found isolated time. Eventually I just ended up changing my sleeping routine when I went home.

A hard part of being home was that everyone else was used to who they saw in their everyday life so that when I suddenly showed up I felt like an outsider – I still do most of the time when I go home. On top of that a lot of my friends and family back home had to go to work during the day so I would sometimes be alone and question why I had come home. However, I did eventually work out how to get around these things, most of them inner turmoil: now I am quite happy to go home and know what to expect. 

The change can be hard but now in my second year away from home I have adjusted so I know roughly what to expect when I go home. It might seem like going home isn’t part of independent student living but a break from uni is a necessity when uni life is getting a little overwhelming.

Following My Heart: Changing My Degree After First Year

When I was 16 years old I took a career test. The test told me that I should be a social worker. After some research I decided that this seemed ideal for me and I made choices for my A-levels based on this aspiration. Following this was two years of hard working and stressing over interviews at multiple universities. After all this hard work, I was very happy to be accepted onto the social work course at the University of Portsmouth. 

In the first couple of months, like a lot of other students, I did start to have some doubts about whether this course was right for me but this passed after a month or so. But then the doubts returned. I definitely wanted to support people in vulnerable situations but was I ready to take on such a heavy burden of responsibility?

I visited a careers advisor to see what other career options there were; she gave me some ideas but then asked if there was any other degree I was interested in. The first thing that came to mind was the creative writing course. Since a young age I had been an avid writer and I had planned to maybe get a degree in writing later in life; but if I was not happy with my current career option maybe I could go for my backup option.

Most details about the creative writing course started to draw me in and I had some friends that were already on the course that were certainly making it more appealing to me but I had some internal conflicts about giving up the social work course. Firstly, I had worked very hard to get onto the course, did I really want to disregard that hard work by giving it up? Secondly, I had already paid for most of the first year of the course, I would be adding to my debt by not using that year. Thirdly, what would my family think? I had liked to think that they would be proud of me for getting a degree in such a professional career but would they feel the same way about a more creative course? 

My internal conflicts continued to battle for the most of six months within which I was constantly changing my mind between the two courses (much to the confusion of my poor personal tutor) until one day I decided to bite the bullet and sign the course transfer paperwork. 

Now as I reach the end of the first half of semester one in my new course I feel glad that I followed my heart but of course I did give up the job security of a professional degree. But to hell with job security! Whilst it is very safe to have job security it is not possible in all industries if the risk is what it takes to do what I love, then I will just have to take the risk and see where the future takes me.

Beware The Freshers Flu!

One of the things that no one really knows about before moving away from home for university, and my least favourite part of uni, is the kind of nasty things you are putting your body at risk of. Freshers Flu is a big thing and most students will get it and don’t worry you will know when people have it because they will complain about it in lectures. 

It is called ‘Freshers’ Flu because first years are most likely to catch it. With all the first years living in halls of residence you are more likely to catch it because you are all in one place. I was one of these people and, as a germaphobe, I was trying really hard to avoid it but there is nowhere to hide from germs. Now in my second time of being a fresher I am very sick of it (pun unintended).

With people moving from different parts of the country to new places they bring with them the bugs that are common in their part of the country, or even other countries entirely in the case of international students, and the people that aren’t from these places will pick it up because they haven’t had it before. Freshers Flu isn’t just one clear sickness with the same symptoms, it is a variety of illnesses which you could catch any of. So for the first couple of weeks your lectures will be filled with coughing, sneezing, tissue-blowing and likeliness is that you will get sick too.

In my second week of lectures I was very sick and definitely shouldn’t have gone out but I REALLY didn’t want to miss a lecture so I dragged myself out of bed to the lecture and had to sit by the door so I could run off. One big issue with getting Freshers Flu in your first couple of weeks is that if you get sick, you most likely won’t feel up for lectures and probably should take a day off but not a lot of people are open to missing a lecture in their first month: what if you miss vital information? 

To be honest I am sure most people won’t really care about a little Freshers Flu in which case you are free to do what you like but one big thing you definitely should be aware of is the increased risk of Meningitis. I would, and the university should as well, recommend that you get vaccinated against Meningitis if you haven’t already because students in halls are very likely to get it. You might not like needles but this is a risk to your life and I overly worried about my risk of catching it until I found out I had been vaccinated – I was safe. 

A couple of tips for preparing yourself for Freshers Flu would be to: pack plenty of tissues to come with you, get plenty of cold tablets, and stock up on throat soothers. You might think once you get it you are in the clear but likeliness is that it will come back at some point as winter approaches.

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