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Reflections on being dyspraxic

21 March 2022

In support of neurodiversity celebration week, assistant director Helene Denness is sharing her story to help shine a light on the strengths and accomplishments of our neurodivergent workforce.

Helene-DennessI was diagnosed with dyslexia in my early 40s and a couple of years later as dyspraxic rather than dyslexic. The diagnosis wasn’t a surprise but how my challenges were described in the assessment report were. I often joke that reading my report you’d think it was a wonder I managed to get myself up and dressed! In some ways, having a label was liberating as it meant there was a reason why some things felt so hard, and it was a passport to getting the support I need.

So how does it feel to be dyspraxic? For me, it’s about lacking spatial awareness, I regularly bump into things, struggle to catch a ball and take a long time to learn gross motor skills. I have issues with working memory so it’s difficult to retain and recall things I’ve read which is what makes exams so challenging for me. Recalling something I’ve read is like ferreting through an overly full filing cabinet for the one document you need in a blindfold. I do use humour to own my challenges, often remarking to colleagues that I have the memory of a goldfish. My long-term memory is great so reciting poems we learnt at school are no issue. My visual functioning is particularly poor, in the worst 3% of the population, which is why large screens are so helpful.

It’s unsurprising that I wasn’t diagnosed earlier in life. People like me weren’t diagnosed in the 70s and 80s as we managed well enough to get by. It’s fair to say I didn’t achieve my potential in school and college, exams were always so difficult, but I did well enough to train as a children’s nurse. After qualifying, and growing in confidence, I studied a BSc part-time and did well now that computers were a thing and that I could complete assignments electronically rather than trudge through exams I had to handwrite. Many years later I found my way to public health and from there into public health training with the associated professional exams. Passing these exams required inordinate work but by then I had a great support network, personal and professional, and success was a cause for much celebration.

One of the advantages of me being ‘out’ as dyspraxic is it challenges the stereotype of what neurodiverse people can achieve with the right support. In addition, if I’m seen to ask for the support I need, it encourages other people to do the same. It demystifies the often‑small reasonable adjustments that make our lives easier.

I’m often drawn to other neurodiverse people, feeling a kindred spirit. We’re not all the same of course, but many of us are creative, imaginative, story tellers, out of the box thinkers, emotionally intelligent and compassionate. We’ve created an informal, neurodiverse network so we can share our strengths, challenges, and potential strategies to overcome them. Our Teams chat is a safe space to share struggles, celebrate triumphs and laugh at some of the scrapes we encounter. Our neurodiverse network brings me much joy so I’m taking this opportunity to thank group members, you know who you are!

Helene Denness, Assistant Director, Adult Social Care and Health.