This blog is part of our series on neurodiversity, and is on a topic that’s very close to my heart, as being dyspraxic myself I’m aware that when dyspraxia is discussed, there’s a (understandable) focus on the challenges, but less understanding and appreciation of the strengths that come with dyspraxia.
Step 1 –
Every person’s experience of dyspraxia is different, so the first step is to be explicitly clear on how dyspraxia affects you as an individual. This sounds straightforward but is something people often miss.
This includes firstly identifying some of the challenges and to what extent they affect you. For example, I struggle with coordination and spatial awareness, but not as much as other people. What I really struggle with is concentration and organising ideas in my head into written words and structured, clear paragraphs.
The second part is to identify your own beliefs about your dyspraxia, including how you think it may affect your career. For example –
- Do you believe that you can ‘achieve’ as much as other people?
- Do you feel there are things you can’t do which will hold you back in your career?
- How much do you actually believe that being dyspraxic can be an advantage?
It’s important to identify these beliefs, as they determine how you act now and in the future. If you believe you can’t achieve much, then your actions will reflect this and you never will!
As an example, if I’m being honest about myself, sometimes I enjoy having a brain that’s ‘wired’ differently to other peoples’ and being able to approach tasks in a way that others can’t see; whereas other times, I get frustrated and down because I feel like I’m ‘lagging behind’ and that I’m destined not to be ‘as good’ as others.
If you feel that your dyspraxia limits you in some way that will negatively affect your career, hopefully the following steps will help you to feel more positive – as this is the first thing you need in place to achieve anything.
Step 2 –
Be clear on your personal strengths that have come from dyspraxia – either directly or things that you’ve developed.
Some of these strengths typically include –
- Creative problem solving, determination and resilience, including being able to develop own strategies to get through difficulties (for example, you may initially struggle with being organised, but have worked out ways to become very organised)
- Creative thinking and innovation – being able to see and approach tasks in a different way to others
- Empathy and sensitivity to others, being able to really understand them, especially people who are might be struggling with something in some way
- Excellent long-term memory
- Handling pressure and feeling calm when others don’t
If you need help identifying (and by extension, believing that you have) strengths, a good activity is to think about times you’ve done something well – where you had a sense of achievement or positive feedback from others. This can be anything, not just work-related.
If you feel like you’ve not achieved anything, I’d suggest –
- Remembering that this isn’t going to be judged by anyone else and what you perceive as their standards
- Start with wherever you are and whatever you have, however ‘small’ you may feel what you’ve done in life might be
Without this you can’t move onto the next steps.
So once you have this, think about what skills and attributes you used to reach these achievements. For example, was it your ability to come up with a new solution to overcome a problem? Was it the way you were able to deal well with a person in a particular situation?
Now I would suggest that it’s worth writing these examples down instead of just keeping them in your mind, and this will help you see things easier.
Once you have a list of experiences and skills, I’ve also found it beneficial to say your skills out loud a few times, starting with ‘I am…’. For example, ‘I’m a creative thinker’. It’s a simple activity, and when I’ve done this with people I’ve seen them grow in confidence really quickly in front of me after they’ve practised 3 – 4 times.
Identify how these strengths can be used in the work you want to do (of if you’re not sure what work you want to do, start by thinking about how these strengths could be used generally in work and go from there).
Make a list – something tangible in front of you that you can look at. This helps make this process easier.
For example, I read an example recently on the Medium website of a dyspraxic guy who early in his career didn’t have a particular career plan, but happened to be working in a bank where he took a complaint call and managed to turn to the situation around so the customer went from really angry to being happy. This one experience shaped his future career path in banks working in customer complaints, where the people skills that come from being dyspraxic are an advantage.
It’s also worth remembering that skills such as creative, innovative thinking and creative problem solving are very much in demand in most industries, as organisations are always looking for ways to do things better. Being good with people is also a skill that virtually every job needs in some way.
Work out how to minimise weaknesses.
As people, we’re often inclined to focus on improving our weaknesses, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself, but often is at the expense of focusing on working to our strengths.
Instead, it can be more effective to accept that some challenges aren’t going away, so it’s better to minimise them as pragmatically as possible. Now how this works for each individual person is going to be a bit of trial and error, of trying different approaches until you find something that works, but that’s okay because the end result is worth it. I should also add that it’s completely okay to ask for help where you need as disability is a protected characteristic in the workplace.
As a couple of personal examples, to help with concentration, I love putting in my headphones and listening to music. I also block out specific time after appointments where all I do is the administrative tasks from those appointments, as this ensures I get it done and don’t have to worry about keeping organised or letting ‘boring’ tasks build up and become bigger than they need to be.
Plan ahead taking account of both your time and energy levels.
It’s important to look at your energy levels, especially if you find struggling with daily tasks something that drains you. I believe this is more important than trying to organise your time, as you can make all the plans you want, but if you don’t have the energy to do them then chances are you won’t follow them through.
Personally, I find what works really well is organising my work week to follow a consistent routine that gives a nice mix of structure and flexibility, and which accounts for how my energy levels are affected by different tasks. For instance, I’m happy to do lots of people-facing appointments Tuesday to Thursday, but keep Monday mornings and Fridays free to help me ‘recover’. This allows me to be really engaged in my appointments and play to my strengths working with people, knowing that I only have to maintain this energy for a fixed-time period.
So these are my 5 steps for using dyspraxia as an advantage in the workplace – if you’ve found any particularly useful then please just say in the comments below, or if there is anything you’d like to discuss further then please comment below as well and I’ll come back to you.
- Christian Jameson-Warren