Meet My Brain - A Field Guide to Autism


August 07, 2022 The Autistic Woman
Meet My Brain - A Field Guide to Autism
Show Notes Transcript

Clumsiness, lack of coordination, spatial orientation challenges and unsteady gait are often common in autism. Is it dyspraxia? Listen to some real-life examples of what it’s like to be a clumsy autistic.

Please take a moment and rate/review the podcast. It takes seconds to rate it and just a minute to review it. By doing so you help make this content available to more autistics.

Twitter: @anautisticwoman

This is a great autism resource for late-diagnosed autistic adults. Now rated in the top 2.5% globally!

Slava Ukraine!

Support the show

Clumsiness, Lack of Coordination, Spatial orientation challenges and Unsteady gait…these are often common in autism. These same things may be a result of dyspraxia rather than autism. Is there a way to tell the difference? 

In this episode I’ll relate my personal experience. See if any of this sounds familiar.

There are traits autistics mask or hide from the world.  For me there’s something I can’t disguise; my clumsiness. It means I’m uncoordinated, I break and spill things, using plastic wrap is a challenge, stair rails are there for a reason, ice cubes prefer the floor over my glass, I fell down a stair in a one story house and broke my foot.

Many causes are attributed to clumsiness such as poor eyesight, aging, medication, anxiety and brain structure. Since I’ve been clumsy all of my life I can pretty much rule out the first four. 

When I was young I was diagnosed with scoliosis. At times someone would ask me if I sprained my foot and would point out that I was dragging it. I assumed it was due to my crooked spine. I know now it’s called “unsteady gait” and is characteristic of autism.

I used to practice walking straight and ladylike to no avail. I’m old enough to remember how women were told that to learn to walk correctly we should place a book on our head and walk a straight line while keeping the book from falling off. I tried it. Didn’t help.

Now I finally know why all the swimming lessons, ballet classes and books on my head didn’t change the way I am. I don’t like that I look weird when I walk. I know there’s nothing I can do about it.

High heels? I wish! Flats are the only things I won’t fall off of…usually 

Have you ever had the experience of being somewhere important and you want to look graceful. You concentrate on walking smoothly and then you suddenly trip for no apparent reason? I try to put on a “I meant to do that” face.

The irony or tragedy depending on how you look at it, is that I love to dance! I like hip hop, house and regaetton and want to take a class but can you imagine it? Not just old but uncoordinated.

Is this dyspraxia? Which is sometimes called Developmental Coordination Disorder? Or is it autism?

Dyspraxia is a condition that affects the way information is transmitted by neural pathways in the brain. It impacts planning and processing motor tasks, developing and using motor skills and having spatial awareness, direction and organization.

The research on dyspraxia and coordination in autism is sparse and ongoing without consensus. There are theories that dyspraxia occurs with autism and others that say it’s a different condition. There are some researchers who say that autistic coordination issues and dyspraxia don’t originate in the same part of the brain. The symptoms can overlap with ADHD as well.

Basically we don’t know much about dyspraxia and how it’s tied to autism or ADHD. Some people adopt a definition that they’re most comfortable with.

Autistic clumsiness, ADHD and dyspraxia have some things in common like these: 

  • Bumping into objects, 
  • tripping over nothing, 
  • seeming clumsy
  • Knocking things over frequently
  • Trouble navigating uneven surfaces and/or stairs
  • Difficulty learning to ride a bicycle
  • Trouble with fine motor skills 
  • Becoming tired quickly
  • Having poor posture or slumping over the desk while writing

Let’s take handwriting. I have pretty good handwriting and that may be due to years of having to practice writing in school. I did and do hold my pencil weird and so tight that the pencil created a permanent dent in my ring finger. 

I’m certain that I am clumsy, lack coordination, have problems with spatial orientation and have an unsteady gait.

You would think that after all this time I would get better. How about pouring water from one container to another? It always spills down the side and onto the counter top. Even if I’m using something with a spout. 

I’ve mentioned slamming into walls with my shoulder as I walk through a doorway and bumping my hip on a counter as I pass it by. How about hitting your head or elbow as you get into a car?

With autism I understand that my brain is wired this way and I need to be more conscious of my actions. The problem is that I move so fast. It’s as if I think that if I walk fast I can plow through whatever is in the way.

I get hurt when I don’t respect obstacles so I am working on training my brain to pay attention to them. Today I narrowly missed hitting a glass coffee table only because I had told myself so many times that going around it is a better idea. 

This so-called brain training only works occasionally. I have the bruises to prove it. Like a giant one on the side of my leg that I vaguely recall. I bumped into something, it hurt bad and I told myself to remember it later. Do I? I remember the pain only.

I just found out that a face plant is a real thing. I was walking super fast in my bedroom in the dark. As I turned the corner I misjudged the edge of the bed by a good 12 inches. There was so much energy in my speed that I vaulted over the corner of the bed and onto the floor face first.

Right away I thought I broke my nose. The nose is okay  but I have a black and blue face I have to explain. It’s impossible to cover with makeup so when someone asks I tell them I was in a bar fight and that puts an end to their curiosity. 

You wouldn’t want to see me swim — you’d be convinced I’m drowning. When someone asks me to do something that requires skill I answer “I’m not mechanical.”

I sprained my ankle in college gymnastics on the first day. After it healed the instructor wouldn’t let me back into the class. I had to find another class to take and the only one with a vacancy was ballet. Yes, the ultimate grace and poise and body strength are required. 

I knew I would be bad at it but the funniest part was when the instructor pulled me aside after class and with a very frightened look on her face asked me if I was majoring in dance. I imagine her now laying awake at night thinking “how am I going to tell this student that she just doesn’t have what it takes?” The look of relief on her face when I told her my reason for taking the class was memorable. And made her very happy.

Autistic clumsiness might account for the difficulty I have opening things. The very thought of it strikes fear in my heart. I wish they designed things for autistics.

I once participated in a study where researchers were testing lids on liquid laundry detergent bottles to find out  if they were childproof. They asked me what I would do if the lid was hard to get off. Without hesitating I said I just wouldn’t put the lid back on. Judging by the look on their faces, I guess that wasn’t the expected answer.

Do you drop things? Especially small things, I’ll even tell myself to pay attention and it doesn’t matter. If it’s pills, one will jump out of the bottle and land on the floor.

I can and do ride a bike and I love to go fast and I’ve yet to fall off. 

I’m a good driver. 

Furniture assembly should be illegal. I’m in awe of anyone who can assemble a dresser in 10% of the time it would take me, which is most people. 

I always had trouble with sports. I was the kid no one wanted on their team. 

In grade school I found someone patient to practice throwing and catching a ball with me until I was at least somewhat competent at it. 

We also played a slow and easy version of tennis. When I went to college, everyone played tennis it seemed but after awhile no one would play with me. 

Once when a friend refused he said that in order to get better he had to play with someone better than he was, That was one way of telling me I wasn’t so good at it.

Dyspraxia has a variety of symptoms that researchers can’t agree on. Is there is any clear idea of what it is? Some researchers claim it’s responsible for social communication difficulties. We hear that said about so many brain disorders, including autism, that I’m wondering how seriously to take it. The majority of research is about children.

There are a number of short self-tests online that may or may not be reliable. They have those vague questions often encountered on these kinds of tests. 

The type of questions that I often struggle with usually start with “did you have difficulty with…” 

I don’t really understand what the questioner considers a difficulty. 

Developmental tests might ask “did you have difficulty tying your shoes?” I don’t know whether the way I tie my shoes and how long it takes is normal. I hate doing it. I now buy the elastic shoe laces to replace my shoe laces so that might mean something. 

“Do you have difficulty packing a suit case?” I hate it, is that the same thing? I thought everyone did.

“Do you have difficulty folding clothes?” Again, I don’t like doing it but as I partially fold them I tell myself, you’re just going to unfold it when you wear it so…There are shirt folding boards now and I’m thinking of trying one. How coordinated does a person has to be to use one properly?

There are theories and hypotheses. Some say dyspraxia is its own disorder. Some are that ADHD and dyspraxia are similar. Still others think dyspraxic symptoms are part of autism. 

So far the research is inconclusive and you’ll find inconsistent explanations of the characteristics and symptoms online. 

For me it’s good to know that the reason I’m clumsy is because of how my brain is wired. It’s why I drop and spill things. It explains the extra effort I have to put into looking coordinated and self-confident.

I attract counter tops and doorways. I can vault over a bed and do a mean face plant. I know the best places to buy flat shoes. I can’t juggle balls while riding a unicycle.

Clumsiness and lack of coordination are neurological obstacles to gracefulness of movement. Whether it’s called dyspraxia or something else makes no difference.