“I Can’t Help it! It’s Just the Way My Brain Works!”
Sometimes it’s difficult for us to understand just what goes through the mind of a dyspraxic child and how their brain works. We know we have to be patient, that they can’t help their handwriting/memory/falling over and bumping into things because their brains work differently, but just why does this happen?
I’m going to try to explain it in non-technical terms, with as little jargon as possible. We have so much information swimming around our heads (and many of us are dyspraxic ourselves), so who needs to make things more complicated, right?
There are two simple ways I think of, when trying to explain how the brain of someone with dyspraxia works:
1. The Relay Race. The brain functions by passing a signal from one brain cell to another, just like a relay race. Imagine the signal is the baton in a relay race–sometimes the baton gets dropped, gets handed over too late, gets twisted and battered in the changeover etc. This doesn’t mean that the baton is completely lost, or that it will necessary happen in the next race–a bit of training and you can help to get the baton over the line.
This is why there is no cure for dyspraxia, but also explains how we learn coping mechanisms to ensure the next time we try to write a ‘5’ the right way, we won’t always drop the baton and write a weird-looking ‘3’. Training and learning strategies can help to see the baton safely on its way to the finish line. We learn to cope and to get the baton over the line in whatever way works for us, so dyspraxia symptoms can improve over time.
2. Wiring of the Brain. There is a problem with the internal wiring of the brain. Messages aren’t properly transferred from the brain to the body–the brain isn’t wired up correctly, so sometimes the current gets through in a wobbly fashion, sometimes it gets lost, other times it causes a complete meltdown.
In order for this current to get passed from one brain cell to the next in a smooth way, it needs to pass through the cell walls. These walls consist almost entirely of fats, and around 20% of this wall (or cell membrane) is made of fatty acids like Omega-3. This is why an omega-3 supplement may help a child with dyspraxia. It’s thought that omega-3 may make it easier for signals to cross the gap between brain cells.
The main part of the brain is divided into two halves known as the left and right hemisphere. Each of these serves a separate purpose.
Certain functions are shared between the left and right side, but each side generally works independently, each taking care of their side of things to then be put together with the other half to achieve the whole. These two sides need to work together and in harmony, in order for a function to be carried out.
The mind of someone with dyspraxia though, does not have these two halves living in harmony. They don’t know how to coordinate with each other, and are just out of sync.
It’s as if the left side receives the information, but it’s scrambled, and it needs the right side to come along and help to unjumble the information to put things in the correct order. Without the two sides of the brain coordinating, it’s no wonder that the mind gets confused over maths or how to send the message to your fingers to tie shoelaces.
In true positive style, although you now know how your child’s mind works and this explains why some things are so difficult for them, I need to point out that the unique way their brains work is also in their favour.
GCHQ recently announced that they employ 120 dyslexic and dyspraxic people because the unique way their brains process information makes them particularly suitable for cracking codes.
It’s widely thought that Albert Einstein had dyspraxia–although it wasn’t a recognised condition at the time. People with dyspraxia are often very creative and imaginative as they are unencumbered by doing things in a conventional way. As Einstein himself said:
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
The world needs more imaginative thinkers and doers–who wants to be like everyone else!
Relay race image – with thanks to Paul W
Brain synapse image – with thanks to aboutmodafinil.com
Einstein image – public domain