Tag Archives: hidden impairment

My advice to anyone with a hidden impairment

Alex has worked for West Yorkshire Police since 2006, where she first joined as a Police Community Support Officer. She was diagnosed with Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia in 2014. Alex is involved with the Positive Role Model Programme, a West Yorkshire Police initiative to encourage more people to be open about disability. The message is “It’s okay to be you” and in this blog, Alex shares her story.

Before joining the Police I had lots of ideas of what I wanted to do as a career, but I never seemed to be able to focus on any one single pathway.  I struggled at school in all things academic, especially Maths, but nothing was ever flagged up.

Hidden impairments were not really known about in mainstream schooling. I think it was partially due to excelling in my social abilities. My reports always said ‘Alex is a cheerful, chatty person, a delight to have in class, very sociable’, coupled with ‘but she could try a little harder, she needs to concentrate more’.

When I was diagnosed a massive weight was lifted

When I was diagnosed in 2014 with Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia a massive weight was lifted. I am not stupid, I do not need to concentrate more. I am already concentrating much more than most people on the simplest of tasks. I also realised I had to stay away from anything to do with numbers if I wanted a stress free life.

I once had a job as an Assistant Manager of a high street shop. Most of the time I was good at it until it came to cashing up the tills at night – nightmare! It was so stressful and I assumed I must be really stupid to get things wrong time after time. Thankfully, my personality has always kept me going even if sometimes I feel I am going to crack. Now that I know I have Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia I can give myself a bit of a break from being ultra-hard on myself and ultra-critical of my mistakes.

Alex laughing, with a park in the background

Fighting to succeed

In a way, not being diagnosed earlier made me the person I am today who works hard to achieve everything I want at work and at home. I am driven, confident and sorely honest with myself. My conditions do not disable me but they do challenge me and I am up for a challenge in any form. It is this drive to succeed at everything I do that keeps me fighting to stay at work.

In my 11 years in the Police, I’ve had several roles and I am currently in a dream position at the Regional Scientific Support Service, training to become a Fingerprint Identification Officer. This is my biggest challenge to date and my Dyspraxia is really putting up a fight with the capabilities required for the position. But I have had this battle before and it hasn’t stopped me succeeding!

We need to think about reasonable adjustments

The assessment did get me thinking: why make a person with Dyscalculia (someone with no natural ability with numbers) do a Maths based test? Is that not setting them up to potentially fail? I fully acknowledge the need to assess people’s skills and resilience – especially in jobs like the Police – but I feel the current methods of assessment do not match our modern day understanding of disability. I think assessments could be more reasonably adjusted – impairments are much more complex than requiring a bit of extra time.

I think the recruitment process has moved forward with the introduction of a presentation as it’s another means of demonstrating a specific skill. These are much more relevant than demonstrating you can work out percentages.

Woman smiling inside an office

My advice for anyone with a hidden impairment

Some people feel like they want to hide the fact they have an impairment but I almost want to shout it from the rooftops. It validates me, my quirks and my frustrations. It means that people know to give me that little extra time and patience and afford me the right to get things wrong more often than is considered ‘normal’.

I would say to anyone with a hidden impairment: be open, be honest, be confident, be adaptable! Life is challenging enough without a hidden impairment and in coping with both you already have one up on the rest of them.

If you have a story you would like to share, get in touch with the stories team.

Read more experiences of having a hidden impairment.

Dyspraxia and social anxiety: why I’m not hiding anymore – End the Awkward

Guest post by Rosie, who has dyspraxia, which affects her movement, balance and sensory processing. For End the Awkward, she talks about feeling different, her journey to acceptance and how she stopped hiding.

I’ve always been aware of how differently I learnt and how tasks which everyone else found really easy took me so much longer. At the age of 4 I was diagnosed with dyspraxia, an invisible difference which is still very misunderstood. Dyspraxia is thought to be caused by a disruption in the way messages from the brain are transmitted to the body. This affects my ability to perform movements in a coordinated way, balance, motor skills and sensory and emotional sensitivity.

Every person with dyspraxia is affected differently. Even though I’ve always been very determined, I was also very shy and self conscious. I hated being centre of attention and any fuss made feel uncomfortable. I really struggled making friends as everyone was very different to me.

People didn’t understand

The lack of understanding which surrounds dyspraxia didn’t help at all, a lot of people didn’t and still don’t know what it is. I was misunderstood, judged and negative assumptions were made about me. I was called clumsy, careless, stupid, lazy and told that I simply wasn’t trying hard enough.

If you had asked me to describe what dyspraxia was and how it affected me I would have avoided the subject completely. I just didn’t know how to talk about it and was scared that people would run a mile if I disclosed to them. Awful bullying and ignorance at work had left me too anxious to speak, struggling with social anxiety and in a dark place.

Feeling different

A common theme for many dyspraxics is feeling different and struggling to make and maintain friendships. Over the years I’ve beat myself up a lot and wondered why I couldn’t be as socially confident as others, which is an ongoing challenge. I struggle with managing my emotions and can be prone to panic attacks and sensory sensitivity, which means the environment around me can be very overwhelming.

I’ve also spent a lot of my life hiding. Hiding from situations or environments which either triggered my anxiety or where I’ve felt uncomfortable. I concealed my  dyspraxia and social anxiety which lead to me experiencing depression. For ages I thought it was just me being me.

Rosie dressed up for an event

Anxiety was taking over my life

Social anxiety made me feel in constant worry that I was going to embarrass or make an idiot out of myself. I worried that I would have a panic attack, experience sensory overload in public or say something that nobody “gets”and have everyone laugh at me.

Then there’s the constant worry that you’ve done something to upset someone and that people hate you and are simply putting up with you. When you’re anxious your whole body can tense up, you can start feeling sick and you can struggle to give eye contact, which is hard enough when you’re dyspraxic. It was easier to avoid doing anything or going anywhere.

After hitting a very low patch I realised I couldn’t  go on like this. Anxiety was slowly taking over my life, stopping me enjoying the things I loved and leaving me fearful, low and constantly on edge, unable to sleep and with zero confidence and self-esteem. The more anxious I became the more clumsier I was and the more mistakes I was making and the more I beat myself up. It was a vicious circle.

Meeting others helped me stop hiding

I got involved in Dyspraxia Foundation where for the first time I felt like I could be myself. Nobody judged me if I made any mistakes. I met others who were dyspraxic and I didn’t feel so alone. I began to learn about how dyspraxia affected me but also the strengths which dyspraxia can bring, which to me are being caring, creative, able to think outside of the box and I’m a very determined soul.

By spending so much time hiding I wasn’t showing the world all of Rosie and I was missing out on so much. With the support that’s out there, I’ve been able to achieve a degree and a masters degree. I’m also learning strategies to help me cope with day to day life and support my mental health.

Ending the Awkward

I’ve been able to help others by writing blogs and raising awareness, helping them feel less isolated and alone. It’s given me more empathy when supporting students in my job as a learning support assistant. I’m determined that nobody should go through or feel what I have. Learning to be kind to myself is something I’m still working on but I’m fighting my fears one little step at a time.

That’s why I’m getting involved in Scope’s End The Awkward campaign. Disability and difference is nothing to be scared of – we’re human beings with feelings. A little bit of patience, time, and kindness can go a long way. Nobody deserves to be made to feel embarrassed or ashamed of being different. After all, wouldn’t the world be such a boring place if we all were the same? You never know what you might find out when you take the time to get to know someone.

You can stay up to date with everything End the Awkward on Twitter and Facebook using #EndTheAwkward or visiting Scope’s End the Awkward webpage.

To read more from Rosie, visit Rosie’s blog.

Lazy? No, just disabled… life with an invisible impairment – #100days100stories

Guest post by Carol, an administration manager from Leeds. Carol has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, an invisible impairment, and has shared her experiences as part of our 100 Days, 100 Stories campaign. Last year, she worked with us on a film raising awareness of the extra costs disabled people face.Head and shoulder shot of Carol dressed in black

I was once in a lift with a very, very senior manager at a company I used to work for. I was going up one floor, but I needed to take the lift because I struggle to manage the stairs.

I pushed the button, and he looked at me and said: “Only going one floor, are we? Aren’t we lazy?” I smiled and said: “No, just disabled.”

To be fair to him he was mortified, and it made me laugh more than anything else. And he was always extremely considerate of my needs after that. But it struck me that that’s exactly how the world often sees disability.

No middle ground

The assumption seems to be that either you’ve got a wheelchair, or have some other very obvious impairment, or you’re not disabled at all. There’s no middle ground.

It’s present even in the symbols we use. The universal symbol for disabled facilities is a person in a wheelchair, but that’s not necessarily what a disabled person looks like.

I have something called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome hypermobility type, which affects your connective tissues. Among other symptoms, it means your joints are very prone to injury. I have also had something called Perthes’ disease, which means I now have osteoarthritis and need a hip replacement.

I can’t walk very far, I can’t carry heavy things, I get tired very quickly and sometimes my joints partially dislocate.

Sometimes I limp, occasionally I have to use a walking stick, and often I’m wearing joint supports under my clothes, or taking a lot of painkillers. But often, you can’t tell that I am disabled.

People’s reactions

Because I don’t look particularly “disabled”, people are surprised that I need adaptations at home and at work, or that I might have extra requirements.

There have been lots of times where I’ve said something like, “Actually, can we get a taxi because I can’t walk that far?” and had blank looks back in return.

On a good day, I can walk about 160 paces without too much pain. That doesn’t get me even as far as the bus stop, so I’m completely dependent on my car.

I have a blue badge that allows me to park in disabled parking bays, which is an absolute lifesaver, but I’ve had some unpleasant run-ins with people who think I shouldn’t park there.

I get stared and sighed at when I’m climbing out of my car, as people realise I’m not elderly or in a wheelchair. People have literally run out of buildings to tell me to park elsewhere.

I know they’re trying to do the right thing, but it’s an awkward encounter that I could do without – especially since I often can’t get a disabled space because a non-disabled person has used it to pop to the cash machine!

Better support

Social faux pas aside, there are bigger problems with the way society tends to ignore invisible conditions. Because they aren’t there on the surface for everyone to see, it’s very hard to get the right support.

Often, I see doctors who have never heard of Ehlers-Danlos and ask me how to spell it, so it’s no surprise when NHS services struggle to help someone with my condition. I’m prescribed lots of  painkillers, but I can’t drive if I’ve taken them and if I can’t drive, I can’t do much.

I’ve had to change career, partly because my impairment was not supported by past employers. I’ve adapted my lifestyle, my hobbies and my expectations of life.

With a bit of consideration and help I’m capable of working, living independently and making a useful contribution to society – as are many, many people with invisible impairments. With just a bit of extra support and understanding our lives could be so much easier.

Find out more about 100 Days, 100 Stories, and read the rest of the stories so far.