Sunday, September 20, 2015

Movement teachers: I am your dream student. I am your nightmare student. (Crosspost)

I highly doubt anyone who has or will endeavor to teach me movement things will ever read this, but on the off chance they do. It may also help someone else who is trying to teach sports or dance or other similar things to someone who does movement like I do. 
Movement teachers: on the surface I am your dream student.

I'll walk in. You'll show me basics. Or have someone show me basics. They will do them at the same time I do, so I can exactly follow. I'm echopraxic, you see. If I have someone to exactly follow? I can do that. I can make my body do exactly what they do--or as close to exactly as different builds allow.

You will probably think that I am talented. I probably am not. I am echopraxic and I have a big library of movement to draw from. So as long as I have someone to follow I can look comfortable with the things.

You may be tempted to skip steps. You may forget there's things I haven't learned. I know how to do a lot of things with my body because of years of dance, gymnastics, & team sports. This is why I can give you the impression I have an aptitude: because if it is on the ground or in the air I have probably done something similar. I've done gymnastics. I've spun a flag & marched at the same time. I've done some ridiculous number of styles of dance. I've played basketball on feet and on wheels. Whatever you're showing me, I'm sure to have a bit of muscle memory that relates enough that I can copy you or more advanced people.

Here's where I'm your nightmare:

I can only copy for a substantial amount of time. Yes, I can do exactly what someone else is doing while they do it. But until I've over learned the movement, I will be inconsistent. Things will be in the wrong place. Things will be in bafflingly wrong places the first 200 times I try to do the thing without mimicking. The next 200 times I have to talk myself through it. I may say one thing and do another. I will find new & exciting ways to do the wrong thing.

Did you skip steps? Or forget that I hadn't learned a thing? This nightmare trait you can blame other movement instructors for, as it isn't a natural part of my makeup : I will still try to copy. I will still try to figure it out without asking. I may not know how to do the thing, but if you're asking me to I am going to think I'm supposed to. I know I haven't been taught it, but asking has rarely gone well. Clearly someone who knows what they're talking about thinks I already know it. Asking gets all sorts of belittling when you're asking about something 'easy' and can do things that are 'hard'. I do not need that in my life. It's easier to watch, copy, approximate. It may be more physically dangerous but I am more confident in my ability to avoid injury with my body than I am with instructors' ability to not be a jerk if I can't do something they forgot to teach me.

It takes a very long time for me to get things consistently in my motor memory. I'll do it extremely well Monday. I'll do it extremely well Wednesday. Friday it'll be all wrong. My body forgets which way to go, or which foot I do things with, or what order things happen in. It doesn't just forget new things. It forgets old things. A couple years ago my body forgot how to do a backhandspring--something I've been doing well over half my life.

And I am your surreal dream:

I'll learn to approximate skills. They'll be okay if I talk myself through them. Or maybe I can't do the skills at all. And then for some reason I won't even attempt them for months. Suddenly I get the ball at that spot I can't shoot from, or that dance move will become relevant. Without hesitating, thinking, anything my body will do it. It may even do it flawlessly. And you'll be confused. You didn't think I was holding out on you but maybe I was.

I was not holding out on you. My motor planning really works that way. Sometimes I have to hack it by putting myself in a position where doing something automatically is the easy option. Thinking about it hasn't worked, but letting natural movement suddenly lets my body do what it knows.

I may lose skills or movement patterns that are easy, but not the more complicated ones. There may be rhyme and reason to this, but I haven't been able to find it & neither has anyone else. I can tell you why specific combinations of movements or individual skills are hard but not why I lose things.

We're back to why, if you are willing to work with me, I'm your dream student:

I'm motivated. If I stick around long enough to master something that confused me, you are likely stuck with me. I don't stop doing things because they're hard; I was the kid who couldn't write my name. Who literally tripped on my own feet. Who couldn't organize movement well enough to get a book out of a desk without spilling its entire contents. Who couldn't kick the ball in kickball or serve in volleyball. Who only made the basketball team because it's no cut. Who got dropped from basic level tumbling classes until I spent a couple years with a book in the park painstakingly teaching myself cartwheels & walkovers, because no one else thought I could learn it. Who could not eat my food without also wearing it.

None of that is exaggeration. I was born dyspraxic. I no longer function as dyspraxic. I rewired my brain on my own. You have not met motivation & stubbornness until you have met me. In my life as a movement teacher, I say "hard work beats talent because hard work shows up" and I will always show up. I may get frustrated, but I want to work through it. I've made "beating my coordination challenges into submission" a way of life, & I will continue showing up unless you make me unwelcome. In which case I will take my motivation, stubbornness, always trying to be better somewhere else.  But "hard work beats talent because hard work shows up" applies on all sides here, & take it from me, beating talent with hard work starts as a nightmare but it turns into a pretty sweet dream.

This is cross posted from Radical Neurodivergence Speaking


  1. Thank you for this. Dyspraxia/ Developmental Coordination Disorder needs a louder voice. I am going to show this to my dyspraxic daughter.

  2. You would have had an even worse time in my first karate class than I did.

    I'm dyspraxic too, but not echopraxic, and I don't have all that inconsistency in my abilities. I can't imitate and can't switch sides without starting all over from scratch, but apart from that, my motor learning process is mostly normal, just a lot slower than usual. And even that was enough to get my karate instructors mad at me.

  3. "None of that is exaggeration. I was born dyspraxic. I no longer function as dyspraxic. I rewired my brain on my own."

    As a psychologist who is also diagnosed dyspraxic, I'm not just skeptical, but a bit cynical: the bit about 'rewiring (your) own brain on (your) own' ... your actual evidence that this is what you did is ... what, exactly?

    I'm not saying that you haven't worked hard: clearly you have. And well done on that. But if you have to make the same efforts still in learning that goes on in the psycho-motor domain, you're still dyspraxic. It may be that you don't have the developmental motor/praxis test scores that you previously had, but the chances are that you are now scoring in a sub-clinical range, rather than being no longer dyspraxic.

    Because dyspraxia doesn't get 'cured', which is what you seem to be implying by your statement that you no longer function as dyspraxic. Improvements to motor function can happen - but there's a reason why I'm a pretty decent drummer but I still cannot do a paradiddle to order: dyspraxia does not disappear.

  4. I used the term 'no longer function as' pretty intentionally. The dyspraxic...crap is still there. But there has been enough fancy pants connection building (my cerebellum is ridiculously active on SPECT & FMRI) that you have to go looking for something that doesn't borrow from them enough to tell that, oh, totally uncoordinated actually. If that makes sense?

    So like I am pants-awful at fencing because it does in 3 steps what literally everything Ive stuck with long enough says you do in one step. I've over learned "everything moves that way at once" and trying to do it NOT like that, oh god it's awful.

    Not a cure, though there's evidence that there's more movement connections than expected. But the outward appearance of coordination is there, & my library of movement (most useful term ever) lets me work around it with ease.

    I'm looking for an analogy here & it's not working. Sorta I guess like if you learn enough scripts you can pass as articulate even if outside of those scripts you're...really not? And in situations where you only need those scripts you can function as not language disabled? It's an illusion and can be a convincing one.

    words are hard

  5. Thank you so much. Just found this blog. You've described my 4 year old daughter in 20 years time. So very determined. So very cheerful. Having to try 10 times harder than everyone else. She loves dance and gymnastics. Wonderful post.

  6. My daughter had extreme motor planning problems between 2 and 4 years. She had intensive programming that helped her with imitation and motor control. She was in swim classes from age 3 til 6 when we put her in swim team. She swam all through school with a swim club and then on her high school team. She loves dance and took dance classes off and on. She also took karate. She played soccer and basketball but did not excel, more probably due to cognitive deficits than motor planning at this point.
    In her teen years she was able to master difficult motor movements, she became very proficient at Dance Dance Revolution. She is able to learn new motor movements pretty easily. More easily than I can. I have two left feet and I have to work incredible hard to learn motor movements. I learned to do a flip turn in the pool at age 52. My daughter helped me learn. My point here is that I believe some dyspraxia can be improved through intensive practice if motivation is in place, be it intrinsic or extrinsic. I think starting super early is key.

  7. I am not articulate and still work to change that at age 60. I got through grad school as an old lady and hardly said a peep unless I had to present. Now that I have a job where I have to present and train staff I have to get better and I will. The key to changing "wiring" is to practice practice practice and then try novel variation of those things you have down pat. It's so interesting to me. Lots of work and I get depressed about it sometimes, but sometimes I just think its so cool what we can do if we put our minds to it.