Dyspraxia and sense of direction


Sense of direction is something which I lack! Whilst some non-dyspraxic people aren’t great with directions, not everyone is, dyspraxia can affect our sense of direction to a bigger extent. This is due to the way it affects our information processing and ability to visualise, which I’ll go into more detail about in this post. Not every dyspraxic will struggle with their sense of direction but a large percentage of us do.

I really struggle (and find it almost impossible) to picture a birds’ eye view of what a road looks like and how roads link together, even in the town I live in, where I’ve lived all my life! The only way I can do this is if I can remember what the Google Maps image looks like.

So how do I find my way around? I tend to learn specific routes and over time make connections between those routes. It’s almost like my brain is permanently in Google Street view mode and needs ‘updates’ (i.e. exploring other routes) to expand my mental map. 

Take London for example. Lots of people could get lost easily in London, it’s a big city. I go there a lot though and for the amount I go there you would think I’d know my way round a bit better than I do. I’m getting there with it – I’ve now made more of those connections between places. For example, I know how to get from Leicester Square to Trafalgar Square and then the Southbank. On the other hand, there’s some places where I have absolutely no idea where they are in relation to each other! I’ve done a few 10k routes in London and it’s a good job the courses are marked out because I have absolutely no idea where I’m going. I recognise the places but don’t know how I ended up getting to those places from where I was before. Unless I’ve done the same route a lot, my brain won’t have made that connection. So for places I haven’t been to as much, Google Maps is my best friend!

On the topic of running, I haven’t been in a while but when I did used to run I found I’d need to do routes I’d know well. Sometimes I’d convince myself it would make a nice change to do a different route and that looking on Google Maps beforehand would be enough. But I’d end up doing an extra few kilometres from getting lost!

The funny thing is, the two places I’ve worked at have been quite big buildings. I’m currently working in an admin role in a hospital and am very glad that I tend to be mostly based in one office! I once tried to get to the on-site leisure centre after work. I went down a set of stairs, along a corridor and up another set of stairs. In my head I should have ended up much further down in another part of the hospital. But I ended up a few metres away from where I first started! I found my way there in the end and now know the route so it’s fine. 

I also have times where I think I know a ‘shortcut’ but it turns out I really don’t! In my head I thought that places were linked together differently to how they actually are.

There’s also the orientation aspect. I can come out of a building and go to start walking in the complete opposite direction to what was intended. Because everything looks different coming out a different way, my brain hasn’t caught up with its processing of where I am and where I need to go. I even struggle to tell left and right apart – I know which side is right, I know I’m right handed and I know which hand that is. But if someone said to turn left, I could easily think ‘right’.

Not only does my dyspraxia affect my ability to visualise places and orient myself, but also my ability to process information. So if someone gives me directions, there’s not a very high chance that I’ll be able to follow them with my short term memory difficulties. I might remember the first couple of steps but then forget everything else after that. Unless most of it follows a route I’m already familiar with, as that way I only have to add a bit onto the end.

So what helps?

  • Finding a particular route to a place and sticking to it
  • Identifying landmarks – rather than ‘turn right at the end of this road’, ‘turn right when you get to the shop with the blue sign’
  • Google Maps! 

Saying that, a few months ago I managed to get lost even with Google Maps! I thought I was following the line and going in the direction of the arrow, but clearly I wasn’t, because five minutes later I’d ended up back in the place I started. I even surprised myself by managing to do that!

My sense of direction doesn’t generally put me off going to new places, it just means I make sure I’ve got plenty of phone charge to be able to have Google Maps running for quite a while. I also know that if I visit somewhere enough times I eventually will make that connection and it’s a nice little achievement when I do. It just means I, often quite literally, follow a different path to others!

Natalie 🙂


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