What is it like to be stumbling through space and time?
In conversation with author Rosemary Ritchings
A little while ago, I reviewed a book for this newsletter; Stumbling Through Space And Time seemed to be everywhere on Twitter, and a good few people I knew were talking about it. There was a lot of hubbub about it.
In the time since, the author and I had exchanged pleasantries on Twitter - enough so to even swap a ‘war story’ here, enough to speak to seemingly a mutual love of stationery (!)
Dyspraxia is not given enough of a spotlight while it comes to Neurodiverse conditions - and Stumbling Through Space And Time was such an eye opening read into this world. As the first interview of part of this newsletter being rebranded, I wanted to give this the time and space it deserved - and to allow Rosemary to speak to her experience, too. Neurodiversity Celebration Week is coming up soon - and we should speak more to this!
My debut book, The Autism Friendly Cookbook, is out now! And this is what people are saying about it….
Natasha Lipman, journalist and host of The Rest Room podcast: “The Autism Friendly Cookbook is a striking manifesto on the importance of accessibility in cooking. With adaptations front and centre, this book from Lydia Wilkins is sure to become a kitchen staple.”
Steve Silberman, author of NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity: “Cooking is one of the foundations of independent living. This charming, inviting book is designed to make this basic life-skill accessible to everyone. It's not just a collection of tantalizing recipes, it's a celebration of autistic community.”
Chloe Johnson, editor at Disability Review Magazine: “A delightful guide full of important information for neurodivergent foodies - we've needed this for years!”
Hi Rosemary, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview, and happy new year!
Thanks for the invite, and happy new year ☺.
As an opening question, would you mind telling us a little bit about your book, how that came about, and the impetus behind writing it?
This book is the result of something I have been thinking about for years. Growing up with dyspraxia (but also living with it in my adulthood) was such a lonely journey for such a long time. I didn’t know anyone dyspraxic until my late twenties.
For years, I kept a diary as a form of personal therapy to help me comprehend my thinking patterns and behavior. I found that incredibly cathartic. One day, I decided to flip through my previous diary entries. I re-read medical paperwork about the diagnosis process and support process. As I flipped through it, I had many questions about the process. I started to talk to people who helped me get proper support back then. I learned so much about my brain wiring that I had never realized before. Every chapter is a theme relating to conversations I have had with dyspraxics and their families. Examples of topics explored include: School and education for dyspraxic; Dyspraxia and the workplace; Disclosing your diagnosis; Dyspraxia in relationships.
A publishing professional mentored me on what aspects of my story were important. The mentor was a valuable introduction to the publishing industry's inner workings. However, they weren’t dyspraxic, neurodivergent, or disabled in any way. My immersion in the online dyspraxia community was also a key influence on what I wrote about. As I talked to dyspraxics and their families, I learned what people wondered about the most. My biggest fear for so long was that the book would not be helpful enough to others. Once I got positive feedback from the dyspraxia community, I conquered that fear.
How did the title come about, and what do you think it reflects?
The title references my most consistent mental state as a dyspraxic person. Navigating new circumstances leaves me feeling stumbly and awkward. It has gotten me into many misunderstandings with others. It has also forced me to find humor in the absurd situations this can create. I often describe dyspraxia as a chronic feeling of stumbling through every environment.
Dyspraxia is somewhat under-covered when it comes to the topic of Neurodiversity; would you mind telling us a little bit about your disability and how it impacts you?
Dyspraxia is Latin for difficulty with coordinating and planning actions and movements. The coordination aspect refers to movement, navigation, and motor skills. The movement part is about reacting and engaging with new movements and environments. This can also include comprehending verbal, movement-based instructions. E.g., “move your hands to the right, then move your feet to the right, then stop in front of the light marked on the floor in red tape.”
Dyspraxia also makes it difficult to comprehend how much time and distance you need to get to your destination. The motor skills aspect is skills you need for team sports, arts and crafts, and personal grooming. You can address motor skills issues through occupational therapy. Although it’s still difficult when the task is new, you’re experiencing stress or multitasking.
Other common issues include sensory processing issues as well. Sensory overload always increases the severity of my symptoms. Dyspraxia also gives me short-term memory issues recalling dates and times. If I don't concentrate enough, I'll lose track of where I store inanimate objects. Everything always has to end up in a consistent place. Otherwise, I'll waste time and money on lost objects. Short-term memory is less of an issue if I write down instructions and set reminders. If I don't write down instructions or I am having a bad day, I'll lose track of important information.
What is the one thing that you would like people to know?
While we’re on the subject of dyspraxia, I guess the one thing I can think of is that it’s not just clumsiness. The clumsiness aspect is often phrased as a bit of an annoying joke. These jokes underestimate the symptoms of the actual condition itself. That's problematic because it continues the trend of global underdiagnosis.
When it comes to accommodations, what can establishments and institutions do when taking proactive measures?
Access to a quiet space where you can close a door and put on headphones makes a huge difference. It enables focus because you can take a break from the noisiness of everyday life. This can be a spare room in your building where anyone can close the door without judgment. Allowing people to work remotely or in an alternate environment can also solve this issue, especially if quiet spaces are unavailable in your building.
Another critical aspect is the communication of instructions. The combination of verbal instructions, stress, and multi-tasking can complicate information processing. To avoid confusion and frustration, don’t just say what you expect from others. Write down instructions and visual examples. If you’re unsure how people process information, always confirm people's preferences. Never assume your way is someone else’s preferred way.
Also, tell people how much literal communication and time they have for a specific task. Concepts like finishing something by the end of the day can be challenging to understand. The dyspraxic sense of how much time something will take is often muddled. Be as specific and detailed about the time and day you want something done. For example, instead of the end of the day, say what time you consider the end of the day as well.
Flexibility around communication also applies to how individuals communicate their thoughts and ideas. The most conventional go-to is unpacking ideas and tackling challenges through group discussion. This doesn’t always favor dyspraxic thinking. It may take a few minutes to process thoughts and ideas, especially in a big group. Some useful alternatives: Brainstorming at your own pace, using tools like mind mapping, and typing instead of speaking.
Last but not least, avoid multi-tasking. Focusing on anything anyone says or does is challenging if I’m pressured to do too much at once. Because it's difficult for me to multi-task, cooking is a quiet, focused endeavor in my household. When trying to maintain a conversation simultaneously, I will often forget what I’m doing or cause a huge mess. The same principle applies to other everyday tasks as well.
Would you mind telling us about what else you do as a writer? Where else can we find you?
I write about disability, neurodiversity, and accessibility on a freelance basis. My clients are a mixture of magazines and companies. What they all have in common is an interest in creating disability-friendly content. I have worked with many clients and websites, including Uptimize, Travel + Leisure, Shape Magazine, and Saatva Mattress Company. I also do freelance editing work with a similar emphasis.
Examples of my past editing work include: A medical cannabis as a coping mechanism for chronic pain and ADHD resource project, and a series of neurodiversity at work educational brochures.
Sometimes I’m asked to be a guest speaker at speaking engagements on dyspraxia.
So, where can you find me? I tend to be an active participant in many dyspraxia community events. Chances are you'll meet me or hear me speak at some point at a dyspraxia or neurodiversity-focused event. Currently, I am on the board of trustees of Dyspraxic Me. I also collaborate on resources and events with groups like: Dyspraxia Magazine, Dyspraxic Help 4 U, and Dyspraxic Alliance.
You can also connect with me through my website: www.rosemaryrichings.com. If you’re looking for me on social media, I am active on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Mastodon, and LinkedIn. I only go quiet on social media when it's having a negative effect on my mental health or sleep. Then, I go back to it as soon as I am ready to do so.
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The Catch Up
This weekend I conducted my first ever book talk and signing! If you’d like to hire me as a speaker for your event, let’s chat - my contact details are listed here.
Later today the National Autistic Society will also be interviewing me for their in-house magazine.
And I’ll be live on BBC Wales on Saturday, too. I’ll tweet the link out nearer the time so you can all listen.