Are these things related?
May 24, 2012 6:49 AM   Subscribe

I have a lot of trouble with spatial relations, am clumsy, find fine motor skills difficult, and have some bodily asymmetries. Are these related and is there anything I can do about it?

I'm not worried about having a disease, and am not particularly concerned about these things, but they're annoying and wonder if there could be some common underlying cause. Some examples:

-I can't hold a pen "right" (the way we were taught in school), have horrible handwriting that is getting worse, and I've never felt like I could completely control the pen in my hand. I get really bad hand cramps if I write for more than a few minutes at a time. I also can't use chopsticks, no matter how many times people have tried to teach me - my hand just won't do it. (But I can type and text really quickly with no problem at all.)

-I am terrible at spatial relations. I can't rotate images in my head (I don't visualize much at all), I have a hard time judging how close a car is to mine, I have a really hard time with maps, I often have to think about which way is left and which is right, and I get lost really easily. (Thank god for GPS!)

-I feel lopsided in some ways. If I want to wink, I can close my right eye and keep my left eye open, but no matter how much I try, I can't do the reverse. I can only carry a purse/shoulder bag on my left shoulder, not my right - if I walk more than a few steps with a bag on my right shoulder, it inevitably falls off. (Which means that my left shoulder gets strained from doing all the work.) I can also hold a phone to my left ear with my shoulder but not on the right (and even putting a phone to my right ear feels wrong.)

None of these things make my life miserable, but they're annoying, and I am just curious whether it's just normal human variation or if there could be some explanation for them all. For whatever reason, I feel like they could be caused by some common thing (although I have no idea what). And particularly with having so much difficulty holding and using a pen - has anyone had any success overcoming that sort of thing?
posted by Neely O'Hara to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Some of that, including the majority of the things you cite as examples of your lopsidedness sound totally normal to me.

Are you by chance left handed? That'd explain why you favor doing things with your left shoulder. And if you're not and you're trying to write with your right hand, maybe that's why you have a miserable time trying to use a pen.


I'm right handed and it feels more comfortable for me to wink my right eye then my left (but I can do it)

I carry my bag on my right shoulder exclusively, it always falls off my left shoulder because that shoulder just isn't use to holding itself in that position. If I have to have my purse on that side, I strap it across my body. (Expandable purse straps are awesome, btw). I even have shoulder pain because I use my right arm for everything. (Including carrying far too many grocery bags then a smart person should)

I can't do that shoulder and phone thing with a cellphone at all, but I can with my phone at work and find myself favoring my right side.

So I seem like the exact opposite of you and I never felt like any of these things were wrong. If your left side is the side you like to use the most, go for it. And try getting a purse that you can put over your head to reduce the strain on your shoulder.
posted by royalsong at 7:14 AM on May 24, 2012

One friend who had similar problems (hand writing, fine motor movements) went to physical therapy; one of the things she was assigned to do is crawl. On the floor, hands and knees, crawl. She thought it was weird but she never said it didn't help. :P

What is the "right" way to hold a pen? (I'm right-handed but can write with my left, as well) While I can rest it on my ring finger and thumb web, for me it is more comfortable to hold it between my pointer and middle finger. Butt I don't write a lot any more. I got one of those "Y" pens for one kid, and a bajillion types of pencil grips (memail me if you want me to fling a few your way).

As for chopsticks, have you tried kid's sticks to start with? Joined at the top, again, was easier to learn on for my kids (they still use them but it's less of a disaster than with regular).

Vision. Is your vision okay, been checked by an opthamologist? You might have some issues your'e not aware of that affect your balance and clumsyness. I saw one who did a more thorough check than "which lens is better, lemme look for glaucoma" who gave me some answers which were basically my vision isn't bad enough to warrant full on therapy, but do some vision-assisting exercises with my kid (whose was bad enough for a year of therapy) and be aware this is my issue and just learn to compensate for it (resting more when I'm tired, not pushing myself so hard on physical things assuming I've calculated the physics correctly).

Maybe a tai chi class or other balance and coordination exercises are in order to give you better balance or recovery skills. In my case, I've been working on learning how to fall better because I'm simply not going to get any further over my clumsyness than I am at this point in my life (I'm at least trying to avoid more concussions, and hopefully more broken bones).

I favor my right, a lot, for a number of reasons that were circumstantial to my upbringing. When my kids walk with me, they have to walk on my right or I can't "see" them. When I found I was straining myself with my purse (5+ pounds - EMPTY) I switched to a lighter purse with a strap that could adjust between shoulder and cross body. I recently injured my shoulder getting out of a minivan (ugh) and have been favoring it as it heals and it's a pain (heh) but it's also got me more in the habit of balancing the purse/burden weight.

Some of this is likely retraining yourself, or finding a different solution (like a headset for the phone). I think you're right, you don't have some "thing" that we can tally up and prescribe a fix for; there may just be a lifetime of habits and compensations you've got to change how you work with.
posted by tilde at 7:25 AM on May 24, 2012

-I feel lopsided in some ways. If I want to wink, I can close my right eye and keep my left eye open, but no matter how much I try, I can't do the reverse. I can only carry a purse/shoulder bag on my left shoulder, not my right - if I walk more than a few steps with a bag on my right shoulder, it inevitably falls off. (Which means that my left shoulder gets strained from doing all the work.) I can also hold a phone to my left ear with my shoulder but not on the right (and even putting a phone to my right ear feels wrong.)

I can tell you that these things are totally normal! Pretty much everyone is like this—it goes along with being right- or left-handed. If you really want, you can practice, practice, practice to train yourself to use your non-dominant side, but it really is normal to be more inclined to use just one. (btw, the winking thing: children can typically do both, but as they get older, will lose the ability and will tend to just wink on their dominant side)
posted by Eicats at 7:26 AM on May 24, 2012

the first two things are pretty common complaints -- not universal, but just common-enough points along the normal distribution. I agree with royalsong that the third is pretty common too. I've taught myself to carry my bags on the off side, because they're so heavy it's a risk of strain otherwise, but it took practice...
posted by acm at 7:27 AM on May 24, 2012

I am weakly left-handed, the result of which is that I'm functionally ambidextrous in a lot of ways, but there are certain things that I absolutely cannot do with my dominant (left) hand. I do agree with royalsong that this sounds like it could be a matter of handedness. Have you ever tried writing (or doing other fine-motor activities) with your (supposedly) non-dominant hand?

As to the spatial relations ... lots of people are poor at that sort of thing. Unless you're getting lost in your own neighborhood on a regular basis, it's probably within normal variation.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:27 AM on May 24, 2012

I should have added this after reading royalsong: Have you tried teaching yourself to write with your other hand? I did it to amuse myself as a bored kid and am at about the same (third-grade) level. Now that I think about it, no Nintendo or unlimited video games and tv growing up, too hot to go outside most of the summer - I was very bored as a child. I also spent the good part of a couple of weeks pushing one part of my lip up for hours and hours and hours until I trained it to "curl" Elvis-style.

But I can only do it on one side, not the other. And despite lots of practice I never did manage to figure out how to cross my eyes. :(
posted by tilde at 7:31 AM on May 24, 2012

One of my friends has had issues like those you describe for his whole life; it's been a constant frustration for him that other people have not taken these problems seriously, or insisted that he could do it if he just tried harder. He only recently discovered that he has mild cerebral palsy (which his parents concealed from him so he would "grow up normal"), which pretty much explains the whole batch of motor/spatial issues. According to him, it's been helpful for him to know this about himself; it's helped him to adapt better, find a good PT, and not be so hard on himself for having a hard time with certain kinds of movement. I have no idea if that has any bearing on your situation, but it might be worth asking a doctor about.
posted by ourobouros at 7:38 AM on May 24, 2012

When you say that your handwriting is getting worse, could that possibly be due to age or lack of practice? Because in principle I agree with the others, most of this is normal, but if these things are getting worse without another explanation then I would go to a doctor to get it checked out - just in case...
posted by EatMyHat at 7:59 AM on May 24, 2012

My son has poor handwriting and issues with fine motor skills like using scissors. It is a side effect of vision issues he had when he was a toddler. Luckily we caught the vision problem and glasses retrained his eyes before he lost vision completely in one eye, but the pediatric ophthalmologist told us he would probably always have issues with up close hand eye stuff like cutting a straight line, tying his shoes etc. However, at 18 he is a nationally rated fencer, so it's more of an annoyance than a major problem in his life.

Is it possible you had similar issues as a kid?
posted by COD at 8:03 AM on May 24, 2012

I'm like this too, and a colleague once asked me if I thought I had dyspraxia. He said he'd been diagnosed with it himself and that stuff I did reminded him of his own symptoms. I never felt like pursuing it but maybe it's something you'd want to look into?
posted by hazyjane at 8:34 AM on May 24, 2012

I think these might be sensory integration issues. Lots of cool stuff if you Google that.
posted by carolinaherrera at 9:01 AM on May 24, 2012

I'd nth it's worth having your vision checked. I was exceedingly clumsy as a child. Turns out I had astigmatism in both eyes and one eye was nearsighted while the other was farsighted. This led to my having a really hard time with depth perception, which in turn caused me to fall down stairs and bump into things more frequently than the average kid. Honestly, I still have some trouble (although thankfully not falling down the stairs trouble) with depth perception, even with corrective lenses to the point that I've never bothered trying to get a driver's license because I'm certain that parallel parking would be the death of me.

You didn't mention age, but sense of balance starts to deteriorate in your 30s, although most people don't notice it until they are much older. You can work on this with yoga, tai chi and presumably other types of exorcise.
posted by kaybdc at 11:52 AM on May 24, 2012

Seconding mild CP and/or dyspraxia. I have experience with both, and what you're saying sounds familiar. A PT could help make sure you're not falling into bad habits that could cause problems later on.

CP sounds scary, but one of my kids has it and we didn't even notice for a year. It isn't always a big deal.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:44 PM on May 24, 2012

I think an occupational therapist would be more useful than a PT to help correct these issues.
posted by pised at 4:49 PM on May 24, 2012

Just adding something in kiddo has hyperflexibility and hypotonia, very mild, but they definitely affect his balance and fine muscle abilities, as well as his stamina. I had never heard of either one but his pediatrician spotted it when he couldn't jump at all by age 2 (he sort of can now, but not like his age peers can).

Physical therapy helped him, but also just activity in general to train his muscles. He'll never be a long distance runner or a gymnast, and will have to guard against joint injuries, but he will be fine otherwise. But from talking to other parents it's clear that mild cases like his weren't really diagnosed until recently; kids were just assumed to be "clumsy."

This may not apply to you at all, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
posted by emjaybee at 9:26 PM on May 24, 2012

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