I Finally Know What I Have!

Yes, friends, it is so nice to finally be able to put a label on one’s condition, isn’t it? I’ve long believed that in today’s world, you’re nobody if you don’t have a condition described by initials ending in DD. Mine is SMCDD. Never heard of it? Well, I added the DD (“Deficiency Disorder”) so I could join the party. But SMC stands for Sensory-Motor-Coupling. And I’ve had problems with this all my life. In some people, it can be disabling. In my case, it’s pretty light weight, a minor annoyance. But an annoyance, all the same…

According to my mother, I was clumsy from the time I was a baby. I’m still clumsy. Lots of things can cause clumsiness, but I’m sure (never been tested, but a lifetime of experience verifies it for me) that in my case it’s a problem of sensory-motor coupling.

Before I go into detail, I need to rant about people who are not clumsy always telling us, especially as children, “if you’d just pay more attention these things wouldn’t happen.” Or some variation thereof. Think for a moment, you sporty, energetic, coordinated types – put yourself in our shoes. Don’t you think we pay extra attention all the time, just to avoid having folks like you say that to us? We are embarrassed to death when we spill something on you, trip over a crack in the sidewalk, or, while making a gesture, knock over your great grandmother’s crystal decanter full of a rare vintage, spilling it on the white linen tablecloth and breaking the decanter into shards as it crashes to the ground. If paying more attention could make us stop being clumsy, we’d have recovered from the condition decades ago. Eons ago. So please, just hold your tongue, and feel for people for whom movement is not so fluid and practiced as it is for you. It’s not inattention, it’s how we are.

Ok, end of digression. I’m no expert on sensory-motor-coupling problems, I just know about my own. Mostly they consist of problems coupling visual perceptions to motor actions.

Reads but can’t write

In grade one, I was an advanced reader – I went to read with the grade two class. But I never finished copying from the blackboard. Our teacher always put up riddles, usually starting with “I see something…” and we had to guess what they were. I was eager to do that, but I never got done copying the text. Since I was such a good reader, it was assumed that I was being lazy or daydreaming – but I just couldn’t copy that fast.

My handwriting was, and remains, execrable. The school tried every gadget supposed to improve penmanship on me – all to no avail. My mother did me an immense favour when she brought be an old typewriter and a book on how to touch type when I was ten years old – saved my life, and proved exceedingly useful when personal computers came on the scene.

Can’t catch, can’t draw, can’t dance – but can see

I am no good at sports. Period. I hated baseball, for example – couldn’t catch, couldn’t throw, couldn’t hit. I now love WATCHING baseball – still don’t enjoy playing it.

Much to the dismay of my dear spouse, I am a disaster on the dance floor. Don’t ask me.

I cannot draw. Never could. Nor sculpt with clay or any other material. I did study scene design for the theatre, when I discovered I could use drafting tools to make images. I was pretty good at it, too. I’m also a pretty good photographer, and have worked as a film maker. So there’s nothing wrong with my vision. I just can’t make my hand follow what my eye sees.

My design professor at the University of Alberta used to say the problem with drawing wasn’t drawing, it was seeing. She also said anyone who could catch a ball could draw. I told her I couldn’t catch a ball, and proved it when she came into the studio one day, threw a ball at me shouting, “Gallon, catch!” and – of course – I dropped it. I also told her I could see exactly what was wrong with my drawings, I just couldn’t make my hand fix it.

Sound and sight disconnect

From the age of six, I was trained as a musician. I have professional level training as a pianist (I still play nearly every day), and I also used to play oboe and percussion. Made my living as a rock drummer for one year (you didn’t know that, did you?). Anyone with my level of training and experience in music should be able to sit down at the piano, pick up a score, and start playing it with very few mistakes. I can’t. I have to learn it by rote.

I can do many difficult things that require great coordination skills – once I’ve learned them. I can look at a score and hear it in my mind’s ear. I read music as easily as I read English, both are native languages for me. But I can’t sight read, as it’s called. They say the difference between a professional and an amateur is, the amateur practices until s/he gets it right, the professional practices until s/he can’t get it wrong. I can never get to that last level of reliability.

And so…

Why am I writing a somewhat self-indulgent piece about my own life? Because the frustrations and curiosity that this lifelong condition engendered have led me to some conclusions that might be interesting for others:

  • I have often thought that there is a current obsession with labeling people, especially children, with “deficiencies” – a kind of label they certainly don’t need if they are to be encouraged growing up, to realize their potential. Yet, I must admit, if my teachers and parents had been able to identify my condition, I might have been spared some heartache, and the school might have been able to adapt certain exercises to my situation.
  • Having to cope with this minor problem has also led me to develop some interesting creative strategies. I got one from a piano teacher, who told me about entering a trance-like state while repeating difficult passages, to use emotional energy, which is much quicker and more efficient than motor or intellectual energy, to learn a motor task. It worked! And I’ve applied it in other fields since.
  • I have learned that difficulties, handicaps, even shooting oneself in the foot can produce interesting out-of-the-box results. One composer of experimental music whom I know has a pronounced stutter. He has never wanted to do anything to change it – he says the fact that he stutters has led him to compose the type of music he does. In conversation with you, he will happily continue to stutter until he gets the word out, and makes no apology for it. It, and he, is what he is.
  • Creativity is where you find it.

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Author: Ray

Ray Gallon is president and co-founder of The Transformation Society (www.transformationsociety.net), a research, training and consulting company focusing on building learning organisations that can manage complexity and the digital transformation. He has over 40 years as a communicator, first as an award-winning radio producer and journalist, then in the technical content industries. His management experience includes a stint as program manager of WNYC-FM, New York City’s public radio station. Ray is a self-described "humanist nerd," and has always been interested in the meeting point between technology and culture, and has used his broad experience to advantage with companies such as IBM, General Electric Health Care, Alcatel, 3M, and the OECD, as well as in smaller companies and startup enterprises. Ray recently helped co-found the Information 4.0 Consortium (www.information4zero.org) and serves as its current president. Ray is a university lecturer and a keynote speaker at events throughout the world. He has contributed articles and chapters to many books and periodicals and is the editor of the recently published “Language of Technical Communication” (XML Press).

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