Dyspraxia Questions & Answers

I was diagnosed with dyspraxia while a student in the early noughts, having lived with increasingly unmanageable anxiety and depression from the age of sixteen. Later, after my brain and my first graduate job turned out to be somewhat incompatible, I wrote several articles about dyspraxia for the national press, became involved with the Dyspraxia Foundation, and began giving talks and workshops on dyspraxia across the country, everywhere from City boardrooms to community centres. I made dyspraxia part of my work because I wanted it to be something that would fit comfortably into everyday conversations, and, most importantly, because I wanted my experiences to help others. I’ve met people with dyspraxia from all sorts of backgrounds, through work related and unrelated to dyspraxia. I often receive moving and relatable emails from people wanting to know more about dyspraxia or share their experience of being dyspraxic. I read them all and try to respond to as many as I can. To try to help you, I’ve answered below some of the most common questions people ask about dyspraxia. Many answers to “Where can I get…?” questions will depend on your or your child’s age and where you live, but should give you some idea where to start.

– Maxine Roper, Genuine Copy.

 

Please note, while I can always empathise with people looking for advice, I can’t diagnose dyspraxia, give detailed individual support, or be responsible for information about dyspraxia on other websites. If you ask further questions or make comments, please be sensitive to the fact that this was written by a real person, with lived experience.

DYSPRAXIA FAQ
What is Dyspraxia/DCD?

Dyspraxia is a common, lifelong condition which affects motor coordination and certain aspects of thinking and learning. The preferred medical term is developmental coordination disorder, or DCD. It’s also sometimes described as a Specific Learning Difficulty/SpLD or a type of neurodiversity (see below). You can’t tell someone is dyspraxic just by looking at them, and if you don’t know they are, it might affect your impression of them at school, at home or at work. They might appear to be quite creative or clever in some ways but find some normal daily physical tasks a lot harder than other people for no obvious reason. They might seem clumsy, awkward or forgetful, get lost easily, struggle to take things in sometimes, and seem to worry or get down a lot. About two thirds of those diagnosed are men and boys, but women and girls are thought to be under-diagnosed. 

What is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity or neurodivergency recognises that humans naturally vary in the way they learn and process information, just as they do in characteristics like race, gender and sexuality. It has become a term for a family of conditions which affect thinking and learning in particular ways, creating an uneven or ‘spiky’ profile of profound strengths and challenges. Dyspraxia is an example. Others include autism, ADHD, dyslexia and Tourettes Syndrome. They are also sometimes called neurocognitive conditions, or Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs). Devised by sociologist Judy Singer in the 1990s, the term neurodiversity first became popular within the autism community, and has expanded with the rise of the internet and social media. Misinformation about what neurodiversity means has led to a myth that the neurodiversity movement is made up of ‘extremists’ who say there is no such thing as disability and ignore or exclude people with high support needs. Neurodiversity says that brain differences are part of life, and that those differences should be understood and supported, whether by celebrating the positives they bring or overcoming the challenges they bring. Like most minority groups, neurodiverse people have made vital contributions to society, which are often the result of the tenacity that comes from living with both profound strengths and challenges. Neurodiversity simply acknowledges this. Neurodiversity does not say that every neurodiverse person is a gifted genius; any more than celebrating the work of Alan Turing and acknowledging that his sexuality influenced him means all gay people are geniuses. The Neurodiversity model also doesn’t mean that all neurodiverse conditions are the same and we shouldn’t distinguish between them.

What causes Dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia is caused by a disruption in the way that messages are passed between the brain and the body. Exactly why this happens is unknown, although it’s thought to be related to being born early, having a low birth weight or a family history of coordination difficulties.

Why do you use the term Dyspraxia and not the medical term DCD?

Although the preferred medical term has been DCD for some time, Dyspraxia is still much more widely understood.

Is Dyspraxia a learning difficulty?

Dyspraxia is sometimes called a Specific Learning Difficulty, or SpLD. This means something very different to what most people in the UK think of as having learning difficulties. As the name suggests, a Specific Learning Difficulty is a difficulty with specific aspects of learning, leading to uneven abilities, often with some being well below and others well above average. This is distinct from an overall learning difficulty, known as Global Learning Difficulty. Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Autism and ADHD are Specific Learning Difficulties. They can also occur alongside Global Learning Difficulties. A person described as having severe learning difficulties or high support needs will often have a combination of an SpLD, such as ADHD or autism, and a GLD. Because of the confusion, the term Specific Learning Difficulty is mostly used among professionals rather than in public.

Is Dyspraxia a mental health problem?

No, not in itself. However, a lack of understanding and support can lead to mental health problems. Many older dyspraxics have spent years on antidepressants or in and out of short-term counselling to treat symptoms of anxiety or depression, without addressing the underlying cause. Fears related to undiagnosed dyspraxic difficulties may be dismissed as irrational and neurotic, or labelled as social anxiety, which can become self-fulfilling and make someone withdrawn. The more someone plays to their strengths, hides their weaknesses and so appears capable, the more unexplainable and frustrating their negative beliefs and low moods are to others. This then makes it more difficult to find the right help. Not all mental health problems are necessarily related to someone’s dyspraxia, and some people may feel their depression or anxiety is more severe than their dyspraxia or neurodiversity can explain. But in many cases, they are clearly linked.

Are any physical health conditions linked to Dyspraxia?

There are believed to be links between dyspraxia and some physical health conditions. The evidence for this varies and it’s best to speak to a doctor or clinician.

Is Dyspraxia on the autistic spectrum?

No. Dyspraxia can occur with autism, with something else, or on its own. The autistic spectrum refers to the range of features which make up a diagnosis of autism. The wider term “neurodiverse spectrum” or neurodiversity, is sometimes used to refer to the full range of neurodiverse conditions, which includes dyspraxia and autism, as well as ADHD and dyslexia.

How is Dyspraxia different to Dyslexia, Autism or ADHD, and why does it matter?

They are all unique conditions with different main features as well as some similarities. The best way to explain it is to think of them all like a family, or a group of women: each with shared experiences, but also important differences. Which label(s) you’re given depends on what combination of strengths and challenges make up your spiky profile. You’re likely to be diagnosed with dyspraxia if your main difficulties are around motor skills and spatial awareness. Someone who’s dyspraxic is more likely to be diagnosed with another of these conditions, or have features of others without meeting the criteria for a separate diagnosis. But you can also be very good at something which someone with another of these conditions typically finds very hard. This is why the differences are also important. The most common difficulties linked to all the conditions are processing speed, short-term memory, sensory sensitivity (being sensitive to light, touch or noise) and emotional difficulties, like depression and anxiety.

Is there a link between being Dyspraxic or Neurodiverse and being LGBT? (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender)

There’s no recognised scientific evidence that you are more likely to be LGBT if you’re dyspraxic; or for what makes someone LGBT. It has been documented that autistic people are more likely to be transgender than the general population, but nobody knows why, it hasn’t been proven, and it’s not a reason to harm either group. Like any group of people who are used to being singled out from an early age, dyspraxic/neurodiverse people are more likely to question who they are, think of their identities as complex, and be aware of ways they are different. The best way to support someone is to listen and give them space and time to understand themselves without judgement.

If Dyspraxia is a separate condition, why does it get confused with others so often?

This is one of the most common – and tiring – arguments in online circles. Basically, there are several possible reasons:

  • Dyspraxia sounds like Dyslexia: Dyspraxia and dyslexia are often confused because they sound similar, even though the main strengths and challenges in both are typically the opposite. People with dyslexia may use dyslexia to mean “dyslexia and dyspraxia” or “Dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism” because it’s easier to write, and remember how to spell.
  • Co-occurrence: Some people are diagnosed with more than one neurodiverse condition. They tend to have the highest support needs and be the most active in support spaces. Many people with a diagnosis of one condition also have significant features of others. Some people have significant features of several conditions but don’t fully meet the diagnostic criteria for any one.
  • Politics and funding: Funding structures have often encouraged support organisations to compete against each other based on how many symptoms and problems they can attribute to “their” condition. This has sometimes led to a mistaken belief that dyspraxia is just part of other conditions (It isn’t. It can occur with or without something else).
  • The need to belong: People naturally want to relate to others and recognise what they have in common, especially if they have a long history of feeling excluded and misunderstood. But the need to see ourselves in others can also sometimes result in not seeing important differences.
Why do you need the label? Aren't people just people?

“Why call it a ‘tomato?’ Isn’t food just food?” The label ‘dyspraxia’ isn’t an insult to a person, any more than the label ‘tinned tomatoes’ is to a tin of tomatoes. It’s a piece of information, not a judgement. It doesn’t mean tomatoes are worse or better than other foods; it just lets us know what we’re buying, because sometimes we really need them, and sometimes we really need a tin of something else. Tomatoes work well in a spaghetti bolognese and not so well in a trifle. Similarly, some people do brilliantly in some situations and less well in others. Self-awareness and support can help them to manage those more difficult situations. Labels can help us understand ourselves and others, just as they help us when we go shopping.

Where can I find more information about Dyspraxia in adulthood?

Although dyspraxia in adults has increasingly been recognised over the last decade, there is limited information and support, and even less available for free. The best place to find support and resources are online communities led by dyspraxic adults, including social media channels and the online magazine Dyspraxia and Life.

What's the point of being diagnosed with Dyspraxia as an adult?

Knowing you’re dyspraxic as an adult can help to improve your relationships with others, and with yourself. It can help you understand why certain things might be more difficult for you than for other people, and to make sense of difficulties you may’ve had when you were younger. Adults often find their diagnosis useful for driving (and deciding when or whether to learn), managing their finances and workload, learning new skills (especially around the home), and becoming a parent. As demands on your time increase, being aware of your own strengths and challenges can help you decide which tasks to take on and which you may need support with, or are best left to others. 

What helps someone with Dyspraxia? (And what doesn't help...?)

What helps varies from person to person. Whether something is a good or bad experience often depends on how it’s introduced and taught as much as the activity itself. It’s best to ask someone what they prefer (but don’t expect they’ll be able to tell you off their top of their head…) and assume you’ll never go wrong with a bit of empathy and patience. Some people swear by assistive technology, others love gadgets, many appreciate routines and prefer things to be explained to them in a certain way. Dyspraxia often becomes more apparent when a person is under stress. 

Could there ever be a cure for Dyspraxia? If there was, would you want one?

Dyspraxia isn’t an illness; it’s a part of who someone is which brings them certain advantages and certain problems – just like a person’s body type, or their hair colour. You can’t “cure” dyspraxia, any more than you can “cure” someone of their curly ginger hair.  People can change their size or hair colour just as they can manage the effects of their dyspraxia, but their genetic information will stay the same. In any case, it would be impossibly difficult to design a single cure, as it is a spectrum condition and a diagnosis is made up of many elements. For these reasons, many people with dyspraxia dislike being asked this question.

Is Dyspraxia a curse or a gift?

It’s best to avoid using this sort of language as it over-simplifies a very complicated and personal question. Dyspraxia should never be a curse, but for many it feels a long way from being a gift. For most it feels somewhere between the two.

Can people with Dyspraxia drive?

Usually, yes, if they want to (which not everybody does), and with plenty of time, money and patience (which not everybody has). If you’re not dyspraxic, and are confident enough to have learned to drive young and quickly, the most helpful thing you can do for everyone else is recognise that their experiences might be different. For many dyspraxics, driving is one of the greatest challenges of their lives and a huge emotional and financial commitment, rather than just something to have under their belt the moment they turn seventeen or get a job. Not being a driver doesn’t make someone sanctimonious, a freeloader, or less of an adult.

See also, “Where can I get…?” below.

Can you recommend a [.....] who's Dyspraxia-friendly?

Online forums or local groups are often the best places for service recommendations.

What's the best [school/university/career] for someone with Dyspraxia?

There is no one place that will suit everyone, but any indication that the people in charge have an inclusive approach and understand hidden disability is a good start.

If most people with Dyspraxia are male, why do fewer men talk about it?

There is a wealth of evidence that men are less culturally conditioned to talk openly about anything to do with their health or their feelings, especially their mental health. Women also tend to put themselves forward out of frustration that dyspraxics are assumed to be men and boys. But men do talk about dyspraxia too  – including the founding editor of Dyspraxia Life, the online magazine dedicated to adults with dyspraxia.

Why would I want to employ someone with Dyspraxia when someone else can do the job and isn't Dyspraxic?

Because they live with a pattern of especially profound strengths and challenges, people with dyspraxia can be especially determined and loyal – great qualities for any employer. Knowing equally well how it feels to be good at something and how it feels to struggle can also give someone a unique and different perspective, which is important to society and helpful in many kinds of work. This can sometimes be what people simply mean when they describe dyspraxia or neurodiversity in terms of a positive, a gift or a “superpower.” 

Someone in the media who winds people up for a living says Dyspraxia isn’t real. Will you argue with them?

People like this don’t deserve the satisfaction of an argument, about dyspraxia or about anything. Please ignore them and leave them to their media equivalent of a pub rant in the media equivalent of an empty pub.

I have a question or comment about the Dyspraxia Foundation. Can you help?

I can’t answer DF queries or speak for them as I’m no longer a Trustee, and not involved with the day-to-day running of the office.

Will you help me promote my helpful product to the Dyspraxia community?

Genuine is very happy to support businesses who want to help people with dyspraxia; whilst avoiding “miracle cures,” and products which are based on bad science.

How can I make my event more Dyspraxia and neurodiversity-friendly?

Short answer: Pretty much the way you can make any event more friendly.

Some specific suggestions:

  • Think carefully about what you hope to gain from having a particular speaker at your event, and what they might be doing, or not doing, in order to be there. Especially if they’re travelling a long way.
  • Don’t rely on speakers to find you other speakers, look for a venue, or promote your event on Twitter.
  • If you book a speaker a long time before an event, keep in contact with them at intervals beforehand. This helps build rapport and keep the event in mind.
  • However, try to avoid making speakers fill out a forest of forms.
  • If possible, give co-panelists the chance to meet each other and visit the venue informally beforehand.
  • Give speakers as much information as possible about the venue and the format of the event. A timetable or even a rough outline of what to expect helps.
  • Don’t assume all speakers or attendees will be driving to the event, or coming by car.
  • Try to let speakers know in advance if they’re expected to help with setting up the event (stewarding, fetching and carrying, admin, etc), rather than springing it on them. Not everyone’s great at giving directions, or likes having heavy expensive equipment put into their hands without warning…
  • Agree with speakers beforehand how you’re going to introduce them. If there are round-the-table introductions, ask for specifics to help people shape their responses, e.g: “Tell us your name and job title.” If you just ask people to “Tell us all a little bit about yourselves” you’ll get someone who just panics and blurts out that they have a cat called Snowy and a yeast infection.
  • Include some short breaks and give people time to mingle if they want to. But avoid too much waiting around and too many unstructured gatherings. No-one over 25 wants to feel like they’re at a stranger’s house party too early or late…
  • If there’s food at the event, make sure there’s enough room for people to sit down and eat it, or at least a table to set food and drink down. Standing and eating can be very uncomfortable for some.
  • Remember that audiences who are nervous and/or autistic may take questions or instructions literally. I once opened a workshop by asking a group what had brought them here today. As I should have realised they would, someone sincerely answered “The bus”.
  • Always let people leave or sit something out if they need to without drawing negative attention to them, and take care over role-play or “icebreaker” exercises. A game which seems like innocent fun, or a simple get-to-know-you question may set off something painful for someone. A break room or quiet room is a good idea.
  • Take people’s mics off as soon as they’ve finished speaking, and take their badges or lanyards from them before they leave.
  • Lots of events now use coloured sticker systems for attendees to convey information about themselves to other attendees. These are a great way to encourage conversation and reduce the stigma around potentially difficult subjects. However, it can be difficult for people to decide which category they fit into. Make sure you have colours for “None of the above” and “More than one of the above.”
  • Keep in touch after the event. It makes speakers feel valued and gives them the chance to offer feedback.
Is there anything I should know when meeting someone who's Dyspraxic or Neurodiverse for the first time?
  • Try to agree a time and place to meet as far ahead as you can rather than looking for somewhere when you meet.
  • Try to meet somewhere you can sit down, hear each other well and concentrate on the conversation preferably with table service and a simple menu if you’re eating much.
  • Don’t expect them to offer you a hug/kiss/high-five as a greeting if you’ve never met before. They will probably find this too awkward. A handshake is fine if it’s a business meeting, but can also feel a bit weird if it isn’t. A hug might be welcome once you know each other, or they might not like physical contact at all. If you’re not sure, tone it down, or ask first.
  • Try not to worry if they seem a bit distant at first. Sometimes a YouTube clip, a video game or a big document takes just a little bit longer than usual to load. It’s the same with some people, especially people who are dyspraxic, dyslexic, autistic or have ADHD. They might appear tense or disoriented to start with. This is because of a processing difference. It’s common when you first meet someone, especially if you’ve only talked online. It can happen even after you’ve known them a long time – if you have a colleague who’s neurodiverse, you might’ve noticed that some days they’ll chat away to you like an old friend, and others it feels like you hardly know each other. Processing differences can also mean someone is tired or depressed, and if you notice other worrying signs, they may need help. But generally, the less you pick up on it, the quicker it’ll pass.
  • They may listen to you very carefully, not stop talking, or both. As above, this is because they are overcompensating for slow processing speed and lack of short-term memory, which has often been read as shyness or disengagement.
  • “Wait, where was I….?” Neurodiverse minds tend to reflect, gallop and wander intensely. A friend once said to me: “The day you reply to ‘What are you up to?’ with ‘Oh not much,’ I’ll have you assassinated!” This makes for good conversation; it also means sticking to an agenda takes work. If there is one, make sure everyone knows.
  • Try not to talk to them while they’re doing something. Asking questions while they’re trying to do something else will affect the outcome of both; not in a good way.
  • They may use technology and gadgets to make their life (and yours) easier. Yes, I do “rely on my phone” and “really need” Google Maps; just like someone with impaired hearing “relies on” their hearing aid or “really needs” subtitles. Assistive tech saves hours of time and stress; it’s not ‘cheating’. It’s not flawless, no tech is, but take my phone’s internal GPS over mine any day.
  • Be thoughtful over how you draw attention to them whether it’s asking them to do something in front of an audience, putting them down, or making very direct observations about them. It’s fine to talk about dyspraxia, or ask questions, but there’s no need for you to comment on whether they “look it” or you’d “have guessed.” It’s not a dirty secret they’ve hidden from you, or a uniform they’ve put on for you. Much the same applies to anyone’s disability, ethnicity, religion, sexuality or gender presentation.

If you read most of these and thought “But surely that’s just obvious! That would apply to meeting anybody!” well done on being a nice person!

How should I react when someone tells me they're Dyspraxic or Neurodiverse?

What to say 

The best way to react to someone is to focus on their feelings rather than your own, and to make them feel at ease, rather than overload them with questions:

“Thank you for telling me.” 

“That’s interesting to hear.” 

“I’m glad you felt you could tell me. I know it can be hard to share things.”

“If there’s ever anything I need to know to help you, let me know.” 

“Do you want to talk right now?” 

“You can always talk to me, or write to me.”

“I know we’re both very busy and I’m not always so good at getting back to you, but I do care about you.”

“Do you need me to do anything, or just listen?” 

“I’d love to know more. Do send me any links or books that would be helpful to read/listen to?” 

“Have you spoken to anyone else? How have they been about it?” It’s useful to know whether or not they’ve told anyone you both know, or who you might get to know in future – especially if that includes people they know professionally. Even if you aren’t very close or have few people in common, it can be useful to have an idea of how open they are with other people in their life.

“Sorry, have I got this right…?” We all speak as we think sometimes. If you make someone uncomfortable, it’s not the end of the world. But they will appreciate you noticing and being thoughtful.

What not to say

The best ways not to react are focusing on your own feelings, or trying to come up with solutions if you’re not qualified to do so.

“Oh…”  *awkward pause* / “Oh God, I’m so sorry…!”  It’s not a tragedy. No-one has died or is going to. And never, ever say “If I were you, I’d kill myself” to any disabled person. (Yes, people do. A lot).

“So what?” / “Why are you telling me?” / “What’s that supposed to mean?”  You don’t need to pity someone, but being dismissive is rude and insulting.

“You don’t look it! / I’d never have guessed!” This isn’t a compliment.

“I’d never have guessed, I just thought you were awkward sometimes…” This isn’t a compliment, or reassuring.

“How long have you had it?” / How did you get it?” Neurodiversity is something you’re born with; not something you catch like a cold. And no, it doesn’t come from medicines, or vaccinations. Dyspraxia isn’t a disease, and won’t kill you. Medicines and vaccinations prevent diseases which can kill you.

“Are you sure / sure it’s not [something else]…?” You can be sure anyone who is telling you this information has given it plenty of thought. Don’t doubt or belittle them.

“Is that like dyslexia?” See the questions above for more on the differences between different neurodiverse conditions.

“Is there a cure or treatment? / Have you tried…?”  It can’t be cured or treated. It can be supported. And you can bet that they’ve tried anything it’s taken you seconds to suggest.

“But you’re so clever/good-looking etc, you’ve got nothing to worry about!” None of these diminish things that are difficult for someone. Nor is it a punishment for being ugly or unclever.

“You’re so inspirational and brave!” They’re not here to inspire you; they’re here to live, just like you are. Tell them they’re funny, hot or good at Scrabble. Tell them they’ve done well at getting through a particularly tough experience. But “brave” often sounds patronsing.

“Oh no, I was hoping we might get it on! Now you’re telling me you’ve got some terrible disease…” You may not say this, but we know when you’re thinking it. It’s not just insulting to us; but to other disabled or chronically-ill people who can and do find love like everyone else. Of course, some relationships take more work than others, and you can be honest with yourself about whether you can do the work. But try not to make your vanishing libido too obvious…

Things to take care over 

“What do you want me to do/say?” They might not know this immediately. Rather than putting them on the spot, it’s best to encourage them to tell you more on a need-to-know basis.

“Oh, my ex had that…!” Need I say more?

“Is it caused by…?” It’s natural to ask this if you’re from a medical background. But we don’t really know what causes dyspraxia or neurodiversity, and there probably isn’t a single cause. Rather than the cause, it’s best to focus on someone’s strengths, and how you can help with their challenges.

“What do you get for that then?” Some children do get support (‘some’ being the operative word). Most adults have had very little, and the assumption they get support, or state benefits (let alone freebies and perks) is painfully annoying.

Immediate, detailed questions about how and when someone was diagnosed. There’s nothing wrong with asking in itself, but depending on when and how you ask, it can come across as gatekeeping or not believing someone. Unlike autism and ADHD, dyspraxia and dyslexia in adults are rarely diagnosed on the NHS.

Making very direct or intimate observations about someone. People often pick up on something we do and want to know whether it’s “A dyspraxic thing” or not. Other neurodiverse people do this because they’re excited to recognise someone similar. I’ve probably done it myself. But bear in mind we may be particularly sensitive to people drawing attention to us, or pointing things out to us, and it can be uncomfortable, especially if you don’t really know someone. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should pretend not to notice while they step into oncoming traffic, or walk into a serious meeting with yoghurt on their face, but try to be gentle and tactful about it, and try not to interrupt someone.

What are the emotional effects of Dyspraxia or Neurodiversity?

The possible emotional effects of dyspraxia or neurodiversity are similar to any group which is in some way outside what society considers average or “the norm,” especially when someone has lived for a long time without recognition or support. People who are dyspraxic or neurodiverse often have a strong need to be understood and to understand themselves, which may seem self-indulgent or be hard to relate to if you’ve never felt like an outsider. Mental health problems such as anxiety and depression are common. Phobias, eating disorders, OCD and post-traumatic stress can co-exist too. People tend to present with vague negative feelings, rather than clear symptoms or reasons (mood swings, lacking in confidence, worrying too much, finding it hard to relate to other people) which can make dyspraxia difficult to recognise. Because we also play to our strengths and are seen as bright and capable, our difficulties are more likely to be missed or dismissed. Common emotional reactions can include being highly self-critical and competitive, difficulty trusting our own version of events, withdrawing, acting out, overthinking or (particularly for women) over-pleasing. Over-pleasing can make someone a great friend, partner or colleague. It can also mean putting a lot of effort into one-sided relationships which offer little in return, and at worst are exploitative, or even abusive. We may feel drawn to people who seem to embody everything we aren’t, as reasons to hate who we are. Good emotional support for dyspraxic or neurodiverse adults can mean working through these sorts of feelings and focusing on healthier relationships which are built around self-acceptance, rather than looking up to someone else. With life experience and the right support, self-awareness and emotional awareness can be among the most positive effects of dyspraxia.

I think someone with Dyspraxia might be depressed, what should I do?

The best support for depression or anxiety is professional help. But support from friends, family and others is important too. If you’re not a mental health professional, the best thing you can do for someone is to show you care rather than try to solve their problems: Listen to them, value them and what they’re good at, relate to them if you can, and learn about how dyspraxia and neurodiversity can affect someone emotionally. The more you know about each others’ lives based on mutual openness, and the less you assume from limited interactions, the more helpful any advice you give is likely to be, and vice versa. If you don’t understand enough about the history or reasons behind someone’s lack of confidence or opportunities, it’s understandable to feel frustrated, but just telling them to be happier, or reminding them that there are bigger problems in the world, is unlikely to be helpful. Similarly, if they tend to be self-critical, making yourself into a role model may only encourage them to make unhealthy comparisons with you and make them more self-critical. It’s important to recognise that dyspraxia needs and deserves support just like any other condition. You wouldn’t tell a hearing-impaired person to count their blessings and look at some sunsets rather than using a hearing aid; don’t dismiss someone’s dyspraxia, or depression. If you’ve often found yourself in a carer or listener role in your relationships with others, you may want to reflect on why this is before getting involved, especially if they’re much younger than you. You shouldn’t be involved with anyone under 18 unless you teach them, work with them or know their family. If you work, volunteer with or teach young people, make sure you know the rules around safeguarding and appropriate boundaries, especially online.  If you have lived experience of mental health problems, always make sure you’re helping yourself as well as others.

A friend or loved one has Dyspraxia and I find their problems too much to deal with. How do I handle this?

It’s understandable to have these feelings, but important to take care where and how you express them. If you’re frustrated because someone with dyspraxia finds something harder than you, are there ways to make it easier, or manage your expectations? What is it that you find frustrating? Growing up, we’re often taught to measure people’s worth by their ability to do certain things (or do them in a certain way, or by a certain age), and it can be worth thinking about how you might be influenced by these messages.

Someone who is dyspraxic or neurodiverse may have symptoms of trauma, such as anxiety, low mood, denial and rumination. This is normal, especially if someone is young and/or lacks support. The challenges of dyspraxia may make it harder to play to their strengths. They may tend to process thoughts and feelings more slowly, and need to put them into words to do this. If they seem self-absorbed, loaded with problems or they “overshare,” it’s often because they’d benefit from long-term therapy, coaching or mentoring they may not know exists, or be able to access. Rather than shaming them for their feelings, or for trying to understand themselves better, try to emphasise with their difficulties and the lack of support. If you can, point them towards someone who may be better able to help them.

A dyspraxic or neurodiverse person may tend to have intense interests. If their interest is one you don’t share, it’s best to be gently honest and decide between you whether it’s something you can live with. It’s not a good idea to lie to them, belittle them or avoid the subject. An interest may also involve ruminating; going over and over a subject or event. This can be difficult to listen to, but it’s a normal response to certain situations, especially in the first few years after a diagnosis, or following a trauma like a bereavement. It can take a long time to process these feelings, and feeling they are being judged for not having ‘dealt with it by now’ or ‘moved on’ can be deeply hurtful. Reassurance-seeking can also be a sign of a mental health problem like OCD. If someone reaches a point where rumination becomes unhelpful (especially if they’re ruminating about a harmful relationship they don’t recognise is harmful) this may be the time to suggest they see a professional counsellor in order to move forward. If someone has found helpful coping strategies in the past but isn’t using them, this can also be a sign they’d benefit from professional help.

It’s also important to be honest with yourself about what you mean by someone being “too much” for you. If you mean “I only want friends for everyday chit-chat”, “I only want a partner for sex” or “I just don’t have time for other people right now”, that’s OK. And you should never put others’ health before your own, or be a substitute for a therapist. However, you may have to make it clear what you want/don’t want from being involved with someone. By a certain age, most people – dyspraxic or not – will have been through problems in their lives and will allude to them. If you find this uncomfortable, you may find a lot of people are too much for you. If you tend to fall into a carer role in your relationships with others and are finding it challenging, it may be helpful to reflect on yourself and your own life as well as other people’s.

WHERE CAN I GET...?
A Dyspraxia diagnosis for my child

Children under sixteen are usually referred to a paediatrician, occupational therapist or physiotherapist.

A Dyspraxia diagnosis for myself or another adult

Students and adults are most likely to be diagnosed by a psychologist or neurologist. NHS waiting lists are long and a private diagnosis can be expensive. If you’re working or self-employed, you may be able to cover the cost under Access to Work, or with support from Turn2Us if you’re unemployed. If you’re in higher education, your university or college may pay towards it.

Support for my Dyspraxic child

As so much depends on what’s available where you live, it is best to speak to other parents or professionals, such as teachers or Occupational Therapists, in your area. The Dyspraxia Foundation and the Dyscovery Centre run workshops, conferences and local groups which are useful for making contacts.

Parenting support as a Dyspraxic adult

There’s a supportive new Facebook group specifically for parents with dyspraxia. If you want to tell other people that it takes you seven thousand years to assemble a pushchair/build a toy aeroplane/get the children to sleep without being judged for it by the Cool Mums and Dads, this is the place to do it.

Help finding a job

People with dyspraxia often feel as if they are “caught between stools” when it comes to career advice or coaching. The most general advice doesn’t consider dyspraxia, whereas advice specifically aimed at dyspraxic or neurodiverse people might not be relevant to your industry. Either type can sometimes feel outdated and patronising. It can be most helpful to speak to people in your industry who have dyspraxia. Genius Within offers specialist work coaching for people with dyspraxia and other neurological conditions; as do a number of independent work psychologists.

Support at work

To get support at work, you will usually have a workplace assessment or needs assessment. These are carried out under the government’s Access to Work scheme, by organisations which support people with disabilities in the workplace. The assessor will ask questions about what can be done to help you in your work, which can include physical adjustments or practical adjustments to your role. Adjust Services carries out assessments in London and the South East. They can also tell you what to expect from a workplace assessment.

Support at university or college

Your university or college should have a service for students with disabilities covering dyspraxia, as well as dyslexia, ADHD and autism. You should be entitled to Disabled Students Allowance, which can be used to claim for assistive technology and extra administrative support to help you on your course – they will be able to guide you through this.

Support learning to drive

The Dyspraxia Foundation, with the help of Genuine Copy, has produced a free factsheet about driving, available from their website. Some driving instructors specialise in pupils with neurological conditions. Try a Google search for your area, or visit Disability Driving Instructors, where you can search for specialist instructors by region. If you’re concerned about how dyspraxia or any condition, may affect your driving, you can arrange for an assessment through a Regional Driving Assessment Centre. There may be a waiting list of up to two years depending on where you live.

Legal advice

The Disability Law Service should be able to help.

Mental Health Support

Anxiety and depression can be long-term emotional consequences of dyspraxia, and can even create more barriers than dyspraxia itself; especially if dyspraxia isn’t recognised until later in life. Free or low-cost help for mental health is sadly quite scarce, and often designed to treat symptoms rather than causes. If a therapist lacks basic understanding of hidden disability or neurodiversity, too much therapy time may be spent trying to explain rather than feeling supported. The NHS in England offers free short-term therapy under a scheme known as Healthy Minds or IAPT, but waiting lists can be up to eighteen months for 6-12 sessions, and the quality of the service can vary greatly in different areas or at different times. You probably won’t qualify for long-term therapy on the NHS unless you have a severe mental health condition unrelated to dyspraxia, such as bipolar or schizophrenia; or a co-occurring condition such as OCD, post-traumatic stress or an eating disorder. However, finding the right support is possible. The best places to start are through your employer if you work for a large organisation, through your university or college if you’re a student, or through local services, such as Mind branches and small charities. Number 22 offers free, unlimited counselling in the Thames Valley and many regions will have something similar – it’s best to Google or, if you can, ask around, as they may limit their advertising to limit demand. Private therapists can cost anything from £40 to £400 an hour, and being more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean a therapist will be better for you. However, many private therapists offer some sessions for free or at reduced rates for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it; either directly or through charities or agencies they do pro bono work with. Some also offer online sessions via Skype or FaceTime. When choosing a therapist, always check they’re a member  of a professional body such as BACP, The British Psychological Society or the Royal College of Psychiatrists. You may also like to start by asking what experience they have in working with disabled or neurodiverse clients. Groops in North London is a paid face-to-face and online counselling service specialising in the emotional effects of dyslexia and other neurodivergent conditions, including dyspraxia. They offer some concessions for those on low incomes. If you can’t find a dyspraxia specialist near you, a dyslexia, autism or ADHD specialist may be the next best thing, as many of the emotional effects can be similar. You can search for a qualified therapist at The Counselling Directory or through the BACP website, and also search by region, or specialism. If you’re offered counselling through an organisation and don’t find it helpful, it’s always worth asking for another counsellor. If you’re thinking of harming yourself, please read this, see this list of crisis services, or click “I need urgent help” at the top of that page.

Mental Health Support other than therapy or medication

There’s no shame in either, and no substitute for either. But lots of other things can also help. Some simple suggestions can include finding a type of exercise or a hobby you enjoy, trying something new in a supportive environment, limiting your exposure to nastiness online, meeting people with similar experiences, and being aware of your reasons and expectations when interacting with others. Be careful around people who are interested in your problems but either haven’t experienced, or won’t acknowledge, any of their own, especially if they have a pattern of getting close to vulnerable people. They may encourage you to over-depend on them and resent you for it later. You can more easily end up on either side of this kind of relationship if you don’t have the right support from a professional.

DYSPRAXIA MYTHS & MISCONCEPTIONS
"Dyspraxia is made up. We didn't have things like that in my day."

All conditions are “made up.” Four hundred years ago nobody died from throat cancer or septicaemia – that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. Before there were words for illnesses, or medical records, a lot of people died or lived very uncomfortable lives without anybody knowing why. This is not something to be nostalgic about.

"Kids grow out of it."

You don’t “grow out” of being dyspraxic, and the way people are affected changes over time. Many skills can be improved with practice, but someone will always have the same underlying pattern of strengths and challenges. More than most, people with dyspraxia will have to balance the amount of effort needed to learn a new skill against how necessary it is to their lives, how much support is available, and how much time or money they can spare towards it. This can especially be true of learning to drive.

"An excuse for doing badly at school"

Most people with dyspraxia are of average or above-average ability. Many do well academically in their stronger subjects, and go to good universities. Dyspraxia and other neurodiverse conditions are an explanation for uneven ability, which is very different from low ability.

"Trivial/trendy/Attention-seeking..."

The consequences of a lack of support are far from trendy or trivial. And there are many far better, more enjoyable ways to get attention than dyspraxia.

"A way of making money..."

Special Education as a whole is big business, and some companies involved undeniably exploit people – particularly parents of young children – for profit. However, the bulk of the community is made up of volunteers and people on modest-to-low incomes: often parents who have put aside careers to care for their disabled children. Most well-off people who put a lot of their money into it do so for good honest reasons, and no-one in the world is rolling in notes specifically because of doing work related to dyspraxia.

"One of those American things..."

Far from it. Dyspraxia is minimally recognised in America, and usually referred to as DCD or Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (NVLD). For more information about dyspraxia in the US, see Dyspraxia USA and this excellent article for Bustle Magazine by a British journalist based in New York.

"Middle-class problems..."

Dyspraxia affects people from all backgrounds and in all societies; not just those who tend to lead the conversation. People from poorer backgrounds with dyspraxia often experience the worst effects, as they’re likely to struggle in menial jobs, but also most likely to lack the qualifications, networks and financial safety net required for types of work which would suit them better. People from more well-off backgrounds and/or who are better educated may be more likely to be diagnosed with dyspraxia, as with many conditions, because their difficulties are less likely to be blamed on their background, because they’re taught to expect more from life, and because of social perfectionism. Social perfectionism means your self-worth is strongly linked to certain achievements or roles in your life, such as your qualifications, career or relationships. Higher rates of social perfectionism, particularly among men, are also associated with an increased risk of mental health problems and suicide.

"Everyone's a bit like that."
Having an off-day, or a single dyspraxic trait with no effect on your life doesn’t mean you’re “a bit” dyspraxic. The same goes for dyslexia, autism, ADHD, bipolar, OCD, or anything else.
"You've either got it or you haven't."

While it is unhelpful to describe someone as “a bit” dyspraxic, or “a bit” anything (see above), it is possible to have significant features of a condition which affect your life without meeting the threshold for a diagnosis. Many people with a diagnosis of one neurodiverse condition also have significant traits of others. Often those with the most support needs have significant traits of several conditions without meeting the diagnostic threshold for any. This is isolating and frustrating for parents trying to help their children, and for adults trying to help themselves. It is not the same as Sue from work saying she’s “a bit ADHD” because she got bored in a meeting once. It’s equally important to protect the integrity of a diagnosis, and to support those who clearly need it but don’t tick easy boxes.

"If you know you're dyspraxic, why do you need help?"

This is like saying: “But you know you’ve got breasts, why do you want a mammogram?”  or “You’ve been told you’ve got cancer, what more do you need?!” 

"But you have so much going for you; what have you got to worry about?"

A person’s attributes or achievements don’t just cancel out the challenges of dyspraxia, and may even sometimes add to them. The more able and advantaged someone is or appears, the more may be expected of them and the more they may have to over-compensate for their difficulties. Good qualifications, good looks or a loving family are less helpful if something else creates a barrier. Many people with dyspraxia, as with other disabilities, are talented and well-qualified but lack the support to make the most of this. Being dyspraxic or neurodiverse can also make someone vulnerable socially because both their weaknesses and strengths can be seen by others as a threat.

"My niece is Dyspraxic, but not like you..."

My mum’s a woman, but not like you…