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.

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 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.

Is Dyspraxia a learning difficulty?

Dyspraxia, dyslexia, autism and ADHD are sometimes called Specific Learning Difficulties, or SpLDs. 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. This is different to a Global Learning Difficulty, when someone has a low overall intellectual ability. Some people have both Specific and Global Learning Difficulties, and their needs will reflect this. Because of the confusion, the term Specific Learning Difficulty is mostly used among professionals, and other terms which mean the same are used more widely.

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. Dyspraxia is an example. Others include dyslexia, autism, ADHD and Tourettes Syndrome. They are also sometimes called neurocognitive conditions, or Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs). The term neurodiverse began within and is still most used by the autism community; but autism and dyspraxia aren’t the same thing (see below).

Is Dyspraxia the same thing as Dyslexia/Autism/ADHD?

No. These conditions are all partly similar, but also very different, and can affect people very differently. Someone with dyspraxia may be very good at something that is very challenging for someone with another of these conditions. Equally, someone with another of the conditions may be good at something a person with dyspraxia finds very difficult. If you’re dyspraxic, you’re more likely to have one of these other conditions as well, but you can also have dyspraxia on its own. People with more than one condition often need more support throughout their lives than those with just dyspraxia. The most common similarities between the conditions are difficulties with short-term memory, attention, and sensory processing (being sensitive to light, touch, smell or noise) and emotional effects (low self-esteem, anxiety and depression). 

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.

Why do we 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 lets us know what we’re buying when we pick up a tin. Which is pretty helpful to know, because tomatoes are brilliant in a spaghetti bolognese and not so great 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?

Contrary to popular belief, dyspraxia doesn’t just affect children. Knowing you’re dyspraxic as an adult can help you to manage your life and relationships with others better as you take on more responsibilities. Adults often find their diagnosis helpful for driving (and deciding when or whether to learn), managing their finances, learning new skills at work and around the home, and becoming a parent.

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. 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 like something in-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). For some people, learning to drive 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. This can be true for all sorts of reasons, not just dyspraxia. If you’re lucky 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. Not driving doesn’t make someone sanctimonious, lazy or immature.

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.

Is there a link between being Dyspraxic and being gay / supporting Arsenal / liking banoffee pie, etc?

Dyspraxia can influence people’s choices and behaviour in tiny ways they aren’t even aware of themselves. This has led to a lot of speculation and generalisation about whether dyspraxia can make someone more likely to have certain tendencies or interests. It can be tricky to separate dyspraxia from other influences, so we need to be careful with these sorts of claims. There’s evidence to suggest a high proportion of offenders have undiagnosed neurodivergent conditions, but just as much evidence suggests neurodivergent people have high levels of empathy. We’re pretty sure people with dyspraxia tend to be highly analytical and self-critical. Which can make figuring out who you are or want to be pretty complicated, especially when you’re young and it’s already complicated enough. The right support in education, at home and in the workplace will help someone with dyspraxia better understand and accept themselves, whatever else they are and however they choose to live their lives.

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.

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/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.
  • Let speakers know in advance if they’re expected to help with setting up the event, and jobs like stewarding or fetching and carrying  – and don’t take it the wrong way if they don’t look too thrilled about it. Not everyone’s great at giving directions, or having heavy expensive equipment thrust into their hands at short notice…
  • 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.
  • 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. Many people don’t cope well with being made to look silly in public, and what seems an innocent or fun exercise to you might trigger someone else’s trauma. A break room or quiet room is often helpful.
  • 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.
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 time in therapy can often be spent trying to explain rather than being helped. 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 are 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.

DYSPRAXIA MYTHS
"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.

"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.

"It's 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 neurodivergent conditions are an explanation for uneven ability, which is very different from low ability.

"It's trivial/trendy/a way of getting attention."

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.

"It's a way to make 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.

"It's 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.

"It's a middle-class/white/Western thing."

Dyspraxia affects people from all backgrounds and in all societies. A lack of organised support groups in a country or area doesn’t mean there is no dyspraxia there. 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 they have more of a tendency towards social perfectionism. Social perfectionism means your self-worth is strongly linked to certain achievements or roles in your life, such as your exam results, career or relationships. This doesn’t mean dyspraxia shouldn’t be taken seriously, and it is still under-recognised as a whole. Higher rates of social perfectionism, particularly among men, are also associated with an increased risk of mental health problems and suicide.

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

This is like saying: “But if you know you have a vagina, what do you need a smear test for?” “You know where your knee is, do your own surgery!”  or “You’ve been told you’ve got cancer, what more do you want?!” 

"You have everything 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. Prejudice and bullying take many forms. The most obvious bullies are openly hostile towards certain groups of people because they either believe everyone else agrees with them, or enjoy notoriety. Another type of bully knows certain prejudices might be frowned upon, so cleverly looks for the ones they think they can justify and get away with. They attack those who they see as inferior but also advantaged, and so think of themselves as ‘punching up’. People who are neurodiverse are likely targets for this kind of bullying, because of our uneven abilities.