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 is the term for a family of conditions which affect how the brain manages information. Dyspraxia is an example of a neurodivergent condition. 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 side-effects (low self-esteem, social 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.

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.

Why do we need to label people as Dyspraxic? Aren't people just people?

“Why do we need to label food as ‘tinned tomatoes?’ Isn’t food just food?” We label tins of food to know what’s inside them. We’re not insulting a tin of tomatoes by calling it a tin of tomatoes. Tomato isn’t a slur; it doesn’t mean tins of tomatoes are worse or better than other food tins. It just lets us know we’re buying tomatoes. Which is pretty helpful to know, because tomatoes are brilliant in a spaghetti bolognese and not so great in a trifle. Similarly, some people perform brilliantly in some situations and much less well in others, to the point where they’d benefit from a bit of extra help. Labels can help us understand ourselves and others, just as they help us when we buy things.

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

What helps varies from person to person. 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.

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/course/career/hobby] 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.

Does being Dyspraxic mean you're more likely to be [.....]?

Dyspraxia can influence people’s insidious, tiny choices and actions in 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 be LGBT/an Arsenal supporter/kind to animals/addicted to banoffee pie, etc. It can be tricky to separate dyspraxia from other influences when it comes to people’s preferences, 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. What we’re pretty sure dyspraxia makes people more likely to do is dislike themselves, develop obsessions and overthink. 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.

I'm Dyspraxic but most people who talk about Dyspraxia aren't like me. We need more diversity!

No two people with dyspraxia are the same. We all benefit from hearing a range of stories and should always bear in mind that others’ experiences might be different to ours. Within the dyspraxia community, the same voices are most likely to be heard above others as in every other community, for the same reasons, which we should all be wanting to address. Equally, no-one can help not being you or your child, and everyone deserves respect for sharing their personal experiences.

Why isn't there more information about Dyspraxia in adulthood, not just children and young people?

There has been a slow but steady increase in the amount of information available about dyspraxia for adults over the last decade or so. However, it is still far from enough, and recognition has not been matched by support. There are a number of self-published books by/for dyspraxic adults. Some have been distributed through the Dyspraxia Foundation. As far as most people are aware there are no commercially published books offering information and support for adults specifically around dyspraxia.

Possible reasons for this, and for the lack of adult-focused information generally, could include:

  • The incorrect assumption dyspraxia only affects children and teenagers, or adults no longer need support.
  • Information changes or goes out of date very quickly, so a book featuring advice relating to (for example) workplace support services or learning to drive could be irrelevant by the time it’s published.
  • By adulthood, a dyspraxic person’s opportunities are so heavily influenced by other aspects of their life (such as their history, qualifications, or where they live and work) it’s difficult to give practical advice that’s relevant to everyone, and information aimed at specific audiences, such as workplace training, is more helpful.
  • Advice aimed at those specific groups (e.g students, parents, people in certain jobs) won’t have a large enough audience to sell a book.
  • Adults with dyspraxia may have wanted to write books but found the organisational side of putting together the material and finding a publisher is too difficult; especially for books that need a lot of input from different people or organisations.
If most people with Dyspraxia are male, why are those who talk and write about it mostly women?

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. There have been some great, prolific male Dyspraxia campaigners and ambassadors in recent years.

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.

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 or 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. Finding good therapy for free or cheaply isn’t easy, but it is possible. You probably won’t qualify for long-term mental health support on the NHS unless you have a chronic, 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. The best places to find help are through your employer if you work for a large organisation, through your university or college if you’re a student, or, otherwise, through small local charities, such as local Mind branches. 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. If you’re lucky, you’ll be seen by an experienced therapist at a clinic or surgery. At the other end of the scale, it can mean a recent graduate with little or no proper training reading to you from a self-help book at your local library. 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. It is well worth exploring this if the NHS can’t help you. Groops in North London is a paid counselling service specialising in the emotional effects of dyslexia, and their counsellors are also aware of dyspraxia. Number 22 offers free, unlimited counselling in the Thames Valley and many regions will have something similar – it’s best to Google or ask around locally. Some therapists also offer sessions via Skype or FaceTime. When choosing a therapist, always check they’re a member of a professional body such as BACP, BPS or RCP. 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 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, so “making up” words tends to be thought of as a good thing.

"Dyspraxia is just an excuse for doing badly at school"

Most people with dyspraxia are of average or above-average ability. Dyspraxia and other neurodivergent conditions are an explanation for uneven ability, which is very different from low ability. And the only thing close to a specific, widely-agreed definition of intelligence is that people who think there is one usually aren’t…

"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.

"Dyspraxia is 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.

"Dyspraxia is just another 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 SEN community is made up of volunteers and people on modest-to-low incomes. 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.

"Dyspraxia is just for middle-class white westerners."

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.

"Dyspraxia is trendy/trivial/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.

Why employ someone with Dyspraxia when someone else can do the job without Dyspraxia?"

People can bring great qualities to their work (or not) whether or not they are dyspraxic. But having particularly profound strengths and challenges can give someone who is dyspraxic or neurodiverse an extra level of determination and a different perspective from many other people, which is helpful for some types of work.