Dyspraxia: signs in all ages (and strategies that can help)
Developmental coordination disorder (DCD), also known as dyspraxia is thought to affect anywhere between five to 10% of the population in the UK. Whilst most commonly spoken about in relation to children (often alongside dyslexia), both adults and children can be affected by dyspraxia in a number of different ways.
Dyspraxia affects individuals motor coordination and can affect their general coordination. Varying between each person who experiences it, some find that the extent to which it affects them can change over time, whilst for others, it may continue on into adulthood.
We don’t currently know what causes dyspraxia, though it is often seen alongside other conditions including ADHD, dyslexia, social, behavioural or emotional impairments, as well as language disorders.
Children, teens and adults may have different experiences with dyspraxia. While a child may find writing, typing, or learning to ride a bike difficult, an adult may have trouble with new DIY skills, learning to drive a car, or may appear more clumsy.
We share some of the indicators to look out for that someone may be struggling with dyspraxia, and could benefit from additional help or support.
Children under five
Delays in reaching milestones
These can include one or more of the following: rolling over, sitting, standing, or walking. Slow or hesitant actions, as well as trouble with stairs (walking up or down), can also be signs.
Delays or trouble with speech and language concepts
Difficulty understanding concepts such as in, on, behind, or in front of, as well as delays in starting to talk. Dyspraxic children may also seem more anxious than their peers, and can often be more easily distracted.
This can present in a number of different ways, from having difficulty dressing to trouble with shape sorting games and puzzles. Children may seem more clumsy than others their age, frequently falling or bumping into things. They may also struggle to instinctively learn things or may require someone showing them how to do something multiple times to pick it up (like learning to tie their shoelaces).
Children aged five to 12
School-aged children will often have shown or continue to show similar signs that younger dyspraxic children show, such as poor coordination, increased anxiety compared to their peers, and a habit of being more easily distracted. They may have shown little to no improvement in these areas between pre-school and primary school or may seem behind in certain areas compared to other classmates.
Poor performance at school
Children may seem to have a low attention span, difficulty following or remembering instructions. They may appear poorly organised, have trouble writing, copying things from the whiteboard, and their handwriting may be hard to read or poor for their age. Dyspraxic children may perform poorly in class but show significant improvements when working on a one-to-one basis. Particular difficulties with structured stories, writing assignments, and maths can be common.
Avoidance of physical activities and games
Children with dyspraxia may express a strong dislike of PE, may try to avoid these classes as well as showing a dislike or reluctance to join in during physical games or activities that require coordination.
Teens aged 13+
Teens may have shown or continue to show signs found in younger ages mentioned above. Their historic school performance may have been or may continue to be affected. This can often be seen as poor organisation, short attention spans, trouble with maths and English, as well as a variety of other signs.
Trouble at school
Pre-teens and teens may have particular difficulty settling into their new school or college. This can extend to having trouble remembering teacher or classmate names, forgetting class locations, difficulty remembering their schedule, assignments, or homework. While this can be common for many settling into a new school, these difficulties likely persist for longer periods than their peers.
Frustration and low self-esteem
Dyspraxic teens may seem confused, tearful, disoriented, or more fearful or change for longer than their friends and classmates. They may express feelings of frustration, show signs of low self-esteem, and may act out by becoming disruptive at school or home. Teens may feel that their parents and teachers don’t understand them or have failed them.
Spending time alone
They may feel more comfortable and secure spending time with children younger than them or prefer to spend time alone. They may seem uncomfortable or avoid time with those their own age.
Adults may have shown or continue to show signs found in teens or children. A continued difficulty with organisation, trouble with change, poor concentration or trouble learning new names and schedules can be common. Other signs often experienced by dyspraxic adults include:
Difficulty with routines and new skills
These can include daily self-care activities and routines such as trouble shaving or applying makeup, as well as trouble learning new skills such as cooking and driving.
Poor balance, posture, and coordination
Dyspraxic adults may have difficulty riding or learning to ride a bicycle (or similar balance-based transport), a lack of rhythm and coordination when exercising, dancing, or running. They may have trouble or be reluctant to take part in team games or sports, due to trouble with hand-eye coordination, and may seem clumsy in daily activities and movement. If standing for long periods of time, their posture may seem poor and they may grow tired more quickly than others.
Poor fine motor skills
This can show in a number of ways, such as having difficulty with tasks that require both hands (using cutlery, cooking, playing musical instruments, ironing), typing, drawing or writing.
Verbal and sensory signs
Individuals may repeat themselves, seem to have difficulty organising the order of their words or what they are saying. They may talk continuously, repeat themselves needlessly, or find it difficult to moderate their speed, volume, or pitch. Dyspraxic adults may seem to have difficulty listening in large groups or have trouble working as part of a team. They can seem tactless, may interrupt frequently or miss non-verbal cues. This can result in seeing more easily frustrated, trouble understanding instructions, and slow adaptation to new situations or changes.
Adults may seem over (or under) sensitive to light, noise, touch, taste, smell, temperature, or pain. They may lack spatial awareness, have trouble telling hearing over background noise, or seem to have poor visual perception. They may seem to bump, trip, drop or spill things more frequently than others. A poor sense of direction can also be common.
Learning, thought, and memory difficulties can be indicators of dyspraxia. This may be through poor planning, a lack of organisation, or trouble focusing. They may seem to have trouble with their short-term memory, be forgetful, or tend to lose things. Following multiple instructions may be difficult, tasks may take longer to finish, and individuals may seem more erratic, messy, and unfocused compared to colleagues.
What can help?
While there is currently no cure for dyspraxia, there are a number of strategies that can help to minimise symptoms or help individuals learn ways to cope with or overcome difficulties. An official diagnosis may help the individual to come to terms with their difficulties, put things into perspective, and work towards improving their self-esteem. However, there are a number of professionals who they may benefit from working with.
An occupational therapist can help develop ways to improve fine motor and perceptual skills, work on daily living and organisational skills.
A speech therapist may be able to help with communication and social skills while working on language and speech problems.
Counselling for dyspraxia can be beneficial for overcoming many problems that may arise alongside or as part of their experience with dyspraxia. A counsellor may be able to help individuals to recognise, understand and face the challenges and experiences they have had and may continue to have. Talking through things with a qualified counsellor creates the opportunity to get to know themselves at a deeper level, enabling them to feel more confident making decisions and changes.
Parents of dyspraxic children may also benefit from speaking to a counsellor, who can provide a safe, separate place to explore frustrations, talk about their experiences, and explore ways in which they can help further support their loved ones.
There are a number of highly recommended books haring strategies dyspraxic people can use. Living With Dyspraxia is a guide offering tips and advice for dyspraxic adults to help them tackle everyday situations from managing household chores and interacting with others, to how to seek a formal diagnosis.
For teens, Caged in Chaos was written by a dyspraxic teen who offers first-hand advice through a practical, inspiring but funny guide for teens and young adults. Aiming to help young people get to grips with the physical, social and psychological chaos caused by DCDs, this book is peppered with personal stories from teens, down-to-earth advice, and guidance on how to handle a myriad of teen issues from self-esteem to bullying.
For younger children, You’re So Clumsy Charley can be a great way to introduce children to a character that experiences similar coordination problems as they do. Designed to show dyspraxic, dyslexic, autistic, and children with ADHD that being different and clumsy doesn’t make them stupid, this illustrated book can help children eight and younger to begin accepting and acknowledging some of their difficulties.
If you are looking for an activity you can try at home to help improve children’s writing, memory, and other gross motor skills, Understood have a wide range of simple, practical strategies you can try at home.