Dyspraxia

Reviewed by Nora Allali-Carling
Last updated 15th June 2023 | Next update due 14th June 2026

A dyspraxic person can be described as someone who has problems with physical coordination. Dyspraxia or developmental coordination disorder (DCD) causes a person to go about daily activities less well than expected, affecting movement, balance, and motor skills. Although dyspraxia is often referred to in relation to children, adults can also be affected. Let’s take a look at dyspraxia in more detail, including the symptoms and the benefits of counselling.

What is dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia is a common and often misunderstood condition affecting up to 10% of the population in the UK. Whilst dyspraxia doesn’t affect intelligence, it impacts many other areas of life including movement, coordination, organisation, concentration, and behaviour. 

Symptoms of dyspraxia can be present from a very early age, but the condition can remain undiagnosed until school age and in some cases adulthood. Those assigned male at birth are four times more likely to be affected by dyspraxia. And although we don’t know the exact causes, the condition can sometimes run in the family or can be associated with low birth weight. It can sometimes be seen alongside other conditions such as dyslexia and ADHD.

Most healthcare professionals prefer the term DCD, although many people in the UK still use the term dyspraxia to describe the condition. Dyspraxia shouldn’t be confused with other possible conditions affecting movement or coordination.


What are the signs of dyspraxia?

Each dyspraxic person will experience the condition in a way that is unique to them and their circumstances, but there are some common signs of dyspraxia.

Movement

A dyspraxic person’s movements may appear heavy-handed or lack precision. Coordinating movements will require much more effort than someone without dyspraxia, resulting in more stumbles and bumps. Learning new motor skills or transferring movements to new experiences can be especially tricky.

Learning ability

The ability to learn new tasks is something a dyspraxic person might struggle with, affecting everyday living skills such as writing, cooking, typing, drawing, getting dressed, finding places, and playing sports. Dyspraxic people may need to be taught new skills as they may find it difficult to pick them up instinctively.

Planning

Time management and planning may be difficult for a dyspraxic person. This can be especially difficult for an adult needing to organise themselves ahead of time. Scattered thoughts and a lower attention span are also symptoms of DCD, interfering with how a dyspraxic person manages their daily activities.

Processing emotions

The emotional effects of dealing with dyspraxia can result in feelings of worry or unease. Not only can thinking through the smallest of tasks feel stressful and draining, but a dyspraxic person may also find it challenging to recognise how they’re feeling about their environment. There may be a tendency to respond or react before thinking things through.

Creativity

As it’s also important to think of dyspraxic people in relation to areas of strength, some possible attributes of this condition are creative thinking (or ‘thinking outside the box’), enthusiasm, and risk-taking. Some other talked-about strengths are a strong sense of justice and a close eye for detail.

We understand that some people may use identity-first language ('dyspraxic person') and some people may use person-first language ('person with dyspraxia') when referring to themselves as dyspraxic. Please use the language that you feel most at ease with.

In this video, counsellor and coach Louise Taylor (MNCS (Accred), MA) explains more about neurodiversity, including the disadvantages and strengths of living in a world as a neurodivergent person. 

Dyspraxia and adults

Although there are crossovers in the symptoms and effects of dyspraxia within the various age groups, an adult may have different experiences with dyspraxia than a child. A dyspraxic adult might struggle with all or some of the following:

  • balancing
  • handling utensils
  • keeping up with conversations
  • meeting deadlines
  • bright lights or loud noises
  • household chores
  • tiring easily
  • writing or typing words
  • organising
  • time management
  • following directions somewhere
  • remembering information
  • learning new skills
  • coordinating both sides of the body
  • producing clear speech (verbal dyspraxia)
  • self-esteem
  • feeling anxious

If you’d like to know more about some of the potential indicators to look out for according to age group, feel free to read the Counselling Directory article, Dyspraxia: Signs in all ages (and strategies that can help).

If you’re looking to be assessed for dyspraxia, please contact your GP for advice. They may refer you to an occupational therapist for tests. If you’re concerned your child may have dyspraxia, it’s best to speak to the school’s special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) as your first point of contact.


Dyspraxia and children

Dyspraxic children have issues with either their fine and/or gross motor skills, resulting in coordination problems. Their brains have a difficult time telling their bodies what to do next. A dyspraxic child might struggle with all or some of the following:

  • riding a bike or scooter
  • getting dressed
  • holding a pencil or pen
  • playing balance games
  • waiting their turn
  • remembering information
  • sitting still
  • reaching milestones at the expected age
  • playing ball games
  • loud noises and sensory processing
  • moving from one activity to another
  • thinking flexibly
  • being too impulsive
  • becoming easily distracted
  • processing emotions
  • making friends
  • feeling worried

Dyspraxia and self-esteem

As well as physical difficulties, dyspraxic children may experience emotional and social challenges. According to the research paper published in 2018, Understanding Organisational Ability and Self-Regulation in Children with Developmental Coordination Disorder, dyspraxic children are at increased risk of experiencing anxiety or low self-esteem in social settings e.g. at school, with friends, or at home, “Frustration at their inability to perform activities that others manage to easily accomplish contributes to children’s sense of inadequacy.”

In their article, A call to celebrate neurodiversity, Counsellor Natasha Walsh (Accred MBACP) talks about how important it is for schools to understand and champion neurodiversity within an educational setting, "Gladly times are changing, staff have the training and are beginning to see past presenting behaviours and are asking the questions: why is that child frustrated, why does the child appear anxious all the time…"

Even though positive changes have been made, Counsellor Natasha, who specialises in helping neurodivergent people, feels that more can be done to allow children to think outside the box. Helping dyspraxic children discover their strengths at school can be a way to reduce anxiety and improve self-esteem.


Dyspraxia and counselling

Getting the right kind of support for the impacts of dyspraxia can help children and adults feel happier about themselves and their future. In their article, Counselling for dyspraxia, dyslexia and related conditions, Counsellor Paula Newman (MBACP Senior Accred) talks about the challenges that can be explored with counselling, such as not ‘fitting in’ at home, work or school, “They often struggle with tasks which the majority of us take for granted and can be likely to underachieve educationally unless their condition is understood and provided for.”

Daily tasks can create anxiety and frustration, resulting in feeling different to others who can take life more easily in their stride. Paula shares more about the impact this condition can have on someone’s mental health and the unfair judgments they may come up against.

They may have to deal with bullying and labels such as lazy, stupid, naughty, immature and strange. This can result in low confidence and low self-esteem, loneliness and depression. 

If you’re dyspraxic or think you could be, counselling can be a way of helping you manage your emotions by looking at (and potentially changing) negative thoughts and reactions. Speaking to a professional trained in dyspraxia counselling can also help you positively reframe the way you talk to yourself, and help you recognise the incredible challenges you've overcome.


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