You may be wondering what Dyspraxia is and you wouldn't be alone. Most people I talk to often confuse it with Dyslexia. Some people such as your GP may refer to it as DCD or Developmental co-ordination disorder which confuses the matter further. I was born with Dyspraxia but found as I was growing up, and even today, the general population knows very little about it.
Dyspraxia is a common condition which according to experts could affect as many as 10% of children in the UK, with boys more likely to have it than girls. Some reasons may be that boys are more likely to play sports at a young age, making the symptoms more obvious. However, the effect on people varied, some having a minor condition like me, others severe.
It deserves more attention than it currently gets, it affects people just as much as other learning disabilities, though there are positive signs of improvement. In recent years I have noticed Dyspraxia being more included within the media. Doctor Who for example includes a character with Dyspraxia, showing how riding a bike is more difficult for him. This is good as it shows people just how common Dyspraxia is and a snapshot into how it can affect people, as well as getting people to talk about it.
What are the symptoms of Dyspraxia?
So, what is Dyspraxia exactly. It is a development disorder which affects the way different parts of the nervous system coordinate physical activities such as moving body parts and talking. It is important to specify that Dyspraxia does not affect intelligence at all, it is a purely physical disability. Many people with Dyspraxia struggle with their hand to eye coordination, it may take them longer to carry out tasks which involve using their hands. There are a multitude of different symptoms which are present in different people, not every person if affected in the same way. Dyspraxia can also affect speech. You may find it harder to pronounce words and due to this, get nervous when speaking. You may also find it hard to control the tone of your voice, etc.
Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Struggling to keep balance, such as standing on one foot.
- Unable to walk in a straight line.
- Being clumsy, frequently bumping into things or breaking things.
- Slouching while not realising it.
- Not being able to control fine motor actions such as writing, and not being able to control the level of force used, leading to messy handwriting.
How does this affect children growing up?
Dyspraxia can make it very difficult for children growing up, therefore potentially affecting every childhood milestone. Many children reach these milestones, such as the age they first walk or talk, much later than other children. I for instance, struggled to talk and walk when I was a child. I remember when at school, a Physiotherapist used to come and visit me there every so often. She would bring her trampoline, and her books. I would jump on the trampoline as other children looked on jealously. At the time I didn't understand why I got to bounce on the trampoline, and they didn't understand it either! I now know that this was a form of therapy, aimed at improving muscle growth and my balance. Children require special help to support them to live with the effects of Dyspraxia, especially during their education.
At school, I received extra help in the form of extra time for exams/coursework and the use of a laptop. This helped me a lot, as with Dyspraxia, my writing is messy, and it takes me longer to write. If I write for a few minutes with no break, my hand begins to hurt as well. With a laptop, I can type much faster than I write and do not need to worry about how neat my handwriting is. Children with Dyspraxia develop more slowly than children without, it is harder for them to learn at school. But this doesn't mean the skills which they find difficult cannot be learned, just that children with dyspraxia will find them harder to learn than other children do.
What is it like to live with Dyspraxia?
As I have mild symptoms, it does not affect me too much on a day-to-day basis. I can still do everything that everyone else can do such as driving, sports, writing, etc. From the outset it would look like nothing is “wrong” with me, I appear and present like everyone else. It is only when you pay attention that you notice the differences. I may take longer to tie my shoelaces; my handwriting is messy. But these are minor things, easy to live with. I can only speak from my own experiences of course, for other people this will be different.
How to get tested for Dyspraxia and what to do?
Before going to your GP, you could watch this video for an overall guide to Dyspraxia. Just keep in mind that this is not a diagnosis at all. It is merely a starting point to discuss with your GP, it details the symptoms and common problems of people with Dyspraxia.
Going to your GP
First, you should keep a diary of your symptoms, noting down any symptoms you feel fit with the diagnosis of having dyspraxia. You should then book an appointment with your GP (General Practitioner) who will discuss these symptoms with you. They may decide to do one of the following basic tests to determine if you match the criteria for a full Dyspraxia screening.
- Romberg test. This involves you standing unsupported for 20 seconds with your heels together and your eyes closed. If you lose your balance, this shows that you may have dyspraxia.
- Thumb-finding test. Your GP places your hands in a position of their choosing and then asks you to touch your thumb with your other thumb while your eyes are closed.
- Sequential finger-touching. Your GP will ask you to touch each of your fingers to your thumb, starting with your forefinger.
- Distal proprioception test. Your GP holds the sides of your big toe and moved it up and down as you watch. You will then be asked the repeat the movements with your eyes closed.
Full Dyspraxia screening with a therapist
If your GP feels that the tests and your symptoms diary suggest that you may have Dyspraxia, they will they send you to see a therapist who will assess you using a range of different techniques and tests. They assess your movements, mainly hand movements and your coordination skills. I do not remember the tests I had when I was a child, but when I went to University, I was sent to a therapist to be assessed. First, we had a conversation about how I thought my Dyspraxia affected me. I talked about my handwriting being messy, about how I was clumsy, how at school I had been allowed extra time and the use of a laptop.
After, we moved to the physical assessment. I was given a series of puzzles to solve, I remember one involved a piece of paper with various patterns on it and some cubes alongside it. I had to then rearrange the cubes to match the pattern. My therapist watched how I did this and timed how long it took. This tests both your hand to eye coordination and organisational skills. After these exercises your therapist will then discuss their findings with you. In my case, I was emailed a detailed overview of my condition and confirmation that I had Dyspraxia. (Even though I knew I did from childhood anyway.)
After this, you will then receive any support you need for your education provider, be that university, college, or high school. Also, you will receive treatment if your GP believes it can help.
If it is confirmed that you have Dyspraxia, try to be kinder to yourself. You will be slower than other people are manual tasks, you will find hand-to-eye coordination difficult at times, but it is just part of you and nothing to be ashamed of.
We hope that you have enjoyed learning more about Dyspraxia. Keep your eyes peeled for our next blog on Dyspraxia.