In this post, I briefly describe the characteristics and possible causes of dyspraxia, the ways in which it manifests itself in adulthood, and how it may be identified.
What is dyspraxia?
Dyspraxia (or developmental coordination disorder as it is often known as outside of the UK) is a lifelong condition. It is characterised by weaknesses both in fine motor skills such as those involved in writing and using scissors and in gross motor skills such as those involved in dancing and riding a bike. Infants with dyspraxia are often slow to learn to crawl and walk, and affected children often fail to present their work neatly at school, find sport and games challenging, and struggle with self-care. Dyspraxia is found in those of all levels of cognitive ability and is different from other motor disorders caused by cerebral palsy and stroke, for example.
Those with dyspraxia may have unclear speech due to difficulties controlling the muscles in their mouths and may find it difficult to moderate the volume of their speech. They may have difficulties with organisational skills and with aspects of social interaction such as interpreting facial expressions and understanding jokes and sarcasm. Affected individuals may experience difficulties with eye movements and may be more likely to experience visual stress than others.
Perceptual differences may be present. These are varied and may include under-sensitivity to stimuli, over-sensitivity to stimuli, and weaknesses in spatial and temporal awareness. Cognitive differences may also be present. These are also varied and include difficulties with planning and organising ideas and weaknesses in working memory and concentration as well as a slowness in processing information. These differences may lead to problems with following instructions, structuring written work, multi-tasking, and working under pressure of time.
What causes dyspraxia and who is affected?
The precise cause of dyspraxia is not known but it is possible that it results from inadequate reinforcement of particular neural pathways. You can read more about this here. Dyspraxia is more common in males than females and there is some evidence that it is inherited. It is not uncommon for those with dyspraxia to have co-occurring conditions such as dyslexia, Asperger Syndrome or ADHD. There is overlap between these neurodiverse conditions and those with dyslexia and dyspraxia often share the same pattern of cognitive strengths and weaknesses with relative weaknesses in working memory and processing speed. Dyspraxia is thought to affect up to 10% of the population.
How does dyspraxia manifest itself in adults?
Adults with dyspraxia frequently report difficulties in the following areas:
- arriving to places on time
- carrying drinks
- following conversations
- laboratory work
- learning to play instruments
- remembering instructions
- riding a bike
- self-care (e.g. cutting nails and putting on make-up)
- speaking quietly
- structuring written work
- taking notes during lectures or training courses
- understanding jokes
- working quickly
How is dyspraxia identified?
In childhood, dyspraxia is often identified by a paediatrician or occupational therapist. Since dyspraxia has only been recognised for the last 20 years or so, we can expect that there will be many undiagnosed adults. Adults are less likely to be referred to an occupational therapist than children and the difficulties that an adult experiences are less likely to be related to motor coordination and more likely to be related to differences in cognitive functioning. For this reason, dyspraxia in adults is often identified by psychologists.
Recently published guidance on the assessment of dyspraxia in clients within educational settings emphasises the importance of providing evidence of a history of motor co-ordination difficulties and taking account of physical and educational aspects of dyspraxia. Appropriate assessments may include tests of visual-perceptual skills, visual-motor integration, processing speed, working memory, fine motor skills and handwriting speed.
Further sources of information
Colley, M. (2006). Living with Dyspraxia: A Guide for Adults with Developmental Dyspraxia. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Grant, D. (2010). That’s the Way I Think: Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and ADHD Explained. London: Routledge.