Dyspraxia, also known as developmental co-ordination disorder, is a common disorder that affects movement and co-ordination.
People with dyspraxia may appear physically awkward and have difficulties with writing, typing, learning to drive a car and self-care tasks. They may also have difficulties with organisation and planning skills. For more information, see Dyspraxia in adults - symptoms.
Dyspraxia symptoms are normally present at a young age. For example, babies may take longer than expected to roll over, sit or speak. See the Health A-Z pages on Childhood dyspraxia for more information on the symptoms and diagnosis of dyspraxia in children.
For many people, dyspraxia continues into adulthood. These pages focus on dyspraxia in adults.
How common is dyspraxia?
Estimates vary, but dyspraxia is thought to affect up to 8 in 100 people in the UK. It is more common in men, and sometimes runs in families.
It is not known what causes dyspraxia, but there may be a link between dyspraxia and the following:
- being born prematurely (before week 37 of pregnancy)
- being born with a low birth weight
- having a family history of dyspraxia
Dyspraxia does not affect intelligence, but it does affect learning ability. This means that adults with dyspraxia may need to develop coping strategies to find ways around difficult tasks. For example:
- choosing a job that involves using a computer in order to avoid writing by hand
- preferring solo sporting activities, such as swimming, to team games like football
There is no cure for dyspraxia, but a number of therapies can make it easier for the adult to cope with their problems. For example, occupational therapy can help adults find ways to remain independent and do everyday tasks.
Symptoms of dyspraxia in adults
Some children with dyspraxia may find that their symptoms improve. But for most people, symptoms will continue into adolescence or adulthood.
If your co-ordination difficulties were particularly severe as a child, they are more likely to continue to be a problem.
Childhood symptoms of dyspraxia may have a lasting effect on your adult life. For example, you may have:
- had poor results at school, such as in exams, which may affect your career as an adult
- found it difficult to form relationships at school, which may make it harder to form relationships with others as an adult
- had low self-esteem as a teenager, meaning that you joined fewer social groups
- avoided playing sports
As well finding it difficult to form relationships and perform academically at school, you may have also struggled with PE (physical education).
A small study asked young adults about their experiences of dyspraxia at school. They reported being laughed at or teased as they found sports activities difficult, and that this excluded them from friendship groups.
This experience should have improved once PE was no longer a compulsory subject. However, it may have had a lasting impact on your self-esteem and your ability to make friends.
Another common problem at school is handwriting. You may have found this less of a problem once computers were more frequently used.
Problems in adulthood
As an adult, dyspraxia can affect your:
- motor (movement) skills
- cognitive skills (how you think)
- social skills
These are explained in more detail below.
Dyspraxia can affect your movement, so you may have difficulty with activities such as:
- riding a bike
- throwing and catching a ball
- tying your shoes
- doing up buttons
- washing your hair
- carrying out household tasks, such as cleaning
- learning to drive (because of difficulty co-ordinating movements)
The degree to which motor skills are affected is likely to vary between people with dyspraxia.
Dyspraxia can affect your cognitive skills (the way you think). This can cause problems with:
- completing forms
- your short-term memory
- time management
- organisational skills
- learning to drive (because of difficulty concentrating)
Dyspraxia can affect your social skills (the way you interact with others), causing problems such as:
- being shy
- finding it difficult speaking to others
- not being very good at socialising
- being wary of people, possibly due to being bullied as a child
- finding it difficult to understand humour, sarcasm or facial expressions
People with dyspraxia may also have other conditions, such as:
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) - a group of behavioural symptoms of inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness
- dyslexia - a common type of learning difficulty that mainly affects the skills involved in reading and spelling words
- autistic spectrum disorder - a range of related developmental disorders that begin in childhood, such as Asperger syndrome (which causes difficulty with social interaction and behaviour)
These are likely to have been present since you were a child. Click on the links above to find out more about the symptoms of these conditions.
Diagnosing dyspraxia in adults
If you think you have dyspraxia, you should see your GP. Dyspraxia has only been recognised since the mid-1990s. This means there could be many adults with dyspraxia who were not diagnosed with dyspraxia as a child.
There are no specific guidelines for diagnosing dyspraxia in adults. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides some guidance for diagnosing children, and some of these points may also apply to adults. You may have:
- difficulty co-ordinating movements - this cannot be explained by another condition, such as a learning difficulty, and will have been present since you were a young child
- difficulty recognising objects and their spatial relationships (how far apart the objects are) - for example, not having the skills needed to complete a jigsaw puzzle
Your GP may refer you to another healthcare professional to help with the diagnosis, such as:
- a psychologist (healthcare professional who specialises in assessing and treating mental health conditions)
- a neurologist (specialist in treating conditions that affect the brain and nervous system)
They will need to assess your:
- gross motor skills - the ability to use large muscles that co-ordinate body movements, such as running, walking and maintaining balance
- fine motor skills - the ability to use small muscles for accurate co-ordinated movements, such as writing, tying a shoelace and doing up buttons
There are no specific tests that can be used to diagnose adults. However, some of the motor skills tests that are used in children may still be relevant. For example, you may be asked to throw and catch a ball, or hold and use a pen.
Treating dyspraxia in adults
Dyspraxia (also known as developmental co-ordination disorder) can be treated with a number of therapies. You may already be coping with your problems by adapting your day-to-day activities.
Coping with problems
If your dyspraxia was not diagnosed as a child, you may have already developed strategies for coping with your symptoms, such as:
- avoiding activities that you find difficult - for example, not joining sports teams or changing jobs if it involves tasks you cannot complete
- finding a suitable activity and sticking with it - for example, you may be very good with computers, music or art, so you focus your career or study on these areas
- using humour - if you cannot complete an activity, you may make a joke out of the situation to take the attention off yourself
- persevering - you may persist with the activity even though you are finding it difficult
You may find that your movement problems improve as you find ways to adapt. As you grow older and accept yourself, your confidence and self-esteem may also improve. This may be because the pressure to 'fit in' as an adult is not as strong as when you were a child and teenager.
Occupational therapy involves identifying problem areas in your everyday life, such as dressing yourself or getting to your local shops. Your occupational therapist can help you to work out practical solutions.
For example, you may need to modify your house, such as a stairlift, to make it easier for you to get around. If you are struggling with a particular activity, such as making a cup of tea, your occupational therapist can break it down into simple steps and practise it with you.
Your occupational therapist may also be able to help you find ways of adapting roles and situations so that you can participate fully in social activities. For example, if you enjoy sports but find playing difficult, perhaps you could keep score instead.
Counselling is a type of talking therapy. You can talk to a counsellor about your problems. They are trained to listen sympathetically. They can help you deal with any negative thoughts and feelings that you have. Counselling may help you to:
- discuss your problems honestly and openly
- deal with any issues that are preventing you from achieving your goals and ambitions
- have a more positive outlook on life
See the Health A-Z topic about Counselling for more information about this type of treatment.
If you have dyspraxia, you may also have another health condition that requires separate treatment. For example:
- depression (long-term feelings of sadness) - this can be treated with a combination of exercise, talking therapies and antidepressant medication
- anxiety (constant feelings of worry and unease) - this can be treated with medication, talking therapies and a number of self-help measures, such as relaxation techniques
Talk to your GP if either of these conditions affect you.