Developmental co-ordination disorder (Dyspraxia)

Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD), also known as Dyspraxia in the UK, is a common disorder affecting fine or gross motor co-ordination in children and adults. This lifelong condition is formally recognised by international organisations including the World Health Organisation. DCD is distinct from other motor disorders such as cerebral palsy and stroke and occurs across the range of intellectual abilities. Individuals may vary in how their difficulties present; these may change over time depending on environmental demands and life experience.

An individual’s coordination difficulties may affect participation and functioning of everyday life skills in education, work and employment. Children may present with difficulties with self-care, writing, typing, riding a bike and play as well as other educational and recreational activities. In adulthood many of these difficulties will continue, as well as learning new skills at home, in education and work, such as driving a car and DIY. There may be a range of co-occurring difficulties which can also have serious negative impacts on daily life. These include social and emotional difficulties as well as problems with time management, planning and personal organisation, and these may also affect an adult’s education or employment experience.

Adults in college and university commonly have the following difficulties in their studies:

  • literacy;
  • planning and organisational ability;
  • working memory;
  • speed of working;
  • spoken language;
  • visual perceptual and spatial skills.

© Matthew Tizzard

Gross motor coordination skills

Poor balance and rhythm, e.g. bicycle riding or dancing.

Poor posture and muscle tone; clumsy gait and movement.

Poor hand-eye coordination, causing difficulties with bat and ball sports and car driving.

Fine motor skills

Lack of manual dexterity, and poor manipulative skills, causing problems in many areas such as:

  • grooming and dressing;
  • housework and cooking;
  • DIY and craftwork;
  • handwriting and keyboarding.

© Matthew Tizzard

Speech, language and oral skills

Continuous and/or repetitive talking.

Difficulty organising content and sequence of language.

Problems with pitch, volume, rate and pronunciation.

Difficulty listening to people; can be tactless and interrupt frequently.

Tendency to take things literally; may listen but not understand.

Difficulty reading non-verbal signals, including tone and pitch of voice.

© Matthew Tizzard

Perception (i.e. interpretation by the different senses)

Poor visual perception.

Lack of awareness of body position in space, causing tripping, bumping and spilling.

Poor sense of time, speed, distance or weight.

Poor sense of direction and left/right discrimination.

Poor eye-movement e.g. keeping place while reading or looking from TV to magazine.

Learning, thought and memory.

Unfocused and erratic; may become messy and cluttered.

Poor short-term memory; may lose or forget things.

Poor sequencing, causing problems with maths, spelling and copying sounds.

Difficulty following instructions, especially more than one at a time.

© Matthew Tizzard

Emotion and behaviour (These are not direct symptoms of dyspraxia, but a reaction to it)

Impulsive and easily frustrated; difficulty working in teams;

Slow to adapt to new or unpredictable situations, often avoiding them;

Tendency to be stressed, depressed or anxious; may have difficulty sleeping;

Prone to low self-esteem, emotional outbursts, phobias, compulsions and addictive behaviour.

Many of these characteristics are not unique to people with dyspraxia, and not even the most severe case will have all the above characteristics. But adults with dyspraxia will tend to have more than their fair share of coordination and perceptual difficulties.

35-40% are also dyslexic; 50% also ADHD; only 10% are likely to have no overlap with other specific learning differences (SpLDs).

Further reading:

Colley, M. (2005) Living with Dyspraxia: a guide for adults with developmental dyspraxia (revised edn) London: Jessica Kingsley

Drew, S. (2005) Developmental Coordination Disorders in Adults London: Whurr

Drew, S. (2009) ‘Dyspraxia’ in: Pollak, D. (ed.) Neurodiversity in Higher Education: positive responses to specific learning differences Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, pp.99-124