How Does Dyspraxia Affect Adults?
Dyspraxia comes from the Ancient Greek words ‘dys’ – meaning difficult or disordered and ‘praxis’ – meaning action or activity. It is also known as a developmental coordination disorder (DCD) that affects movement and coordination. It is a surprisingly common condition that affects both adults and children.
This article will look at what dyspraxia is, what causes it, and how it can present itself. We will focus primarily on what the condition means for adults and look at its potential impact on a person’s working life – including suggestions for how employers could provide support when required.
What is Dyspraxia in Adults?
Dyspraxia is a common disorder that affects movement and coordination. This means those with the condition may have difficulty with certain day-to-day tasks and activities such as particular sports, driving a vehicle, or preparing a meal. Some people can find it challenging to use their fine motor skills so may struggle with activities such as writing, tying shoelaces or using certain pieces of equipment – particularly with one hand – such as a stapler or can opener.
Dyspraxia is often regarded as a hidden condition which is still poorly understood. It is one of several other disorders and conditions that involve processing and learning differences/difficulties. Many people see an overlap of characteristics from more than just one of these similar conditions without necessarily having multiple labels.
Other conditions include:
- Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
- Asperger’s Syndrome.
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
As dyspraxia can affect many areas of a person’s life, the manner in which they perform certain tasks, how they present themselves in social interactions, and their potential for having other specific learning differences, can mean people falsely assume those with the condition have a reduced intellect, which is certainly not the case.
Neurodiversity is becoming increasingly embraced as a unique way of thinking that can also bring innovation and creativity. Dyspraxia, and the many other conditions that present with similar characteristics are completely apart from an individual’s level of intelligence as much as they are their race, socio-economic background, or culture.
Recently, there has been an increased awareness around the similar sounding – apraxia. Ex-footballer Chris Kamara took part in an ITV documentary called ‘Chris Kamara: Lost for Words’ in which he discusses his apraxia diagnosis and his challenges with his speech, balance and coordination. He also discussed his condition with Steven Bartlett on his ‘Diary of a CEO’ podcast.
Dyspraxia vs Apraxia
Dyspraxia of speech is also known as verbal dyspraxia or apraxia. There are several different types and their effects range beyond just speech, but both terms are related in the sense that apraxia is a type of dyspraxia. You will likely see these terms used interchangeably, but it is generally said that the main difference between the two is severity, with apraxia being the more severe.
As with ‘dys’ and ‘praxia’, we can again break down apraxia with the ‘a’ coming from the Ancient Greek meaning for ‘without’. These meanings help to differentiate between the severity of the two, with dyspraxia referring to a difficulty in performing certain actions and apraxia as an inability to do so.
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What Causes Dyspraxia?
The exact cause of dyspraxia is not known, but those born prematurely may be at an increased risk of developing it, as are men and those who have close relations with the condition.
It is known that dyspraxia occurs when there is a disruption to how messages are passed between the brain and the body, but the cause of the disruption itself is not fully known, and there is likely no single reason why it occurs. It isn’t, however, thought to be a consequence of illness, injury or brain damage.
How Does Dyspraxia Affect Adults?
Signs of dyspraxia can be present from a young age but may not be recognised until a child reaches school age, or even into adulthood. The dyspraxia foundation states that between 2% and 5% of the adult population are estimated to be affected by the condition.
Those with dyspraxia can display a variety of symptoms. Many of which will differ between individuals and may also change over time. The condition not only impacts coordination and movement, but there can also be social, emotional and processing difficulties too.
Dyspraxia may affect:
- Coordination, balance and movement.
- Writing, typing, drawing, and grasping small objects.
- How new skills are learnt and information is remembered.
- Daily tasks, such as dressing, fasting shoe laces or meal preparation.
- How a person functions in social situations.
- The way emotions are felt and dealt with.
- Time management, planning and organisation skills.
Sometimes, particularly when relatively mild, the characteristics of dyspraxia can be hard to identify, often various coping and avoidance strategies have been learned into adulthood and certain signs are simply put down as clumsiness, awkwardness or being disorganised.
Some other indicating factors to be aware of are:
- Having a history of physical awkwardness as a child that is now ‘managed’ as an adult.
- Long pauses before answering questions.
- Avoidance of environments and situations where physical or social challenges will be noticed.
- An ability to do lots of writing or neat writing, but not both at once.
- Underachieving at work or study.
- Struggling to apply skills in new environments or in a busy setting.
- Tiring easily.
- Bumping into things.
- A habit of being late or missing appointments.
It is important to be mindful of the impact conditions such as dyspraxia can have on an individual’s mental health. For many, a diagnosis may never be made or even sought and they may live with a lack of understanding as to why they feel out of step and face challenges in areas of their lives others around them seem to manage without difficulty.
Even those with a diagnosis may feel frustrated with themselves and in certain situations. Mental health awareness is something that can benefit us all and those around us, regardless of our circumstances.
Working with Dyspraxia
It should never be assumed that a person with dyspraxia will be unable to achieve in the workplace. There are many adults who have dyspraxia that have developed their own strategies for working effectively in a variety of settings. Living with the condition often promotes qualities in individuals that every employer wants in their workforce – determination, persistence, ingenuity, and a hard-working nature.
Of course, for some people with dyspraxia, additional support may be required to help them reach their full potential. Employers have a duty to ensure they do not discriminate against an individual on the grounds of their disability and to provide reasonable adjustments to ensure they are not put at a significant disadvantage.
As already mentioned, the benefit of neurodiversity comes from a different approach to thinking. In business, this can be a very valuable asset when it comes to developing new strategies and ways of working.
Everyone is an individual, regardless of what diagnosis they may have, and it is important to remember that having a condition like dyspraxia should not mean missing out on opportunities. It should, instead, be viewed as an asset with the person having the potential of unique skills and attributes that should be encouraged and developed.
There may be challenges to overcome and there may well be certain environments and professions more suited to an individual with the condition. Regardless of employment, however, they should be supported to thrive and reach their full potential, with consideration given to the types of adjustments that can be put in place to be of the greatest benefit.
Some possible adjustments an employer could make include:
- Making physical adjustments to the environment.
- Providing additional training if an individual finds particular areas challenging.
- Support professional development goals.
- Allocate tasks appropriately and consider task exchanges amongst team members.
- Sourcing specialist or modified equipment.
- Flexible working hours.
As with all working relationships, communication skills are essential. Take the time and make the opportunity to discuss any reasonable adjustments required and to understand how to support those with dyspraxia without rigid practice constraining them to an ineffective way of working.
Dyspraxia can affect anyone, with the symptoms and their severity being individual to each person. Those living with the condition in either childhood or adulthood should be supported to both think and do in a way that is right for them, enabling them to reach their full potential in all areas of life.
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