Is Dyspraxia a Disability? Signs, Treatment & More!

Is Dyspraxia a Disability? Signs, Treatment & More!

Dyspraxia is a neurodivergent condition that affects how the mind processes actions. It usually affects coordination, movement, balance, organisation abilities and is said to affect up to 10% of the population. Whilst dyspraxia can be diagnosed at any age, early recognition allows your child to receive the support and understanding they need to fulfil their potential. In this article, Therapy Stars explores whether dyspraxia is considered as a disability and where to find any important information about this disorder. 

So, is dyspraxia a disability? Put simply, yes. Dyspraxia is viewed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010 and disability law. This is because the Act defines a disability as ‘any physical or mental impairments that have a substantial and long-term impact on an individual’s ability to carry out everyday tasks.’

Keep reading to learn more about the early signs of dyspraxia and how to treat this condition. 

Is Dyspraxia a Disability? 

Dyspraxia, also known as Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is a condition that affects physical coordination. It causes a child to perform less well than expected in daily activities for their age, and appear to move clumsily. As a lifelong disorder which affects fine and gross motor skills, coordination and processing, dyspraxia is protected under the Equality Act 2010 and disability law. 

The Equality Act 2010 refers to physical or mental impairments that have a substantial and long-term adverse effect on an individual’s ability to carry out everyday activities. This includes dyspraxia, which falls within this definition. Consequently, dyspraxia is a protected disability under the Equality Act. Individuals with dyspraxia should not face any discrimination and should be given ‘reasonable adjustments’ for their disability. These adjustments include: 

  • Making sure that disabled individuals aren’t at a significant disadvantage to non-disabled individuals due to certain practices or criteria 
  • Making sure that disabled individuals aren’t at a significant disadvantage to non-disabled individuals due to a physical feature 
  • Where a disabled individual would, but for the provision of an auxiliary aid, be put at a substantial disadvantage in comparison 

Early Signs of Dyspraxia 

Although dyspraxia can be identified at any age, early recognition will enable your child to receive the support and understanding they need to fulfil their potential. The main feature of dyspraxia are coordination difficulties, which affect large gross motor and small fine motor body movements. 

Children with dyspraxia can also experience difficulties with:

  • Organisation
  • Planning
  • Attention
  • Memory 
  • Processing speed 
  • Some children also have difficulties with speech and language. 

Over time, the pattern of a young person’s difficulties will change as performance expectations increase and environment changes. For example, young children need help getting dressed whereas we expect older children to manage independently. Social and organisational difficulties tend to become more pressing during the teenage years. As a result, it is essential that support is given to prevent the gap between young people with dyspraxia/DCD and their peers widening and affecting their confidence and self-esteem. 

Here are some tell-tale signs of dyspraxia for different age groups:

Infants 

Whilst most children are school-age when diagnosed with dyspraxia/DCD, early signs will often present themselves in infancy. Early indicators include:

  • Taking longer to reach motor milestones such as sitting and walking (although some children later diagnosed with dyspraxia/DCD walk earlier than their peers)
  • Missing out on crawling, preferring to ‘bottom shuffle’ or going straight to walking 
  • Feeding difficulties – struggling to coordinate mouth movements needed for effective sucking/swallowing
  • Irritability and difficulty settling 
  • Avoiding toys and games requiring good hand dexterity

Pre-School Children

Whilst each person has their own unique profile of strengths, interests and difficulties, children with dyspraxia/DCD often show the following:

  • Frequent trips and falls 
  • Bumping into people and objects
  • Difficulty coordinating movements to kick and throw a ball or pedal a trike
  • Hesitant when using stairs or appearing to have no sense of danger. For example, jumping from heights with no regard to safety 
  • High levels of motor activity such as swinging feet, fidgeting and tapping hands. Difficulty staying still. 
  • Struggling with spatial concepts such as on, over, in and underneath
  • Avoiding construction toys such as Lego and jigsaws 
  • Difficulty holding a pencil or crayon. Drawings seem immature 
  • Difficulty holding tools such as scissors, a fork or spoon
  • Described as a ‘messy eater’, spilling food and struggling to coordinate. May dislike certain food textures and prefer finger food
  • Struggles with basic dressing tasks such as pulling on socks 
  • Difficulty following instructions, especially those requiring an action
  • Poor concentration, often leaving tasks unfinished
  • Becoming over-excited quickly and taking a while to settle down
  • Getting upset easily, especially when unable to complete a task
  • Sensitive to sensory stimulation such as noise, feel of clothes and food textures 
  • Delayed speech and language development 
  • Prefers the company of adults 
  • Needing to be taught skills that peers pick up easily 

Primary School 

Without proper help and support, problems can persist and become more apparent during the primary school years. Children with dyspraxia/DCD may experience the following: 

  • Difficulty running, hopping, skipping or climbing. Movements appear awkward and effortful
  • Avoids joining in playground games such as football
  • Struggling to master activities such as riding a bike and swimming 
  • Hesitant when using stairs
  • Positions self awkwardly on a chair (falling off easily or struggling to sit still)
  • Tire quickly, often poorly at the end of term
  • May be late to establish hand dominance (after 7 years of age)
  • Frequently drops and spills things
  • Difficulty getting dressed. For example, struggling with buttons and tying laces
  • Handwriting is slow and poorly presented
  • Dislikes drawing and colouring 
  • Slow to complete classwork
  • Difficulty using both hands together. For example, using scissors or cutlery
  • Difficulty following instructions
  • Easily distracted, often leaving tasks unfinished
  • Frequently losing PE kit, clothes and equipment
  • May prefer the company of older or younger children. Struggling to form and maintain relationships with peers
  • Tendency to become easily distressed and emotional
  • Sleeping difficulties, including wakefulness at night and nightmares
  • Growing awareness of difficulties, affecting confidence and self-esteem
  • Reporting physical symptoms such as headaches and feeling sick

Teenage Years 

Again, without help and support, difficulties frequently persist into adolescence and beyond, affecting teenagers’ academic achievement and mental wellbeing. Challenges frequently experienced by teenagers with dyspraxia/DCD include the following: 

  • Struggling in PE, especially during team games when the environment is constantly changing. Movements appear awkward and effortful 
  • Tires quickly
  • Written output does not reflect abilities – writing less than peers, work is poorly organised and legibility deteriorates over time
  • Struggles to copy accurately from the board. Missing out key information
  • Difficulty with time management and organisation. For example, running late for lessons and forgetting to hand in homework
  • Struggling to handle school tools and equipment in technology, maths and science
  • Using cutlery awkwardly and having difficulty spreading and cutting food. 
  • Struggling to dress self properly
  • Needing help with personal hygiene. For example, having to remind them to shower and brush their teeth 
  • Difficulty following instructions. Slow to process information
  • Poor navigation skills. Getting lost easily 
  • Struggling to make and maintain friendships 
  • Impact on confidence, mood and self-esteem 
  • Risk of disengagement from school if support is not provided 

What Causes Dyspraxia? 

For the majority of those with dyspraxia, there is no known cause, however, current research suggests that it is the unresponsive or varied development of neurons in the brain, rather than the brain itself, which form the foundations of dyspraxia. A number of risk factors that can increase a child’s likelihood of developing dyspraxia/DCD have been identified. These include:

  • Being born prematurely, before the 37th week of pregnancy 
  • Being born with a low birth weight 
  • Having a family history of dyspraxia/DCD, although it is not clear exactly which genes may be involved in the condition 
  • The mother drinking alcohol or taking illegal drugs while pregnant

How To Treat Dyspraxia 

Whilst there is no cure for dyspraxia itself, there are a number of therapies that can help children to manage their day-to-day activities. These include:

  • Being taught ways to carry out activities that they find difficult, such as breaking down difficult movements into smaller parts and practising them regularly 
  • Adapting tasks to make them easier, such as using special grips on pens and pencils so they are easier to hold

Once dyspraxia/DCD has been diagnosed, a treatment plan tailored to your child’s particular difficulties can be made. This plan may involve a variety of specialists. This treatment plan, combined with extra help at school, can help your child manage many of their physical difficulties, improve their general confidence and self-esteem. 

To learn more about this, take a look at our articles, ‘What is Paediatric Physiotherapy?’ and ‘Why Would a Child Need Physiotherapy?

Healthcare Professionals 

Different healthcare professionals may be involved in your child’s care. For example, your child may need help from a paediatric occupational therapist, who can assess their abilities in daily activities, such as:

  • Using cutlery 
  • Dressing 
  • Using the toilet
  • Playing 
  • Fine movement activities such as writing 

A therapist may work with a child, their carers and their teachers to help find ways to manage any problems. Your child may also receive help from a paediatric physiotherapist, who can assess their abilities and create a therapy plan that is unique to them. Some of the interventions these healthcare professionals carry out include: 

  • Activity-oriented approach – This involves working with you and your child to identify specific activities that cause difficulties, and finding ways to overcome them. For example, a therapist can help improve difficulties with specific movements by breaking the action down into smaller steps. To read more, take a look at our article, What Does Physiotherapy Do For a Child?
  • Body-function-oriented approach – This technique is based on the theory that problems with your child’s senses or perception of their body may be contributing to their movement difficulties. A body-function-oriented approach may involve activities aimed at improving your child’s general movement skills, rather than helping them with a particular task or activity. 

Learn more about the common treatments we offer for developmental conditions like dyspraxia/DCD by taking a look at our articles on Dynamic Movement Intervention Therapy and Hydrotherapy

Physiotherapy For Developmental Conditions At Therapy Stars 

At Therapy Stars, we offer paediatric physiotherapy support to babies, children, teenagers and young adults with a wide variety of developmental conditions, including rare developmental conditions. 

We’ll begin by carrying out a thorough assessment of your child’s abilities to ensure that we provide the best course of treatment to help relieve or manage their condition. We’ll then support your child through a range of treatments, including:

  • Exercises and stretches to increase strength, range of motion, balance, posture and coordination
  • Activities to improve head and trunk control 
  • Exercises to increase independence 
  • Advice to parents and schools to encourage development outside of the clinic 

Get in touch with us today to learn more about our Developmental Child Physiotherapy service and how we can help you and your child manage their condition. Book a complimentary telephone consultation to get the process started. 

Dyspraxia FAQs 

What Other Conditions are Related To Dyspraxia? 

Children with dyspraxia/DCD may also have other conditions, such as:

Are DCD and Dyspraxia The Same? 

Yes, DCD or Developmental Coordination Disorder is the same as dyspraxia. The only difference is that the NHS now prefers healthcare professionals to use the term DCD. 

Is Dyspraxia On The Autistic Spectrum?

No, dyspraxia is not on the autistic spectrum. However, there is an overlap between neurodiverse conditions so it is possible to have Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and dyspraxia. 

Are There Different Levels of Dyspraxia?

Yes, dyspraxia is a spectrum condition. This means that there can be a great deal of difference between one child with dyspraxia and another. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. For example, a child with mild dyspraxia may be able to adapt more easily to succeed in maths or develop neater handwriting at a younger age whereas, a child with severe dyspraxia may still struggle to write neatly as an adult. 

Who Can Give a Dyspraxia Assessment? 

Whilst this varies depending on region and country, usually a dyspraxia diagnosis is made by a paediatrician. In some areas, the paediatrician will refer the final diagnosis to an occupational therapist. 

What Ways Can I Help My Child With Dyspraxia? 

Concentrate on main and basic skills like fine motor skills, practising physiotherapy at home and carrying out everyday tasks (getting dressed and tying shoelaces). Remember to work on one task at a time. Dyspraxic children are best concentrating on one skill at a time so they develop the neuro pathways to remember how to do it next time.