Lack of balance, difficulty concentrating, problems processing information and chronic anxiety are just some of the symptoms a person with dyspraxia experiences. Also known as Developmental Coordination Disorder, (DCD), it commonly affects motor coordination in children and adults.
For non-sufferers, what makes dyspraxia hard to understand is the fact it doesn’t affect intellectual ability, meaning it’s classified as a learning difficulty as opposed to a learning disability.
Dyspraxia in focus
Disability charity Mencap makes a distinction between learning difficulties such as dyspraxia, dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactive disorder, (ADHD) and learning disabilities; where sufferers require life-long care and support to complete most daily tasks.
According to the Dyspraxia Foundation, dyspraxia “occurs across the range of intellectual abilities,” meaning that people across the functioning intellectual spectrum can have it, including some of the most intellectually able people in society.
There are a series of difficulties sufferers will experience over the course of their life; from problems riding a bike to tying shoelaces in childhood to learning new skills at work, driving a car and even DIY in adults.
Other long-term issues sufferers might experience include time management problems, poor organisation and memory retention, as well as social and emotional difficulties.
Dyspraxia doesn’t always occur in isolation. In fact, many sufferers exhibit other learning difficulties alongside it such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, (problems with making mathematical calculations), and ADHD.
My experience with dyspraxia
The fact that a dyspraxia sufferer isn’t easy to define makes the job of being understood and supported difficult for those with the condition – and I would know.
I was diagnosed with dyspraxia and dyscalculia at the age of eight after my physical balance and concentration levels suddenly, and very rapidly, deteriorated.
From the outside, I made the transition from my junior to ‘senior’ school as an atypical student, able to play sport and complete both writing tasks and times-tables well. My inability to dress or pack my school bag myself didn’t seem like a big issue until I suddenly could no longer retain my balance and started walking into doors, and falling down flights of stairs. I also developed problems writing and was unable to sit on a chair properly.
After my dual diagnosis, my frustrations around the difficulties I was experiencing lessened. I felt a sense of calm and clarity in the fact I had a condition, and could now learn strategies to make living with it less stressful. After seeing an occupational therapist for a year, I was able to manage my condition, however, my dyspraxia hasn’t gone away.
As an adult, I continue to face dyspraxia shaped obstacles in my professional life, such as difficulty transferring calls and using a printer. These tasks, seemingly trivial and easy to others, I can find overwhelming.
The dyspraxia disconnect
People continue to find it strange that I was able to study at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), yet I struggle with ‘basic’ office tasks in my working life.
I still remember an embarrassing moment during a temp job at a property company when I was unable to scan a document for the business owner. I then, redfaced (with a burning sensation creeping up my spine), was forced to call the holidaying executive assistant to ask her how to do it. After the call, I still didn’t understand what to do.
Today, I still get emotionally overwhelmed by my dyspraxia, feeling mentally exhausted by things that many other people don’t, such as balancing a working day with social obligations, packing a bag for the gym and even brushing my teeth.
Dyspraxia in the workplace
According to statistics from GMB, a UK trade union, 5% of the population have dyspraxic traits. With as many as 1.6m UK workers being dyspraxic, employers must educate themselves on the condition.
GMB says that people with dyspraxia are “likely to satisfy the definition of disability, which is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act (2010).” This makes it imperative that employers provide flexible working conditions for dyspraxia sufferers not only to satisfy the law but to encourage their productivity in the workplace.
GMB lists the benefits dyspraxic workers bring to the workplace, saying they “are often hardworking, creative and strong lateral thinkers.” What’s more, “most dyspraxic workers,” they say, “will have had to overcome significant challenges to be in the position they are now in,” making them resilient professionals and potentially strong leaders.
For employers managing people with dyspraxia, a series of “reasonable adjustments” can be made to help stimulate their levels of productivity and wellbeing, and they don’t have to cost anything.
Adjustments can include flexible working patterns, (something that most employees would like), a relaxed dress code (some dyspraxics find tight-fitting clothes uncomfortable and distracting), providing clear instructions in writing and allocating them extra time to complete tasks. Creating quieter areas in an office for dyspraxic employees to work away from distractions is also a good idea.
As businesses large and small respond to employee demands for greater workplace flexibility and wellbeing, creating an environment that allows staff with learning difficulties to thrive is also important, as their success will aid the success of businesses they represent too.