What is Dyspraxia? | Inclusive Employers

What is Dyspraxia? How to support those impacted at work

What is Dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia is often an overlooked, misunderstood member of the neurodiversity family. The term ‘dyspraxia’ itself comes from the word ‘praxis’, which means ‘doing, acting’ with the prefix ‘dys’ denoting bad, difficult or disordered.

As a term it’s very recently become part of our vernacular; it wasn’t until the 1980s in which the term dyspraxia was used for the first time.

Dyspraxia is a condition that affects movement and coordination and is also known as ‘developmental co-ordination disorder’ (DCD).

Are there different types of dyspraxia?

There are four “main” types of ways that dyspraxia can present. They are all part of the same condition, although recognising the specific impact can help focus on finding the most optimum coping strategies. The most common types are:

  • Verbal (oromotor) dyspraxia – this can make it difficult to coordinate muscle movements needed to pronounce words.
  • Constructional dyspraxia – this is to do with spatial relationships.
  • Ideational dyspraxia – this affects the ability to perform coordinated movements in a sequence.
  • Ideomotor dyspraxia – this affects organising single-step tasks.

Recognising dyspraxia symptoms

There are many different ways dyspraxia can present. Although struggling with coordinated movement is the most widely recognised symptom of dyspraxia, there are many more than can arise with it:

  • Difficulty coordinating body movements
  • Poor spatial awareness (often leads to people perceiving this as general “clumsiness”)
  • Difficulty with organisation (both tangible things such as their surroundings as well as their thoughts). This can be mentally taxing and frustrating as it can take extra effort to perform tasks that are considered routine or every day for other people.
  • Poor motor skills
  • Difficulty with speech and language -verbal dyspraxia can make it difficult to have a smooth and consistent speech pattern

Here at Inclusive Employers, our very own Matheus Carvalho (Head of Inclusion & Diversity Services -Global) shares his journey of discovering the symptoms of dyspraxia:

“Ever since I was a kid in school, I knew I wasn’t like the other children in my class. I am originally from Brazil, where sports play a big part in many people’s lives, and that’s also true for kids.. While the majority of my classmates couldn’t wait for PE class and absolutely thrived in that environment, I absolutely dreaded it, especially as I grew into my teenage years. In formative years where your physical dexterity and levels of fitness and athleticism tend to also to correlate with your levels of self-confidence and popularity with kids, I had none of that.

I always felt like the clumsy one who couldn’t tell left from right, who wouldn’t know what to do with a football, who was always the last one to be chosen to join the volleyball team. What I did not know at the time, and which I wish the more discerning adults around me knew, is that my ‘clumsiness’ actually had a name: dyspraxia. 

And as I look back on my life before my work life, I can see it has been with me all along: my disposition to break things, being prone to accidents, taking longer than other kids to learn how to tie my shoelaces, finding it nearly impossible to learn how to drive, etc.

While labelled the ‘clumsy’ neurodiversity, the impact dyspraxia has on a person’s mental health is something they can take with them for the rest of their life, even as they learn coping mechanisms to support them.

As I joined the workspace, this became even more acute, particularly in my first jobs working in restaurants and pubs or retail stores. Unsurprisingly, everything around me felt like an obstacle that I had to overcome, every time I poured someone a cup of tea or coffee, I just sighed in relief that I hadn’t scalded them (or me!) in the process, and every working day in which I didn’t drop or break something felt like a personal victory.”

Matheus Carvalho, Head of Inclusion & Diversity Services – Global

Understanding dyspraxia problems at work

Dyspraxia can impact people in several ways in the workplace and can be more impactful depending on the tasks required for the job because it can present in very routine circumstances.

Dyspraxia may affect everyday life skills in many ways, both because of motor difficulties and because of difficulties with organisation

  • May affect everyday life skills (e.g. preparing a meal, ironing).
  • Difficulties with handwriting.
  • Skills requiring balance.
  • Slower learning a new skill requiring speed and accuracy.
  • Learning to drive a car.
  • Organisation, time management and planning skills.
  • Taking information down at speed.

How to give (and receive) effective support for dyspraxia at work

Before addressing specific pointers, when it comes to supporting people with dyspraxia in the workplace, the most important thing to remember is to treat the individual as just that, an individual.

Building a good relationship through induction is the best way to open up the conversation around how people work best, but bear in mind this may well evolve so have regular check-ins to get feedback and provide ongoing support. Some other things you can explore are:

  • Avoid handwritten tasks wherever possible
  • Use speech-to-text or other computer software
  • Ensure the workspace area is fit for purpose. Some people are impacted by office traffic and clutter and may require reasonable adjustments to ensure they can concentrate. Things like a quiet area, being able to work from home or in a fixed controlled space, utilising headphones and visual screens to help cut out the noise and visual distractions may be able to help.
  • Give adequate time for learning new tasks and break down new skills/tasks into parts and demonstrate as well as telling the person how to do it. Allow sufficient practice time to master a new skill. Encourage accuracy first and then increase speed once the task has been accomplished. It’s important for all parties to be patient and approach this with compassion.
  • Break tasks down into parts throughout the day to remember all the parts of the overall objective
  • Don’t nominate people to read information aloud, in meetings or generally in front of colleagues/clients, or to take minutes in a meeting on the spot. If these tasks will be taking place, ensure this has been discussed in good time and agreed upon in a safe way -not compromising the ability and wellbeing of the person

Let’s also hear some thoughts from Matheus:

“So… what helped me and what didn’t help me?  What didn’t and still doesn’t help me is being made to feel ashamed or embarrassed of the times in which my dyspraxia is in plain sight for everyone to see. Because somehow that brings me back to the schoolyard and feeling like a kid that has been caught destroying something and having to clean up for my mess.

From a work perspective, it also never helped being ‘forced’ to take part in activities that feel very uncomfortable, like anything sports-related, and the feeling of not being part of the ‘gang’ for not taking part. And needless to say, people thinking that my perceived ‘clumsiness’ is correlated to my ability of doing my job well.

Now.. what has helped? As many dyspraxic people, I have made it part of my personal brand. Trying to appear ‘endearingly clumsy’ as opposed to ‘frantically and hectically clumsy’. That has been a survival mechanism that I’ve used and that has somehow worked for me. I joke that it is my superpower – just like telekinesis, I make objects around me move on their own (well, not quite…).

Having work teams that also embrace that side of me has always been extremely important – and that can have a laugh with me, as opposed to at me whenever ‘accidents’ happen to occur.  From a personal life perspective, I have also tried to find ways in which I can keep myself physically fit and do exercises that help with my coordination without the pressure of feeling exposed or under pressure to perform.

So for example, instead of team sports, I much prefer exercising on my own at the gym, without the pressure of being judged and observed (unless it is by a personal trainer, of course – and important to let them know about your dyspraxia too, so you are not being asked to do things that involve standing on your head or on one leg and fearing for your life because you can’t keep your balance!).”

Matheus Carvalho, Head of Inclusion & Diversity Services – Global

Final thoughts

Although dyspraxia invariably comes with difficulties by its very nature, let’s not overlook the incredible value it can instil within people. People with dyspraxia can often be more creative, innovative problem solvers, hardworking, and deeply empathic people -with a great sense of humour to boot!

The coping mechanisms for what the difficulties of dyspraxia bring open up a whole new scenic route to navigating life.

For more help, get in touch with Inclusive Employers today. Inclusive Employers members can also access our ‘Understanding dyspraxia’ factsheet.