Are you aware of dyspraxia?

An teal green coloured icon representing dyspraxia. Icon shows the outline of a human head, inside which is a graphic of an open hand, palm facing us.

by Rob Hill

Are you aware of dyspraxia? Last week I wrote a little post on LinkedIn to coincide with Dyspraxia Awareness Week.

Rather delightfully, it got quite a bit of engagement (for one of my posts anyway), and some lovely feedback.

But as well as spreading awareness, the post was also aimed at encouraging new subscribers to our weekly emails. And as such, the content would have a rather limited audience.

I thought I would follow up with a blog post – widely available to anyone and everyone.

So firstly, welcome to our blog – now revived after laying dormant for far too long. The keen-eyed amongst you will note that we’ve published a dyspraxia post before. But that was over a year ago, and this post is a bit more comprehensive.

We’ll get right to business…

What do you know about dyspraxia?

Last week was Dyspraxia Awareness Week, run by the Dyspraxia Foundation. Its aim was to celebrate individuals with dyspraxia and inspire everyone to value and appreciate those individuals.

But obviously that awareness should not be restricted to the confines of one week. Just like many neurodivergent conditions, not enough people know about dyspraxia.

So, this post is a quick crash course about dyspraxia/DCD and how can you support dyspraxic individuals at work.

What is dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia (also known as Developmental Co-ordination Disorder – DCD) is the result of a disruption in the way that messages are passed between the brain and the body. It’s characterised by difficulties with coordination, mental manipulation, and the sequencing of movements. It’s a lifelong condition that can affect children and adults of all ages, with differing degrees of severity.  

The causes of dyspraxia/DCD aren’t fully understood yet. Although it’s a unique and separate condition people will often (but not always) have another diagnosis too.

The signs of dyspraxia/DCD can present from a young age, but they may not be recognised until a child starts school – or even later in adulthood.

How can you recognise dyspraxia?

Each person’s experience of dyspraxia/DCD is different and will be affected by factors including age, learning opportunities, and the support and understanding shown by people around them.

But there are some common signs of dyspraxia/DCD.

A dyspraxic individual may show the following behaviours:

  • ​Poor balance, often associated with dizziness
  • Movements appear awkward and lack fluency
  • Extra physical and mental effort is required to carry out movements that others manage easily
  • Poor hand-eye co-ordination, e.g., heavy placement of objects on a table, difficulty using a keyboard
  • Poor spatial awareness, including personal space boundaries
  • Excessive “clumsiness”, breaking items by mistake

A dyspraxic individual often faces the following obstacles at work:

It’s usually that case that a typical working environment contains all sorts of challenges for a neurodivergent person. For dyspraxia, those challenges include:

  • Difficulty learning new motor skills and applying them, especially in a busy working environment. Or difficulty in applying existing motor skills to a brand new task or situation.
  • Difficulty handling tools or equipment, for example photocopiers or staplers.
  • Increased anxiety, and a tendency to avoid social situations where difficulties might be exposed.
  • Poor organisation, difficulty keeping attention, and poor time management skills.

So how can you support a dyspraxic person at work?

Again, we’ll briefly go back to basics, by starting with these two very important statements:

  • A neurodivergent brain is not just one that struggles to read, write, concentrate, or form connected relationships.  It’s a very different operating system that uniquely processes all information.​
  • Neurodivergent individuals are not disabled by their condition. They are disabled by their environment.

It’s crucial to remember this as a starting point for understanding neurodivergence.

You will never do any damage by offering support and making reasonable adjustments for a neurodivergent individual. Yet ignoring someone’s struggles can cause damage to their mental health and well-being. ​

Your goal is to develop inclusive practices so that neurodivergent individuals do not need to divulge that they are neurodiverse, because the working environment is already set up to support everyone to succeed. ​

Many neurodivergent adults have gone through life struggling to fit in and function in the same way that society expects. They often have low self-esteem and confidence. They mask their struggles daily.

The benefits of talking and listening

Perhaps you suspect that an individual is struggling in a way that you suspect results from neurodivergent differences. Bring it into a conversation with that person in a reassuring manner that offers support and ideas rather than judgement.​

Start to make these inclusive conversations a regular part of working life. Listen to what they’re saying, and don’t take feedback as a personal attack.​

Individuals who have masked their differences over a long time are very good at knowing what helps, and what makes things worse. ​

Most neurodivergent individuals would welcome being asked “what would make your day easier?”, or “what makes a big difference when you’re having a hard day?”

These are easier questions to answer for some people than “What adjustments or extra equipment do you need?”​

Remember to be respectful and ask questions from a place of kindness and compassion rather than judgement. 

That’s great, but what about dyspraxia/DCD in particular? How can you help?

Dyspraxic individuals share various traits and behaviours with dyslexic or autistic individuals, which, if I list them here, are invaluable for succeeding at work:

  • Creative and original thinking
  • Determined and hard working
  • Highly motivated
  • Capable of developing their own strategies to overcome difficulties.

Who wouldn’t want someone like that on their team?!

Some of the strategies you can use to support a dyspraxic person include:

  1. Time management. Provide planning and prioritisation help. Use visual aids such as mind maps, flow charts, or even a good old Excel sheet. Trust them to complete their work on time. And provide plenty of advance warning of any deadlines.
  • Organisation. Divide workload up into “urgent” and “not urgent”. Break down larger projects into more manageable chunks. Allow regular breaks to maintain concentration.
  • Instructions. Make sure any task instructions are clear, unambiguous, and easy to understand. Be flexible – instructions that are recorded verbally or on a video often make an invaluable reference.
  • Desktop setup. This one’s standard, but effective. Make sure their desktop set-up is right. Chair comfortable and at the right height, laptop all lined up properly. Do they need an ergonomic keyboard or mouse? Is the mouse speed too fast? Do they need a grammar tool for written work? Or speech recognition software?
  • Office equipment. Keep clear instructions on how to use photocopiers, printers, etc (and who among us hasn’t angrily cursed the inefficiencies of the office printer?). Pin the instructions up next to the machines and keep them up to date.
  • Flexible working practices. Another biggie, which is replete with arguments for and against. All we will say is that as a tool for supporting a neurodivergent individual, flexible working can be pretty effective. Not just a X days at home/X days in the office balance. But how about changing the hours from the standard 9-5? Or block out a meeting room to create a “quiet working space” in the office. Help reduce distractions with desk partitioning or allowing the use of headphones.

We’re nearly there now. Stay with us….

In conclusion

By now you’ll be familiar with our mantra – neurodiversity means all of us.

Ask yourself – what do you need to be successful on your very worst day?

Then ask your team the same question.

What do you all need to help you work to the best of your ability?

Create an inclusive culture so that any neurodivergent person – including someone with dyspraxia – feels comfortable enough to come forward and request reasonable adjustments.

If you want more info, help and guidance, and access to a host of resources, then your first stop should be the Dyspraxia Foundation website:

https://dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk/

The NHS website also has some information on dyspraxia/DCD:

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/developmental-coordination-disorder-dyspraxia-in-adults/

The Dyspraxia UK website offers assessment support and strategies:

https://www.dyspraxiauk.com/dyspraxiafoundation.php

So after reading all that, are you inspired to create an inclusive working environment? Do you want to drive real change at work? If the anser is yes, then check out our CPD certified Neurodiversity In The Workplace training services:

http://itstime2thrive.co.uk/neurodiversity-in-the-workplace/