Dyspraxia & Autism | How to Recognise the Signs of Dyspraxia & Autism
What do the facts say?
Getting the right support for your needs ensures you thrive in your personal, social and work life, especially for neurodivergent individuals. Recognising the difference between Dyspraxia and Autism could be the fine line between understanding yourself and falling victim to misguided misinformation about what defines both conditions. Most Neurodivergent conditions have crossovers of traits, equally, there is also a high chance of qualifying for a diagnosis of more than one.
- 50% of Dyspraxic people are also ADHD (fliers et al, 2011)
- 50% of Dyspraxic people are also Dyslexic (fliers et al, 2019)
- 50% of Autistic people are also ADHD (Eaton et al, 2023)
- 80% of Autistic people show signs of Dyspraxia. Yet, only, 6.9% of Autistic adults are diagnosed with Dyspraxia (Cassidy et al., 2016)
What do the diagnostics criteria say/ vs misinformation
It is important to maintain the information shared about each condition and to be careful not to cross over traits too widely. While there are many crossovers, it is essential to make sure that talking about them does not risk producing misinformation. Doing so could leave many not being aware of all the conditions they could be getting support for. Many of us may not realise that we would qualify for more than one diagnosis due to this. So let's dive into what qualifies someone for a dyspraxia diagnosis and/or an autism (ASD) diagnosis. Remember, it’s OK if the information you have received in the past isn’t as accurate as it could be. The most important thing we hope you take from this is to give you the tools you need to validate yourself, and maybe even help others feel validated. Change can make anyone feel uncomfortable, but nothing is changing. Just adding clearer boundaries between two conditions that often co-occur.
How do diagnostic criteria define both conditions?
Autism and dyspraxia are distinct neurological conditions, but they can sometimes coexist or share certain traits. Let’s explore their differences*:
Definition and Focus:
- Autism: Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurodevelopmental and neurological condition characterised by obsessive interests, repetitive behaviours, sensory differences and differences in social-emotional reciprocity.
- Dyspraxia: Also known as Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), dyspraxia primarily impacts motor skills and physical coordination. Individuals with dyspraxia struggle with movement, both fine motor skills (like writing) and gross motor skills (like walking).
- Autism: Difficulties in social interactions, including eye contact and understanding nonverbal cues. Repetitive behaviours, intense interests and sensory sensitivities (over or under-reactivity to sensory stimuli).
- Dyspraxia: Persistent ‘clumsiness’, poor coordination, and difficulty with motor tasks. Inconsistent performance in activities. Verbal apraxia (difficulty coordinating mouth movements for speech).
Overlap and Coexistence:
While autism and dyspraxia are separate conditions, they can overlap:
- Some autistic individuals may also exhibit motor coordination difficulties which are explained by avoidance/reaction to sensory needs. Otherwise, they would likely also qualify for a dyspraxia diagnosis.
- Autistic traits (such as social communication challenges) may appear in people with dyspraxia which is usually a result of verbal dyspraxia. Otherwise, they would likely also qualify for an autism diagnosis.
However, they remain distinct disorders with different core features.
Impact on Life:
- Autism affects various aspects of life, including social interactions, communication, and sensory experiences.
- Dyspraxia impacts daily activities related to movement, education, and coordination.
In summary, while both conditions can share certain symptoms, they have distinct focuses and origins. Any overlaps are explained as being in correlation with the condition's distinctive traits, otherwise, an individual would be expected to qualify for a diagnosis for both conditions.
Sources used for the above: DSM-5 (diagnostic criteria), ICD 11,(diagnostic criteria), steadyhealth.com, autism.org.uk *The examples on this page are not all possible examples (they simply wouldn’t all fit on a page and would otherwise become too long of a read)
How to recognise dyspraxia
It’s important to note that dyspraxia is a lifelong condition that has traits that will be distinguishable from peers/siblings from around 4 years of age. The only exception to this would be acquired dyspraxia, which is from the result of brain trauma or injury. If so, these traits may apply to qualifying for an acquired dyspraxia diagnosis.
Here are some signs to look out for:
- Physical challenges: Individuals with dyspraxia may have a history of movement disturbances/’clumsiness’ or unusual posture and ways of holding items/moving. This can sometimes Improve with age but will remain present.
- Motor Skill Difficulties: Difficulty learning new motor skills or applying them in unfamiliar or busy environments. Handling tools and equipment, such as holding a pen or coordinating cutlery.
- Balance Issues: Dyspraxic individuals may easily lose balance and experience fatigue quickly. This can impact daily activities at home and at work. Hand writing: Inconsistent handwriting and pain when holding pens/pencils. This can cause issues with learning as it can disturb their ability to focus effectively.
- Speech Perception Differences: Dyspraxia can affect speech perception, leading to issues with articulation and communication. Often perceived as stuttering/groping, missing words, struggle to pronounce or merge words together.
Impact on self esteem
Due to social expectations with coordination and speech, dyspraxia can lead to low self-esteem. Dyspraxic individuals may feel misunderstood and experience discrimination. Unfortunately, many dyspraxics report being accused of low IQ (dyspraxia does not affect IQ) due to their verbal dyspraxia and excluded from team tasks and physical social events due to coordination struggles.
Having a diagnosis, whether that be a self-diagnosis or officially, is essential for individuals. Self-acceptance and discovery equips individuals with the tools they need to advocate for themselves and to seek the support they need to thrive.
For more information and details about dyspraxia and dyspraxic traits visit our what is dyspraxia page here.
If you are dyspraxic and believe you may also be autistic (which is highly likely, up to 80% likely) then we recommend visiting: www.autism.org.uk
Updated additional reading:
While Autism is commonly referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder many researchers and members of the autism community argue that the term 'disorder' does not accurately or fairly represent autism and we should be using the term 'condition' instead. We recommend some further reading to understand the proposed changes and the reasonings for them. We aim to touch on this at later date to ensure we are able to properly delve into these topics with much more detail and care.