Dyspraxia in Adults: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Symptoms of dyspraxia in adults include changes to gross and fine motor skills, coordination, planning abilities, and cognition. Despite the impact on their lives, adults with dyspraxia have many strengths such as stronger long-term memory, resilience, and unique thinking.

In this post, we’ll outline the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for dyspraxia and answer the question of what dyspraxia is in adults.

What Is Dyspraxia in Adults?

Dyspraxia is a neurodevelopmental disorder and specific learning difficulty. The term dyspraxia comes from the words ‘dys’ which means ‘difficulty’ and ‘praxis’ which means ‘to do’. It refers to people with movement and coordination problems across a wide spectrum of development.

Signs of dyspraxia in adults include impairments to fine and gross motor skills, information processing, memory, judgement, language, and perception. Some people with Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) also say they have dyspraxia but it’s important to note DCD only affects motor skills.  

Dyspraxia is often identified in childhood and persists into adulthood. Research suggests 5-6% of the adult population has dyspraxia which may be conservative due to a lack of recognition of the condition.  

There are three different types of dyspraxia:

  • Motor dyspraxia: Symptoms relate to  coordination and impact daily tasks such as writing or handling money.  
  • Verbal dyspraxia: Has an entrenched effect on how someone speaks. 
  • Oral dyspraxia: Creates problems with moving the mouth and the tongue. 

Dyspraxia has both physical and emotional presentations. For example, adults can find it harder to carry out daily tasks and to navigate social situations. This can lead to frustration and lowered self-esteem. 

Dyspraxia Symptoms in Adults

Common signs of dyspraxia in adults include changes to gross and fine motor coordination skills, problems with executive functioning, speech and language, perception, and differences in thoughts and behaviours.  

Ways dyspraxia can affect gross and fine motor skills:

  • Lack of manipulative skills: Problems when writing or typing. May have a poor pen grip or struggle to use cutlery and tools. 
  • Difficulty dressing and grooming: Putting on makeup, shaving, doing hair, fastening clothes and tying shoelaces. 
  • Awkward movements: Jerky movements that lack smoothness. 
  • Poor balance: Poor posture or difficulties walking, riding, or climbing. 
  • Impaired posture: Back pain or joint degeneration.
  • Clumsiness: Tendency to fall, trip, or bump into things.

Ways dyspraxia can affect executive functioning:

  • Working memory: Difficulties holding and retaining short-term information. 
  • Flexible thinking: Problems adapting to change or switching between tasks.  
  • Self-control: Can inhibit self-control and the ability to regulate impulses.

Ways dyspraxia can affect speech and language:

  • Excessive talking: Problems talking too much including word repetition.  
  • Unclear speech and pronunciation: Can have difficulties organising speech into an adequate sequence. 
  • Differences in speech: May signal variances in pitch, volume, and rate.

Ways dyspraxia can affect perception:

  • Visual processing issues: Dyspraxia can interfere with the processing of visual information received by the eyes. 
  • Greater light sensitivity: People with dyspraxia may be oversensitive to light. 
  • Problems understanding sound: Dyspraxia can interfere with sound perception and lead to difficulties hearing. 

Ways dyspraxia can affect thoughts and behaviours:

  • Emotional and social difficulties: Low self-esteem can emerge from feeling different.  
  • A lack of social skills: People with dyspraxia may find it harder to make friends.  
  • Problems with self-organisation: May find it hard to get things done or be slow to pick up new skills. 

What Causes Dyspraxia?

People are born with dyspraxia, but it’s not clear what the cause is. It is thought to run in families and to have a genetic link. 

Some believe it’s caused by a problem with the messaging signals between the nerves and brain. An early or low birth weight and any family history of coordination difficulties can also increase the risk of dyspraxia. Evidence suggests there are no clinical neurological abnormalities to explain why someone would have dyspraxia. But for some children, lesser development of motor nerves may be in their genetic code.

There is some evidence to suggest consuming high levels of alcohol or illegal drugs during pregnancy can increase the risk of a child developing the condition. 

How Is Dyspraxia Diagnosed in Adults?

To diagnose dyspraxia in adults, a range of professionals can carry out assessments of movement skills. Evaluations may include physical exams that review movement, coordination, and how the symptoms affect your life ahead of diagnosis. Professionals such as paediatricians, clinical psychologists, occupational or speech and language therapists, and physiotherapists can provide a diagnosis for dyspraxia. Each of these professionals will assess movement, motor and coordination skills, along with the impact symptoms were having before diagnosis. 

In most cases a GP should be the first point of contact. To ensure a successful GP visit, patients should log their symptoms in a diary. Symptoms often vary between individuals so different tests will apply. These may include the neurological testing such as the Romberg test, distal proprioception, or thumb-finding test. Or it could include verbal or other sensory assessments. 

To gain a diagnosis, individuals may well need a referral to a specialist for assessment and to receive support strategies.  

While some people with dyspraxia won’t have any other neurological diagnosis, symptoms can overlap with other specific learning difficulties. So it’s important to get a proper diagnosis for all presenting symptoms.   

  • ADHD and dyspraxia: People with dyspraxia and ADHD may get easily distracted. They may also struggle with memory and organisational skills.
  • Dyslexia and dyspraxia: Both dyslexia and dyspraxia are specific learning difficulties that are often identified in children. 
  • Autism and dyspraxia: Both conditions affect speech and slow down processing speeds.    

How Is Dyspraxia Treated?

Occupational therapy is one of the most effective treatments for dyspraxia. This involves teaching individuals how to overcome problems and carry out the activities they’re finding difficult to do. For instance, an occupational therapist can assist with using physical aids such as crutches or make adaptations to handwriting. 

Occupational therapy for dyspraxia in adults is likely to focus on improving coordination. This usually involves physiotherapy to improve muscle strength and tone and may also feature coping and management strategies. 

Other key focus areas for occupational therapy include:  

  • Development of gross motor skills: Using crutches or physical aids to improve movement or climb stairs.
  • Improvements to fine motor skills: Strategies to improve areas such as handwriting, grip, and dexterity.
  • Spatial awareness strategies: Exercises to strengthen connection and coordination between eyes and brain.  
  • Visual perceptual interventions: A specialist may use a visual therapy programme with eye exercises to strengthen visual perception abilities.  

An occupational therapist can create a personalised plan to help patients make movements with low levels of disruption or impairment to their lives. This aims to help them perform tasks as well as they can with minimal disruption. 

Does Dyspraxia Count as a Disability and Qualify for Pip?

Due to its impact on movement, speech, and thought, dyspraxia is a disability under The Equality Act 2010. They define disability as ‘any physical or mental impairments that have a significant and long-term impact on an individual’s ability to carry out everyday tasks.’ 

Dyspraxia is also classed as a specific learning difficulty and a learning disability. 

The Equality Act 2010 protects adults with dyspraxia from discrimination and ensures employers offer reasonable adjustments to help them. This is to help employees with dyspraxia overcome any difficulties and perform at a high level.  

Examples of some reasonable adjustments to consider for someone with dyspraxia include: 

  • Assistive technology: to support note-taking and meeting transcriptions.
  • Raise awareness: Coaching, training, and awareness raising makes a huge difference. 
  • Access to Work assessments: To gain advice on the best changes to make. 
  • Regular breaks: Give space for regular times to rest and break.
  • Specific coping strategies: Examples include regular exercise or organisational planning tools.