It took nearly 60 years for my father to learn that he had dyspraxia. Without ever understanding why, my dad had failed his driving test eight times, stepped on strangers’ feet every time he tried to dance, and couldn’t follow a map. It wasn’t until his 10-year-old daughter (me!) was formally diagnosed with dyspraxia, or developmental coordination disorder, that it began to register.
It’s not a coincidence that my father and I both have dyspraxia, often referred to as DCD in the United States. Defined as a lifelong neurological disorder, it can be genetic. It primarily affects motor function (e.g., the ability to eat, speak, and move), alongside a Pandora’s box of other developmental symptoms. Alternately referred to as dysgraphia, dyspraxia, developmental coordination disorder (DCD), and specific developmental disorder of motor function (SDDMF), experts estimate that between 2 and 10 percent of the population has dyspraxia. Difficult to explain and complex to diagnose, the disorder boils down to this: Not all of the messages your brain is sending to your body are getting through. You’re not imagining it.
Sadly, the condition is often under-diagnosed or misdiagnosed. “Few physicians and parents and teachers are even aware of developmental motor disorders,” says Deborah Dewey, a University of Calgary professor who specializes in DCD research.
For me, it started with little things: Bumping into people in the corridors at school. Getting lost on my way to class. My teachers noticed other things, too: I walked oddly, hunched and tilting to one side, with my feet turned inward. I was formally diagnosed before I was 11, only a few years after the founding of the first-ever Dyspraxia Foundation.
The early diagnosis made me lucky. I knew why I walked into walls, doors, desks, my own feet. I knew why I struggled to interject into conversations at the right moment. I knew that it was OK to find the whole thing kind of funny, really, because it wasn’t my fault. Many dyspraxic individuals aren’t that lucky.
“Educators, therapists, medical doctors, and other professionals may think a person with dyspraxia has ODD or OCD or another emotional disorder,” says Carol Stock Kranowitz, author of the Sync series, including The Out-of-Sync Child Grows Up. “In fact, the person may have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), which affects how they respond to sensations of touch and movement,” she adds. (Some experts view dyspraxia as a subset of SPD.)
One reason for the lack of accurate diagnoses is that many people with dyspraxia don’t present with symptoms as “classic” as mine. “Dyspraxia/DCD is a cluster of difficulties and can present with different difficulties,” says Michèle Lee, who chairs the U.K.’s Dyspraxia Foundation. “The common symptom is difficulties with gross and fine motor skills.”
Some people with dyspraxia are physically coordinated, but can’t tell their left from their right and can barely hold a pen. Daniel Radcliffe, who has dyspraxia, struggles to tie his shoelaces. (Other public figures who have openly spoken about having the disorder include Cara Delevingne and Florence Welch.) There’s also considerable overlap with ADHD, autism, and SPD.
If this sounds familiar, how can you find out if you have dyspraxia? Well, you can’t self-diagnose. You’ll need to be professionally assessed by at least one specialist who has experience in the field. This can be tricky. It’s a fairly new field, especially outside of Commonwealth countries. Even the DSM — the United States’ diagnostic bible, short for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — only made changes to its definition of “motor disorders,” which now includes DCD, in 2013.
Here are some signs that could indicate you’re dyspraxic.