Myth 2: Dyspraxia and DCD are the same
People often use the terms Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) and dyspraxia interchangeably. One reason for this is that dyspraxia is not actually a recognised diagnosis, even though the term is used frequently.
DCD is a formal diagnosis. Children with DCD must have delays with their motor skills greater than would be expected for their age. Their difficulties need to affect all areas of their life, so both at school and home. The delays in their motor skills must also not be due to another condition, such as cerebral palsy. It is recommended that this condition is not diagnosed until after the age of seven. Often there are challenges with organisation, planning and time keeping.
It is very common for children with dyspraxia to receive a diagnosis of DCD and for the terms to be used interchangeably. This is, firstly, because children with dyspraxia typically meet the criteria for DCD and their motor skill ability is poor. Secondly, although the term dyspraxia is commonly used to describe motor planning difficulties and clumsiness, it isn’t a formal diagnosis. It is not listed in the diagnostic manuals or in the international disease classification document. Therefore, paediatricians and occupational therapists use the term DCD when giving a formal diagnosis, even if they refer to dyspraxia as well.
So, is there a difference between dyspraxia and DCD?
These days the terms are used interchangeably. The term dyspraxia is probably more widely known than DCD. Some individuals prefer the term dyspraxia. Also, it is now recognised that the difficulties experienced continue into adulthood. So, some people feel the term ‘developmental’ is unhelpful as it suggests the difficulties will be grown out of.
Sometimes, a DCD diagnosis might be given if there are only difficulties with motor coordination. So, the individual might not have difficulties with ideas or planning, they only have difficulties making movement itself. For me, as a sensory trained occupational therapist, I would only use the term dyspraxia if an individual had difficulties with planning and organisation, as well as their motor skills. This is a small distinction but it links back initial Sensory Iintegration (SI) studies.
Individuals with dsypraxia may also have difficulties with touch sensory processing as well. This was a pattern observed by Ayres in her original SI work.
Does this matter?
Knowing whether a person has DSD or dyspraxia does matter as the two conditions require different treatment approaches. If the child or adult only has challenges with the motor performance, then practising their motor skills will help improve their abilities. If, however, they have difficulties with ideation and planning, they will also need support to develop their ability to think of ideas and to plan what they will do.
This is very important to remember if you are the one helping a child or adult with dyspraxia. Firstly, they will need more help and time when learning new tasks. Secondly, they will not necessarily generalise (transfer) skills they have learnt from one activity to the next one. I have seen a child unable to transfer the skill of putting on his winter coat to putting on his autumn coat. Because the coats were different for him, it was like learning the skill of putting on a coat all over again. He was not being difficult or naughty; he genuinely could not transfer the skill.
Finally, they will need support to either come up with ideas, figure out how to plan their idea or both. This is different to children who have the idea and know what to do but have poor coordination and just need to work on their motor skills. We explore some supports you can use to help individuals with dyspraxia here. This link is at the bottom of this page as well as you likely want to read the rest of this article first!