Dr. Sally Payne is an Occupational Therapist (Heart of England Foundation NHS Trust), Trustee of the Dyspraxia Foundation and also Specialist advisor to CBeebies for Tree Fu Tom
The Dyspraxia Foundation has recently launched an inspiring campaign to help combat discrimination in the workplace, whilst empowering people living with the condition to talk openly to colleagues and employers about the challenges they face.
Dyspraxia (also known as developmental coordination disorder - DCD) is a surprisingly common condition that receives little recognition in the workplace. This can lead to employees underperforming and missed opportunities for organisations to benefit from the hidden talents that people with dyspraxia/DCD have to offer.
While many adults with dyspraxia/DCD develop strategies to manage (or avoid) their poor motor coordination, motor difficulties often 're-emerge' when an employee is under stress, required to learn new skills, or working in a challenging (noisy, badly lit) environment.
Non-motor difficulties aspects of dyspraxia/DCD are less well recognised, but may have more of an impact in the workplace than motor difficulties. Employers might be puzzled when an employee takes longer to learn new tasks, has difficulty planning and prioritising tasks, or needs assistance with organisation and time management. Performance issues might be misinterpreted as carelessness or disinterest. In some cases, an employee might be subjected to performance management, bullying or dismissal, or feel forced to resign. The resulting cost to the individual and their employing organisation can be huge.
So, what exactly is dyspraxia?
Dyspraxia/DCD is recognised by the World Health Organisation as a specific learning difficulty affecting motor coordination. Dyspraxia/DCD can occur alongside other neurodevelopmental conditions (including ADHD and autism), but is a separate and unique condition. Around 3% of the adult population are affected - that's over 1 million people in the UK. Previously considered a disorder of childhood, there is growing evidence that difficulties associated with the dyspraxia/DCD continue into adulthood in many cases.
Gross motor difficulties include poor balance and spatial awareness. People with dyspraxia/DCD often describe themselves as 'clumsy' and many have difficulty moving around their environment without bumping into people or objects. Fine motor difficulties can affect a person's ability to handle tools and equipment, and handwriting might be slow or illegible.
Dyspraxia/DCD is not just a motor disorder however and some of the 'hidden' difficulties associated with the condition include poor organisation, processing speed and time management. Memory problems can make it hard for people to remember instructions, while poor planning skills can mean missed appointments, misplaced equipment and allocating too much time to unimportant tasks. Dyspraxia/DCD can also affect social interaction as individuals may have difficulty articulating their ideas and following conversations. The social and emotional impact of dyspraxia/DCD can be significant for both the individual and their employer.
But, what can be done to help?
Many adults with dyspraxia/DCD experience few problems in the workplace having developed their own strategies for working effectively. Others however, require additional support and understanding to enable them to successfully perform their role. If an employee discloses that they have dyspraxia/DCD in the UK, their employer has a duty under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate their needs.
Motor difficulties can be effectively mediated with reasonable adjustments such as alternative tools, an ergonomic seating assessment or a review of the working environment to reduce sensory distractions such as noise and artificial light. Time spent teaching an employee with dyspraxia/DCD how to use new equipment and mentoring to help with planning and prioritisation of tasks is time well spent. Providing written reminders when new equipment or systems are introduced will benefit all employees, as well as the individual with dyspraxia/DCD - new processes are also more likely to be adhered to which will benefit the organisation.
Each person with dyspraxia/DCD is different, so reasonable adjustments will vary for every individual. Adjustments don't have to be costly and could involve just minor changes to routines or equipment. People with dyspraxia/DCD usually know what works for them, so employers and employees should work together to identify strategies to bridge areas of difficulty and realise an employee's potential.
Dyspraxia: a hidden asset
It is easy to focus on the challenges presented by dyspraxia/DCD and to forget the strengths and talents that individuals bring to an organisation. Employees with dyspraxia/DCD are often highly motivated having had a lifetime's experience of problem-solving and of persistence in the face of adversity. They are often strategic thinkers who may come up with creative solutions to old problems.
Most organisations want to do their best for their employees, but poor awareness and understanding of dyspraxia/DCD means that many employers are unsure how to help and fail to take advantage of the untapped talent of people with the condition. 'Dyspraxia aware' employers who are flexible and resourceful will benefit from this different way of thinking - bringing rewards for both employee and their organisation.
For more information or to order resources specifically for employers and employees with dyspraxia: www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk