Dyspraxia Awareness Week: Girls Are 'Sliding Under The Radar' For Diagnosis Warns Charity

A charity is urging teachers and parents to be aware of the symptoms of dyspraxia, as a new survey reveals many school-aged girls with the condition aren't getting the support they need.

The Dyspraxia Foundation survey suggests many girls with dyspraxia - a form of developmental coordination disorder (DCD) affecting motor coordination and speech - are not diagnosed until they are in their twenties.

One woman from the survey revealed: "When I was younger I put a lot of energy into hiding my difficulties and it left me stressed, exhausted.

"As a result I because very socially avoidant. Diagnosis in my early 20s helped me over the years to feel brave enough to tell people I had specific difficulties and though sometimes I was told I was making excuses for being careless or stupid, on the whole most people have been understanding once dyspraxia was explained to them."

The Dyspraxia Foundation surveyed 1,156 people - 537 of whom had dyspraxia and 619 were parents of children with dyspraxia.

Just over half (53%) of the women questioned said their primary school teachers were unaware of the difficulties they faced due to the condition and 47% of teenage girls reported the same situation in secondary school.

For boys these figures were lower, with just 39% of men saying primary school teachers were unaware and 32% in secondary school.

According to the Dyspraxia Foundation the average age for diagnosis of dyspraxia is 7 to 8 years. But many of the people surveyed weren't diagnosed until much later in life, after they've left school: the average age for male respondents to have been diagnosed was 17 years, while the average age for females was 22.

Speaking of the difficulties she faced, another woman told the researchers: "I find social interaction exhausting. I recently told my mum this and she wouldn’t believe me because over the years I have mastered how to mask my anxieties.

"I have been called 'flaky' by a friend because I make plans with friends with the intention of going but then this becomes and stressful and I cancel."

Health and education experts from the Dyspraxia Foundation said the fact less girls are being diagnosed could reflect teachers’ perceptions of dyspraxia as a largely male disorder, leaving girls often overlooked in the classroom.

Individuals with dyspraxia may experience difficulties with memory, perception and processing, along with poor planning, organisation and sequencing skills which can have a significant, negative impact on everyday activities. It can also affect articulation and speech, so diagnosis is vital if people with the condition are to get the support they need.

Sally Payne, paediatric occupational therapist and Trustee of the Dyspraxia Foundation commented on the results.

She said: "This survey really has underlined a pattern we’ve observed for some time and while the results do reinforce a concerning trend of many girls sliding under the radar of relevant healthcare professionals, it does allow us to push on with plans for developing specific materials, tools and resources for girls and adolescents as well as for their parents and teachers.

“In many ways, it is testament to the resilience, coping mechanisms and ‘emotional intelligence’ of females that they are seemingly able to disguise some of the difficulties that might be more obvious in boys."

Emma Lewell-Buck MP is an ambassador for the Dyspraxia Foundation and was diagnosed with the condition aged 27.

She said: "I can't wear eyeliner because you’ve got to have a steady hand. Every time I try, I end up with a big line down my face. If I got straighteners, you can guarantee I would burn myself.

"I was struggling but stuff like this wasn’t on the agenda when I was at school, so I often got dragged into misbehaving. Really it was a way of saying, ‘I can't do this and I don’t know why because no-one is helping'."

Many individuals may also experience difficulties with memory, perception and processing, along with poor planning,

The 11-17 October 2015 marks Dyspraxia Awareness Week and the charity will be focusing on the "gender gap".

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