Both dyslexia and dyspraxia are learning difficulties that can cause children and adults to struggle at school—so what’s the difference between them? In general, a key indicator of dyslexia is to do with literacy skills such as reading, writing and spelling. On the other hand, dyspraxia veers more toward movement and planning difficulties.
However, as both are terms used to describe a collection of symptoms that can vary greatly between individuals, perhaps a more important question is what do these two learning difficulties have in common.
For example, did you know that co-morbidity occurs for about half the people who are dyslexic (i.e. 53% of dyslexics are also dyspraxic (Stothard, Snowling, Bishop, Chipchase, & Kaplan 1998))? But let’s start with a proper definition of each, and then take a look at where they overlap.
What is dyspraxia?
The Dyspraxia Foundation defines dyspraxia as ‘ a form of developmental coordination disorder (DCD).’
Older readers may recognise the unfashionable term “clumsy child syndrome”.
Now it’s more appropriate to call it either Developmental Co-ordination Disorder or Dyspraxia. Dyspraxia impacts on motor coordination skills and can cause children and adults to perform movements poorly and out of order.
It is neurological and affects everything from preparing to organising and performing movements, sometimes extending into speech and memory ability. Dyspraxia can upset articulation of spoken language as well as thought process and perception.
Symptoms in young children may present as developmental delays, feeding and sleeping difficulties, high sensitivity to noise and a lack of interest in construction toys, including building blocks and Legos. Adults can lack hand-eye coordination, have poor balance and struggle to grasp small objects or perform daily grooming routines.
Compromised coordination greatly affects everyday activities for individuals with dyspraxia, causing difficulties in school activities like reading and writing, as well as recreational activities like riding a bike and driving a car.
Unfortunately, it often goes undiagnosed, upsetting an individual’s academic performance and career opportunities later in life. Learn more about how to help dyspraxic children in the classroom.
What is dyslexia?
There is some controversy about a definition of dyslexia, but in 2007 The British Dyslexia Association Management Board accepted the following: “a specific learning difficulty that mainly affects the development of literacy and language related skills.
It is likely to be present at birth and to be life-long in its effects. … It tends to be resistant to conventional teaching methods, but its effect can be mitigated by appropriately specific intervention, including the application of information technology and supportive counselling.” (BDA Management Board, 2007)”
Individuals with dyslexia struggle to process phonemes or sounds and can sometimes take longer to perform routine language tasks such as decoding in reading and spelling in writing. It can also impact on working memory.
Dyslexia is the most common of the Specific Learning Difficulties, affecting up to 10% of the population – 4% severely so. Other Specific Learning Difficulties include dyscalculia, slow processing speed, attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and specific language impairment, all of which are usually hereditary.
What do dyslexia and dyspraxia have in common?
Dyslexic and dyspraxic children and adults tend to be holistic problem solvers and intuitive, creative thinkers. It’s important to note that neither affects intelligence. Nonetheless, they both impact on learning style, as organisation and memory are involved to varying degrees.
People who are dyslexic and dyspraxic thus find that learning often takes longer and is more tiring than for others without Specific Learning Difficulties.
Individual learners will benefit greatly from identifying their own relevant learning strategies. A unique learning style means that they may struggle to learn by traditional methods. This has resulted in some teaching practices and materials now being helpfully labelled “dyslexia friendly”.
A “dyslexia friendly” approach includes multi-sensory learning delivered in small incremental steps, at the learner’s own pace and with plenty of opportunities to repeat and to receive positive reinforcement. Everyone can learn from an approach that is “dyslexia friendly,” including children and adults with dyspraxia.
Particularly where dyslexia and dyspraxia have not been identified, frustration and failure in school are common and likely to affect self-esteem. Early recognition and appropriate interventions help learners to reach their potential in these cases.
Short-term memory is sometimes involved, hence the need for repetition – it may be that the student needs to “overlearn” to be successful.
Individuals with dyslexia and dyspraxia can have good days and bad days and both children and adults often show a discrepancy between their oral ability and their written work. This can lead to them being unfairly labelled as not trying or lazy or uncooperative where a specific learning difficulty has not been recognised.
Written work may also be poorly presented. They may have difficulty copying from the board. Students who struggle to write things down may always struggle with writing.
Learning to touch-type so that writing becomes automatic, and applying this skill to note taking and preparing assignments by computer, can be extremely helpful. Did you know that high school students with specific learning difficulties who can type faster than they write may be permitted to use laptops in GCSE exams?
Helpful interventions for improved literacy and writing
The dyslexia and dyspraxia-friendly Touch-type Read and Spell course helps students develop and improve literacy skills and self-esteem by teaching touch-typing in a unique way, so that their writing can become automatic.
A study conducted by Nottingham Dyslexia Association, which involved both dyslexic and dyspraxic students, found the following: “Observing the fidgety somewhat clumsy, often impulsive learners who tumble into the programme crashing about on the keyboard and jumping up to take breaks (the kinaesthetic learners) is interesting.
They are the fiddlers in the classroom whose legs tap the chair or who doodle on books. Once they understand the programme and ‘feel’ their way through the first three weeks, calm descends. These tactile learners show impressive touch-typing skills and increased concentration.
Of all the students these reap the most rewards both parental admiration and self-esteem. Perhaps sitting still, paying attention, concentrating and achieving are new experiences.” --Initial observations on TTRS, Vanessa Charter for Nottinghamshire Dyslexia Association Trustees
TTRS is appropriate for users of all ages.
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Stothard, S., Snowling, M., Bishop, D., Chipchase, B., & Kaplan, C. (1998). Language impaired preschoolers: A follow-up into adolescence. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 41(2), 407-418.