Is dyspraxia on the autism spectrum?
A question that I’ve seen a lot recently on social media, such as facebook groups for dyspraxia, is: “Is dyspraxia on the autism spectrum?” This seems to cause a lot of confusion, while some people say “No, it isn’t” others say “Yes, it is”. So I thought I would blog about it for those of you who may have been asking this question.
So, what is the answer to this question? No, dyspraxia technically isn’t on the autism spectrum. I know I’ve talked about how much overlap there is in my previous blogs, but the reason it isn’t actually ‘on’ the autism spectrum is due to the diagnostic criteria.
An autism spectrum disorder is diagnosed primarily on the basis that you have difficulties with social communication & interaction and you engage in restricted or repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests and activities (I know this sounds very medical, but this is going off the diagnostic criteria!). Whilst I mentioned in my previous blog on autism that lots of autistic people also have difficulties with spatial awareness and motor skills etc., these are not the primary criteria used for diagnosing autism.
Dyspraxia, on the other hand, is diagnosed primarily on the basis that you have difficulties with motor skills. Again, as I have mentioned before, many dyspraxics also experience difficulties in social situations, change of routine etc., but these are not the primary criteria used for diagnosing dyspraxia.
Whilst there is so much more to autism, and also dyspraxia, than the primary diagnostic criteria it can help to understand why dyspraxia isn’t officially on the autism spectrum. I use the word “officially” because I don’t think it’s right to deny the fact that there is definitely a link between autism and dyspraxia, given how much overlap there is. I’ve gone into more detail about this in a previous blog post (https://theblogwithonepost.wordpress.com/2015/08/19/dyspraxia-autism-the-overlap/) but a few examples are that dyspraxics can struggle in social situations, find changes in routine difficult, have difficulty with eye contact and be very literal thinkers, which are all things that are most commonly associated with autism.
I’ve been told before that dyspraxia is classed as a Specific Learning Difficulty, whereas autism comes under Autism Spectrum Disorder. Whilst that’s true and dyspraxia and autism are two different diagnoses, I don’t personally view them as being completely separate from each other – I tend to view dyspraxia as being close to the autism spectrum.
I’ve also seen online that some people believe that what may further add to the confusion is that dyspraxia itself is a disability on a ‘spectrum’ – literally just meaning that it’s severity ranges. Some people may get this confused as meaning the autism spectrum, especially as when talking about autism people sometimes shorten the sentence to say that someone is “on the spectrum” (meaning that they are autistic).
In addition to the overlap, some people are also diagnosed with both dyspraxia and autism! According to the National Autistic Society’s website, people with autism quite often have difficulties with motor co-ordination and they may be formally diagnosed with dyspraxia (in addition to their autism) if this significantly affects them. On the other hand, people who have an initial diagnosis of dyspraxia may also be additionally diagnosed with autism. Although I don’t know a lot about this, I imagine that most people with dyspraxia who do have overlaps with autism don’t experience these “symptoms” to the same extent that people with autism do (myself included), whereas when they do experience these overlaps to a more significant extent (so that they meet the autism diagnostic criteria) they are given an additional diagnosis of autism.
I seem to remember seeing that there has been quite a bit of research into the percentage of autistic people who also have symptoms of dyspraxia, yet there hasn’t been any research (as far as I know) into the percentage of dyspraxic people with symptoms of autism. It would be interesting if there was research carried out which looked into this, as well as the percentage of dyspraxic people who have an additional diagnosis of autism.
It is not just autism and dyspraxia that overlap though, there is a lot of overlap between many different types of neurodiversity. For example, dyspraxia also shares quite a bit in common with dyslexia (such as difficulty with short-term memory) and ADHD (such as difficulty with concentration). Many people have a range of different diagnoses and some people believe that there should be a single spectrum for neurodiversity in general and that we should take a more individual approach, rather than separate diagnoses. The following link provides quite an interesting view on this, particularly towards the end: http://suehyland.co.uk/ond/neuro-developmental-delay-ndd/?doing_wp_cron=1442032150.5499830245971679687500. I’ve heard that it is actually more common for someone to have dyspraxia along with co-morbid diagnoses than just a single diagnosis of dyspraxia!
However, with dyspraxia being a very individual thing it is important not to make assumptions. There may be dyspraxics reading this who don’t experience any similarities to autism at all. It’s a case of getting to know the person as an individual and finding out how their dyspraxia affects them. So for that reason, yes it is important that dyspraxia isn’t just seen as “something that’s sort of similar to autism”. It does need to be recognised as just “dyspraxia”, but at the same time it needs to be remembered that quite often there is a link. …the world of neurodiversity can be a very complicated place at times!
I thought that whilst on the topic of dyspraxia and autism I would share some tweets I saw recently. The National Autistic Society recently held an event which they live-tweeted from and one of the topics they were talking about was autism in girls. Some of their tweets I found, interestingly, I could relate to a lot as someone with dyspraxia, for me it was the first three in particular. Many dyspraxics will probably be able to relate to the anxiety related ones too, as that’s another link, between dyspraxia and anxiety.
Other dyspraxic bloggers who have written great blog posts on the similarities between dyspraxia and autism include Rosie and Anna, whose blogs can be found at the following links: http://thinkoutsideofthecardboardbox.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/the-social-side-of-dyspraxia.html and https://freeingthedragon.wordpress.com/2016/04/07/autism-from-the-dyspraxic-side/.