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Into the open: Charities and dyspraxia

By Andrew Weston 16 October 2015

As Dyspraxia Awareness Week draws to a close Andrew Weston talks about his own experience of the condition, as well as how the charity sector is working to support people with it.

If you ever find yourself visiting the NPC office you will see what you would expect—a collection of committed people working hard to transform the charity sector. What you may also notice is me explaining impact measurement or charity evaluation to my computer.

Despite appearances this is not the first sign of madness—I, like approximately 5% of the population, am affected by dyspraxia (also known as Developmental Coordination Disorder). Dyspraxia is a condition which, in my case, predominantly affects my fine motor skills, and because of this I use voice recognition software to do my work.

I am very fortunate that my employer has made sure that I have the specialist technology and support I need to be able to work effectively. Unfortunately many people with dyspraxia do not receive the support they need in the workplace.

Features of dyspraxia can include a wide range of traits including difficulties with coordination, speech, or memory. It has also been associated with higher levels of creativity, strategic thinking, and problem-solving skills. However, it is at times a poorly understood condition. As late as the 1990s, even professionals were spreading the message that children grow out of dyspraxia, contributing to a historic lack of adult support. It is likely that this outlook has contributed to commonly reported difficulties people with dyspraxia face finding work, and problems around self esteem and well-being.

The complexity of dyspraxia is further compounded as many people affected by it also have additional conditions such as autism or ADHD. This coupled with the low levels of public awareness, and a lack of a standardised diagnostic test, make identifying people with dyspraxia very difficult.

As such, there is a real challenge in both establishing the scale of need for people with dyspraxia, and identifying what works in terms of service provision and support.

Challenges like this suggest dyspraxia is just the sort of area where NPC would recommend broader cooperation is needed between key third sector actors, figures in the public sector, and elsewhere. The aim of such work would be to try and understand the support people need, and the impact of the work being done by charities to provide this support.

Despite this challenging environment, there are still charities doing fantastic work to try and support people with dyspraxia including the Dyspraxia Dynamo programme by the Dyspraxia Foundation. This Big Lottery-funded three-year programme seeks to improve the employability skills of young people and adults with dyspraxia.

As Dyspraxia Dynamo nears the end of its third year, it has been able to demonstrate even more positive outcomes than its initial targets hoped:  226 of service users starting employment in years one and two (the initial target was 120), and in the same period 423 of its service users holding down employment (the initial target was 260).

Projects like Dyspraxia Dynamo show that charities can provide valuable help for people with dyspraxia. Moreover, it makes the possibility of more coordinated work between majors players an even more tantalising prospect. Such joined-up work could help identify those with the condition, provide greater support for them, and measure the impact of such support on improving the lives of people with dyspraxia.

If you or someone you know has dyspraxia you can contact the Dyspraxia Foundations helpline service at 01462 454986.