A diagnostic assessment will ensure that dyspraxia/DCD is the right explanation for a child’s difficulties so that appropriate support can be identified.
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Having a formal diagnosis of dyspraxia/DCD can help a person access the right support. Assessment and diagnostic processes differ for children and adults and vary between regions.
Dyspraxia/DCD is not usually diagnosed in children under 5 years of age, although children with speech/language difficulties may be identified sooner.
If you are concerned about your pre-school child’s development, speak to your health visitor or GP. A referral may be made to a physiotherapist, occupational therapist, speech and language therapist or paediatrician for further assessment.
You don’t need a formal diagnosis of dyspraxia/DCD to start doing things to help your child. See the ‘Dyspraxia Early Years Guidelines’ for ideas about how to promote your child’s development and skills.
If you think your school-aged child may have dyspraxia/DCD, getting a diagnosis and a better understanding of their needs can be helpful.
- Start by recording how your child manages activities such as getting dressed, using cutlery, writing, organising their things and playing sports compared to other children of the same age.
- Ask your child’s teacher and after-school club leaders if they have noticed the same.
- Discuss your concerns with your child’s GP, school nurse or school Special Needs Coordinator (Senco).
- Your child may be referred to an occupational therapist, physiotherapist, paediatrician or another health professional for further assessment.
- Assessments for verbal or oral dyspraxia will be carried out by a speech and language therapist.
- Some schools will refer a child to an educational psychologist or specialist teacher for advice about how to support their learning and development.
It is important that a medical doctor (e.g. a paediatrician, GP or neurologist) is involved in the diagnostic process. This is because dyspraxia/DCD often overlaps with conditions such as autism, ADHD and developmental language disorder. Also, features of dyspraxia/DCD such as poor motor coordination are seen in other conditions such as cerebral palsy. A diagnostic assessment will ensure that dyspraxia/DCD is the right explanation for a child’s difficulties so that appropriate support can be identified.
A diagnostic assessment for motor dyspraxia/DCD should include:
- A review of information provided by parents, teachers and the young person about how the child manages at home, at school and during leisure activities.
- A standardised assessment of movement skills, often carried out by an occupational therapist and/or physiotherapist
- A developmental history provided by parents/carers
- A medical assessment to rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms
You don’t need a formal diagnosis to start doing things to help your child, however. The Dyspraxia Foundation website includes many resources to help your child reach their potential in all areas of life. See the ‘Children’ and ‘Youth’ sections of the website or contact the Helpline for further information and support.
If you are an adult and think you may have dyspraxia/DCD, a formal diagnosis can help by providing a reason to explain your differences. It may also unlock access to resources and support. Unfortunately, there is no agreed pathway for the diagnosis of dyspraxia/DCD in adults and it can be difficult to access an assessment without paying.
Before seeking an assessment for dyspraxia/DCD consider whether you want:
- An assessment for diagnostic purposes; or
- An assessment of your strengths and difficulties to identify strategies and support.
Diagnostic and needs-based assessments might be carried out by different people.
It is not unusual for people to go through life feeling that something wasn’t quite right but without a diagnosis of dyspraxia/DCD. Some people want a formal diagnosis to explain their difficulties while others are happy to self-diagnose.
Adults seeking a diagnostic assessment for dyspraxia/DCD should contact their GP. Before making an appointment, keep a diary showing how coordination difficulties affect your daily life.
Diagnostic assessments for dyspraxia/DCD will focus on movement skills. While many adults with dyspraxia/DCD experience difficulties with organisation, planning and attention as well as symptoms of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem these are not core features of dyspraxia/DCD. These factors can, however, be considered during a needs-based assessment (see below).
A medical assessment is an important part of the diagnostic process for dyspraxia/DCD. This is to consider and rule out other possible explanations for a person’s movement difficulties, for example, cerebral palsy, a stroke, side effects of certain drugs, anxiety/depression, poor vision or hearing loss. The GP will also consider whether you have another condition such as ADHD, autism, depression or anxiety so that you can receive support for these if appropriate.
The GP may refer you to an occupational therapist or physiotherapist for further assessment. If the GP or another medical doctor has already ruled out other conditions described above, the physiotherapist or occupational therapist may be able to confirm a diagnosis of dyspraxia/DCD.
An assessment for the diagnosis of dyspraxia/DCD in adults should include:
- A review of information provided by the adult (and where appropriate from family members, employers, and tutors) describing how movement difficulties affect routine daily tasks at home, at work or in education, during leisure activities and when out and about.
- An assessment of coordination skills including balance and posture, writing and the ability to handle tools and equipment.
- A developmental history to confirm that movement difficulties were present from an early age and did not develop after an illness or injury.
- A medical assessment to rule out other possible explanations for a person’s movement difficulties.
The aim of a needs-based assessment is to identify strategies, approaches and tools that will help a person in their daily lives as a parent/carer, employee, employer, student, friend etc. A formal diagnosis of dyspraxia/DCD is not necessary for a needs-based assessment. The assessment will consider a person’s strengths and difficulties across a range of different areas, not just motor skills (which is the focus of a diagnostic assessment for dyspraxia/DCD).
A needs-based assessment might focus on one aspect of a person’s life, for example, work or education. Identifying which aspect of life you want help with will help you work out who to approach for help.
Needs-based assessments can be carried out by
- Occupational therapists (ask your GP for a referral)
- Physiotherapists (ask your GP for a referral)
- Clinical psychologists (ask your GP for a referral)
- Mental health practitioners (ask your GP for a referral).
- Specialist assessors/tutors (via your University/College learning support team)
- Occupational psychologists (via your employer or Job Centre)
- Disability employment advisors (via your employer or Job Centre)
A needs-based assessment is likely to consider how the following affect your daily life:
- Balance, posture, ability to play sports, ride a bike, drive a car
- Fine motor skills such as writing and the ability to handle tools and equipment
- Organisation, planning and time management skills
- Memory and attention
- Sensory awareness and responsiveness
- Self-esteem, confidence and well-being
A diagnosis of dyspraxia/DCD is not necessary to access a needs-based assessment. It is important to be clear about the aspect of daily life that you want help with so that you can approach the right person or service for advice and support.