Warning: Girls with dyspraxia ‘sliding under radar’

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Photo: iStock

Female students with dyspraxia may be slipping through the net after new research has found a “significant” gender gap in diagnoses.

Dyspraxia, otherwise known as developmental co-ordination disorder, is a common disorder affecting fine and/or gross motor coordination in both children and adults.

A study commissioned by the Dyspraxia Foundation to mark Dyspraxia Awareness Week this week (October 11 to 17) has revealed that schools are more likely to be aware of the condition in boys than girls.

Involving almost 550 adults with dyspraxia and the parents of 620 children with dyspraxia, the research found that while 70 per cent of the 550 adult respondents were female, only 28 per cent of the parents responding had daughters with the condition.

Also, 47 per cent of the adult female respondents said their secondary school teachers were unaware of their condition – compared to 32 per cent of males. At primary school, 53 per cent of the female respondents said their teachers were unaware, compared to 39 per cent of the males.

Furthermore, the average age of diagnosis for adult male respondents was 17 years compared to 22 years for the adult females.

The research states: “Worryingly, this discrepancy is leading health and education experts from the Dyspraxia Foundation to believe that many girls are clearly not being referred for diagnosis at a young age and are therefore unable to access the support they need in order to reach their potential.”

Dyspraxia is thought to affect around five per cent of the population (two per cent severely), meaning there are, on average, one or two children in every class with the condition.

Many with the condition can also 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.

Sally Payne, a paediatric occupational therapist and trustee of the Dyspraxia Foundation, said the research reinforces “a concerning trend of many girls sliding under the radar of relevant healthcare professionals”.

She continued: “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.

“But sadly, as they get older, issues such as developing social skills, applying make up, choosing clothes and coping with personal hygiene and periods may become harder to cope with and will inevitably make situations such as starting college, leaving home or finding a job difficult and exhausting.

“Through our helpline and social media platforms, we have heard of many cases where anxiety, self-doubt and a severe lack of confidence can soon set in. However, this could so easily be avoided by early diagnosis and intervention.”

One female respondent to the research said: “When I was younger I put a lot of energy into hiding my difficulties and it left me stressed, exhausted. As a result I became very socially avoidant. Diagnosis in my early 20s helped me over the years to feel brave enough to tell people I had specific difficulties.”

Thanks to a three-year £166,265 grant from the Big Lottery Fund, the Dyspraxia Foundation has relaunched its helpline and the awareness week has seen the launch of a new Advice for Girls information pack. For details, visit www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk


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