difference between dyspraxia vs autism Venn diagram

The Difference Between Autism and Dyspraxia

I’ve read in depth about both autism and dyspraxia. That’s because I’m dyspraxic and there’s autism in my family. As I’ve learned more about both, I noticed a big overlap. So, let’s talk about what autism and dyspraxia have in common, and also what the difference is.

Both are complex developmental disabilities. Also, they often co-occur.

Here’s a breakdown.

Dyspraxia

Experts used to call dyspraxia “clumsy child syndrome.” But the truth is that it’s not just for kids and it’s more than being clumsy. It is also called “developmental coordination disorder,” or DCD for short. I use the word “dyspraxia” because more people recognize it. (It’s also shorter.)

Dyspraxia can run in families. It’s also more common in babies born premature or with a low birth weight. Experts say it’s lifelong.

Here are some signs of dyspraxia.

Movement Struggles

People may think of motor skills when they think of dyspraxia. That’s because it’s often the most obvious sign.

  • Clumsiness
  • Poor coordination and balance
  • Slow, clumsy writing
  • Bad posture
  • Trouble planning movements
  • Bumping into things

These issues can cause stress and fatigue.

When you’re bad at motor skills, you learn to avoid them. For example, I wear slip-on shoes so I don’t have to tie shoes. Also, I don’t jump on shovels anymore. While it makes digging faster, the big bruise I got last time lasted for weeks. No thanks!

Many dyspraxic people have low muscle tone because they avoid tasks like that.

Also, it’s not just motor skills. It’s harder to plan how to move. When I was young, I got extra help learning how to hold a crayon right. And you don’t outgrow it. For example, you should see people’s faces when they watch me use a knife. I’m in my 20s, but that doesn’t stop me from doing it wrong.

I write code for a living, but making my sandwich is often the most complex part of my day.

Beyond Movements

If it were that simple, then no one would ask about the difference between autism and dyspraxia. But there’s a lot more than bad motor skills. Dyspraxic people can:

  • Get lost easily
  • Stutter, ramble, and repeat things
  • Struggle with left vs. right
  • Forget which movement comes next in a sequence
  • Make careless math mistakes and reverse numbers
  • Be forgetful (bad short-term memory)

In school, I would finish my test, then flip to page 1 and redo each problem. That’s because I wanted to catch those silly mistakes. I didn’t know why I made them, but now I have a word for it.

Also, not everyone has each problem. For example, I have good posture. Also, I have a good sense of direction, even if the small details confuse me.

Each person is unique. I may know where I’m going, but I’ll bump into doorframes and tables on the way.

Strengths

Not all of dyspraxia is bad. Different brains aren’t always worse. Here are a few common strengths.

Dyspraxic people work hard. My 4.0 in college didn’t earn itself.

Needing to redo math problems taught me to work hard for what I wanted. Struggling with sports taught me not to judge people. Forgetting things taught me to get organized. (My color-coded spreadsheets are a work of art.)

I don’t know how much of this is learned and how much comes from a different brain structure. But I work hard for things. That includes both my weaknesses and my strengths.

Autism

Autism is a complex inborn condition. Autistic people see the world differently. Because of this, it can be hard to understand non-autistic people. Traits include:

  • Trouble knowing what others are thinking
  • Social struggles
  • Routines
  • Intense interests
  • Fidgeting
  • Fatigue due to autistic masking

Autistic people can face stigma. Other people may police their body language and interests. But really, their “odd” behavior protects them from stress. So, it’s important to let them be themselves.

“Red,” an autistic adult in my family, describes it this way:

The world is loud and full of secret rules. I don’t think like other people do. People can judge me as odd, but being myself brings me peace. I like quiet places with kind people.

Strengths

Autistic people have big struggles, but also big strengths. While it depends on the person, these are common:

  • Systems thinking
  • Honesty
  • Attention to detail
  • Strong visual skills

Both Autism and Dyspraxia

When I researched this, I expected a few things in common. But it turns out, there’s a ton of overlap.

Social

Neurodivergent people may not catch the obvious. Someone asks a girl, are you even trying?
People are confusing. (Instagram)
  • Social awkwardness
  • Difficulty understanding situations and body language
  • Speaking trouble: speed, volume, etc.
  • Trouble making friends
  • Being seen as immature

Both autistic and dyspraxic people can struggle socially. It’s not always easy to get by in a neurotypical world! People have complex rules and expectations.

I’m socially aware enough to know I’m awkward, but not enough to stop being awkward. So, I often put “neurodivergent” in my bio. Including at work. I’m grateful that people seem to get it.

Also, people may treat us like kids. I know I have youthful energy and a baby face. And while I know people are trying to be kind, I have to work harder to show my competence.

At work, people tend to see me as quirky and na├»ve. But they also see my hard work and clean code. (I take pride in its clarity.) I know I’m odd, but I can find my place.

Sensory-related

Processing things can be harder.

  • Stimming
  • Sensory processing issues
  • Difficulties with sensory distractions and background noise
  • Auditory processing issues

“Stimming” means repetitive fidgeting. Examples include flapping your hands, playing with a pen, and shaking your leg. Everyone does it a little, but neurodivergent people do it a lot.

We may have heightened or dulled senses. This is called “sensory processing disorder.” It’s not fun, it’s distracting. Sometimes, it becomes too much. Finding tools to stay comfortable is important. For example, headphones and hoodies help many people block out input.

“Auditory processing” means translating sounds to words in your brain. This can be slower. If you struggle with it, then you may say, “What?” a lot. Subtitles may be your best friend. Also, rooms with weird acoustics (like auditoriums) may make it worse.

Other

  • Low self-esteem
  • Literal thinking
  • Sleeping trouble, especially falling asleep
  • Trouble “adulting”
  • Hyperfocus
  • Executive dysfunction
    • Trouble staying organized
    • Inattention and daydreaming
    • Planning troubles
    • Strong emotions
    • Poor impulse control
  • Trouble learning independence skills

It’s hard to manage life’s demands when you have a different brain. Life throws a lot at us! “Adulting” is hard for many people, let alone neurodivergents.

Many parts of adult life are hard. And if others judge you as odd or babyish, then it can be hard to get by. Too many people end up alone and without support. Also, it can be hard to find a job if people won’t give you a chance.

Becoming an adult was tough for me. I doubted my ability to fit in, and I worried no one would see the best in me. But I found a good place to work. Now, my life is different from “normal,” but I like the way it is.

Strengths

Both autistics and dyspraxics share common strengths.

  • Creativity
  • Original thinking
  • Good problem-solving
  • Good long-term memory
  • Strong sense of justice

Different thinking makes us unique. We can think of new ideas. And we tend to care about right and wrong.

Each person will have their own strengths. That includes things not on this list.

difference between dyspraxia vs autism Venn diagram

Seeing the Difference Between Autism and Dyspraxia

Non-autistic people with dyspraxia may have more autistic traits than other non-autistic people.

Reasons behind traits can differ. For example, a dyspraxic person might feel fatigued because moving right is hard. While an autistic person’s fatigue might come from masking. They often hide their autistic traits to blend in socially and avoid mistreatment.

Trait intensity differs. Autistic people often struggle socially more than dyspraxics do. Their developmental delays may be more broad and profound. While dyspraxic people may have worse motor skills.

There’s also the fact that people grow and change over time. People say I’m highly organized. What they don’t know is how hard I work to do that. When I start a new task, I organize it, or I will get lost. Hard work can make the struggle less obvious.

Also, autism and dyspraxia often come together. Many autistic people are dyspraxic too.

If you’re unsure about someone, then talk to a specialist. My articles can teach you a little, but they can’t diagnose people. Keep learning and ask for help if you need it.

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