Autism & Dyspraxia: Differences & Overlaps

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In this blog post, we’ll be looking at the differences and similarities between autism and dyspraxia.

Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental difference in the way a person communicates, interacts with and processes the world around them. Meanwhile, dyspraxia is a common condition affecting movement and coordination.

Both conditions can affect people of all intellectual abilities.

What are the signs of autism?

The signs of autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) include:

  • not making any or a lot of eye contact
  • sensory issues e.g. over/under sensitivity to various smells, bright lights, certain tastes, the feel of certain fabrics, loud noises etc.
  • difficulty in organisation
  • struggling to understand social cues e.g. body language, tone of voice etc.
  • not understanding jokes and taking things very literally
  • struggling to understand social rules
  • repetitive actions
  • a need for routine
  • having obsessive interests
  • repetitive movements, such as flapping hands, flicking fingers etc.
  • difficulty with theory of mind– not seeing things from someone else’s point of view, a lack of empathy or very high empathy, not knowing that people have different experiences each day and don’t know the same people and facts as you do etc.
  • struggling to express emotions
  • problems with self-regulation

Of course, autism can look very different from person to person. Some people will be better at hiding it than others. For example, they will force themselves to make eye contact with people even though they find it really uncomfortable. Or they will learn to copy other people’s behaviour to “fit in”.

You can check out our page dedicated to autism spectrum disorder if you want to find out more.

What are the signs of dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia is sometimes known as Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD). The signs of dyspraxia can include:

  • a lack of coordination, problems with balance and clumsiness
  • problems with hand-eye coordination e.g. brushing hair
  • issues with organisation
  • difficulty with memory skills and with processing information
  • being easily distracted
  • problems with language e.g. slow or laboured speech, problems with diction, struggling to keep up with a conversation (this is called verbal dyspraxia)
  • struggling with fine motor skills e.g. using a pencil and scissors, typing, doing up buttons and tying shoelaces
  • struggling with gross motor skills e.g. running, jumping, catching a ball, posture, awkward movements etc.
  • finding it hard to perform coordinated movements in a sequence
  • poor spatial awareness, meaning they bump into things and trip over more
  • problems with time management
  • struggling to regulate emotions
  • difficulty understanding social cues
  • phobias

In very young children, dyspraxia can mean that milestones aren’t met at the same time as in other children, for example crawling, walking, drawing and dressing.

As with autism, dyspraxia can look very different from person to person and again some people will be better at hiding it than others. For example, they will opt out of activities that they know will be tricky for them.

We have a whole page on dyspraxia if you want to find out more.

What are the similarities between autism and dyspraxia?

Both autism and dyspraxia are about having a development difference, about being neurodivergent.
Some more specific similarities include:

  • avoiding eye contact
  • difficulty in displaying emotions
  • not participating in pretend play
  • flapping hands, spinning and other stimming activities
  • wanting to stick to a routine
  • strong reactions to sensory experiences
  • problems with processing language and communicating
  • a lack of coordination
  • being overly fearful or not cautious enough
  • gastrointestinal issues like an upset stomach.

For both autism and dyspraxia, it can take a long time to get a diagnosis due to the person masking the signs and to general bureaucracy.

What are the differences between autism and dyspraxia?

Autism is mainly about having social and communication difficulties. Meanwhile, dyspraxia is mainly about having difficulties with motor skills.
A few more specific differences are as follows.

  • Some autistic people hate change and this leads to rigid thinking, repetitive behaviours, a love of routines and so on. In contrast, some dyspraxic people don’t necessarily hate change but do fear it, taking longer to adapt to change than most neurotypical people.
  • Some autistic people struggle with direct eye contact, which is not common amongst dyspraxic individuals. Also, stimming (flapping arms or hands, flicking fingers, repetitive noises etc.) is common in autistic people but not dyspraxic people.
  • Most people with autism can retain large amounts of information, but information retention is often more tricky for people with dyspraxia.

Also, although autism and dyspraxia can both cause movement difficulties, the causes for the difficulties are different. In autism, issues with movement can be caused by two of our lesser-known senses: an oversensitive or under sensitive proprioception or an oversensitive or under sensitive vestibular. In dyspraxia, difficulties come from a disruption in the way that messages are passed between the brain and the body.

Can you have both autism and dyspraxia?

Image by Alexander Grey, Pexels

Yes, a person can be diagnosed with both autism and dyspraxia. The fancy term for this is a dual diagnosis. There haven’t been many studies about people with both conditions. But, around 10% of people with dyspraxia/DCD show signs of autism. In the same way, around 80% of children with autism (ASD) show signs of dyspraxia in the form of difficulties with movement.

Autism is present in about 1% of the UK’s population, while dyspraxia affects around 5% of school-aged children.

We hope this blog post about autism and dyspraxia has been useful. If you think you may have autism, you can take the Exceptional Individuals autism test. And if you think you may have dyspraxia, we also have a dyspraxia test. And above all, please reach out to your GP.

Useful links

Types of autism
Autism workplace needs assessment
Types of dyspraxia

Blog Author

Helen Pugh