Told their son was unable to learn due to “dyspraxia,” a British family eventually concluded his problem was poor teaching at his expensive private school and loss of confidence in his own abilities.

Technically, it is a condition affecting a person’s judgment of space, and manifests itself in the child’s inability to understand how to juxtapose shapes such as triangles and squares, or by their hapless failure to co-ordinate their physical movements. There is no cure, say the experts, but treatment and conditioning allegedly help.

Clearly, a proportion are genuine sufferers – but others are children who have been categorised for a brutal reason. Namely, that private schools prefer to blame the child than admit to teaching inadequacies in their schools. To protect second-rate teachers, private schools prefer to label those casualties of inadequate teaching as “dyspraxic.”

Yet far from being dyspraxic, by the end of four years, my son was declared to be completely healthy and academically excellent. In the meantime, his self-confidence had been undermined, his education had been damaged and I had spent nearly £20,000 on a small army of private teachers and educational psychologists.

What worked was hiring a math tutor. Their son learned math, gained confidence and began to do well in all his subjects.

I’d never heard of dyspraxia. Apparently, it used to be called “clumsy child syndrome.” It seems to be a fad diagnosis in Britain.

About Joanne


  1. I don’t know if it is “fad”–but the Brits seem to slice up “kid ain’t doin’ right” differently than we do. (I mean, in this case it was clearly bad teaching and maybe some dyslexic issues.

    Also in Britain non-proven or even disproven “treatments”–homeopathy, movement therapies like Dore, “body brushing” “retained primitive reflexes”, and so on, are much more accepted or mainstream. To me the British are much more gullible or unable to think clearly about these issues.

  2. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I wish I could make a living writing scholarly sounding definitions.The easiest way to resolve a problem may well be to define it into someone elses’ lap.

  3. Jim Thomason says:

    With the huge percentages of American kids being placed on Ritalin and similar drugs, I don’t know how anyone here could presume to look down on the British for being taken in by similar fads.

    I’ve always been highly suspicious of the ADD/ADHD type ‘diagnosis’. My wife and I very recently began looking into adoption. Imagine how many of these unfortunate children have been so labeled. From our review, it is the vast majority (of school aged children, at least).

    I won’t argue that there may be some children for whom such diagnosis and drug treatment may be suitable, however the number currently being drugged for this condition is staggering.

  4. Yes, you have a right to be suspicious of overdiagnosis of ADD/ADHD, but please do not join the ranks of the closed-minded who completely discount its existence. I have a husband and two children who all have some form of ADD or ADHD, and believe me, I know it is real. I have taught school for 14 years now and can almost pick out of a crowd those students of mine who are ADD (and I am right about 90% of the time). The learning difficulties are there, and they do need assistance in order to be successful.

    I can imagine that there are several children in adoption agencies labelled ADHD, but I wouldn’t be so sure. I think that the child needs to be put into a more stable home setting before determining if school-related behaviors are the result of a learning disability.

  5. Richard Brandshaft says:

    “With the huge percentages of American kids being placed on Ritalin and similar drugs…”

    Decades ago, before Ritalin became a household name, science fiction writer Katherine MacLean said that sitting still all day was profoundly unnatural for children, and therefore the structure of schools was fundamentally wrong.

  6. I agree about ADD being the fad in the US. It’s sad, both for those kids who don’t have it and are being drugged for no reason and just for normal childhood activeness and for those who genuinely do have it but who have trouble getting people to take it seriously because it is such a fad. I was diagnosed with ADD a while back and taking Ritalin for a while really helped, allowing me to concentrate and do better both in school and outside. I have a cousin, on the other hand, whose incompetent doctor didn’t take into consideration the lack of stability in her home life that was actually causing her to have problems and put her on drugs that, believe me, hurt her a lot more than they helped.

  7. I have a with child this. However in the US, verbal dyspraxia is called Apraxia of Speech. My son is both apraxia and dyspraxic. It’s no fun to deal with and it is even harder to explain to someone who ins’t having to deal with it. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Most people just assume my son is autistic and look at me with great pity.
    He is way behind the norm in all motor skills. However, no one has EVER said that he can never learn. He’s a smart little bugger. He just has very poor motor planning and has to work hard to learn how to control his body.
    I’m not sure about the “one in thrty” statistic on this web site. I have only met one other 3 year old with dyspraxia in my area.
    Oh, we do body brushing also. Quacky as it sounds, my husband can tell which days we’ve skimped on the brushing.
    Hey, I wish it *was* fake.

  8. mike from oregon says:

    I heard of a novel way to figure out if your child is really ADD/ADHD – basically allow them to play a video game that they enjoy (or think that they will enjoy). If they stick with the game more than 20 minutes, they DON’T have ADD/ADHD. If something like the video game keeps them around then whatever they are fighting (usually teachers wanting to put “less than cooperative” children on drugs) is NOT ADD/ADHD.

  9. greeneyeshade says:

    would it be rude for this private-school parent to point out that this didn’t happen in a “government school”? and if it would, do i care?

  10. Margaret says:

    This is pathetic that dyspraxia (aka apraxia here in the US) is becoming a fad diagnosis. My eldest has it, and while it affects many things about him, especially his speech and coordination, it has never affected his school work except for the parts that require lots of writing (which he finds very difficult because of the coordination issues.) He is terrific at math. He tests out quite well on IQ tests, except for the parts that require manual manipulation of puzzles. He is also extremely difficult to understand, writes with the legibility of a first grader (maybe) and is generally running 2-3 years behind “normal” in acquiring skills like bike riding, shoelace tying, etc. etc. He’s a a wonderful kid, but he’s pretty distinctive– anyone who meets him knows as soon as he opens his mouth or starts to move around much that there’s something definitely “off.” I have to think that the Brits who are making this fad diagnosis have never actually met any kids who actually have dyspraxia.

  11. I agree with Margaret. I have a mild case of dyspraxia and while my handwriting is messy, I spent years in speech therapy (now at least people can’t tell I have a problem when I open my mouth), and get occasionally frustrated when my body refuses to do what it is told, it didn’t stop me from getting honours degrees in both engineering and economics. I am proof that being unable to pursue a career as a racing commentator does not condemn you to life on the scrapheap.

  12. There are at least 6 different documentable types of ADD/ADHD distinguished by brain scan. Some of them improve with stimulants and some do not.

    A bright light on the horizon for most sufferers of ADD/ADHD is neurofeedback, or EEG biofeedback, which has the potential to free up to 70% of sufferers from the need to take medication.

  13. Mike – Please leave the diagnosing of ADD to the experts. Your idea of putting kids in front of a video game does not prove that a kid does or doesn’t have ADD. Ususally kids with ADD have one activity on which they can “hyperfocus” – do this to the exclusion of all else. For my husband growing up, it was reading. For my kids, it is the computer. Just because a kid can focus on one thing and has trouble focusing on others doesn’t mean they don’t have ADD. It takes either medication or a lot of training to help an ADD kid focus on every task they need to focus on. It is still a daily struggle at our house, but we’re working on it.

  14. Jim Thomason says:

    “There are at least 6 different documentable types of ADD/ADHD distinguished by brain scan.”

    Please. There have been a couple of very small studies which offer hope for an objective test at some point in the future.

    The primary reason that this disorder is so controversial is because there is still no such test, and the methods currently used to diagnose the problem are so vague and subjective.

  15. mike from oregon says:

    Jill – I’m NOT the one doing the diagnosing, nor am I saying that it is the “be all, end all” of diagnosing or diagnosing techniques. While your family is dealing with real ADD/ADHD problems, it has been well documented far too many kids are improperly diagnosed as having it and are being drugged as a result of bad/poor diagnosis.

    All I was trying to point out is that if the problem (according to teachers) is that the child can’t concentrate on school work. Often the parents get referred to a doctor recommended by the school and the doctor almost automatically prescribes drugs. So if your situation is similar, examine what he/she does/can do with their free time. If they are able to concentrate on certain items for long periods of time then the “problem” might NOT be ADD/ADHD.

    I’m not a doctor and I don’t try to play one on talkback boards.

  16. Sheila, if you come back to read this, I apologize for the shorthand. There are at least 3 “practitioners” in the UK that claim to be able to cure dyslexia (my primary interest) with body brushing, and who also claim that “retained primitive reflexes” are the cause of the learning disabilities.

    Oh, and when the kids don’t improve? Not enough therapy.

    I am glad for you (and your son) that you’ve found something that improves his way forward.

  17. My SIL is going to try body brushing on her two eldest. They have ADD-like tendencies. I think she’d do better to shoot her television, but it’s not my place to say so. It will be interesting to me to see how this turns out. I didn’t know it was a fad in the UK.

  18. David Gillies says:

    In the UK the reverse used to be true. My parents struggled mightily against the local education authority because one of its senior people did not recognise dyslexia as a genuine complaint. They refused to provide my sister with any extra help, and my parnets couldn’t afford to send both me and her to private school. Now it seems the pendulum has swung too far the other way.

  19. I just happened by this site and was shocked to read that Dyspraxia is an English Fad!
    Dyspraxia is a real disorder. There is diagnostic criteria in the DSM IV, & The ICD9 Code in the United States (for billing to insurance) is 315.4

  20. parnassus says:

    Yes, dyspraxia is a real disorder. It is not a little fad for those poor gullible Brits over the pond. In America, it tends to be known as Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (NLD).

    I am severely dyspraxic. This is a genuine disability that affects my whole life. At eighteen years old, I can’t be trusted to cross a road on my own because I can’t judge how far away the cars are or how fast they are moving. I can’t tie my own shoelaces or fasten the buckles on my school shoes. Can you imagine how demeaning it is for an eighteen-year-old girl to have to call out, “Mum, I’m going now. Can you help me put my shoes on?”

    I have to use special cutlery to help me eat reasonably neatly. All my chairs have to have arms to prevent me from falling onto the floor. I can’t write. I can’t use escalators – I’ve fallen over and hurt myself too many times to count. My depth perception is so poor that I once cowered on the floor at a theme park, convinced that those enormous spinning rockets were flying low enough to crush me. They were about ten metres above my head, and I was eleven years old at that time. Eleven years old, and getting bullied mercilessly by my peers for being ‘stupid’, ‘clumsy’, ‘retarded’, and Heaven only knows what else.

    Dyspraxia is not just a co-ordination disorder. It affects short-term memory skills (I quite literally forget what I’m doing in the middle of doing it), personal organization, the ability to socialize (most dyspraxic people can’t read body language, detect sarcasm, or pick up on other non-verbal cues), mathematical ability (how can you do geometry when you have all the spatial awareness of a squashed pea? How can you even add up when your sieve of a short-term memory means you keep forgetting what you’ve done and what you need to do next?) and a whole host of other things.

    This is dyspraxia. Oh, of course some people are misdiagnosed – just like some people are misdiagnosed with a stomach upset when they actually have appendicitis. The medical profession isn’t infallible. But please, don’t ever suggest that dyspraxia is a ‘British fad’ ever again. You don’t know what it’s like to live with this.

    When I was sixteen, I wrote a book on the subject. ‘Caged in Chaos: a Dyspraxic Guide to Breaking Free’ is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, should you wish to learn more about the hidden handicap.


    More information on my life with dyspraxia can be found in ‘The Times’ newspaper, link given above.

    More information on dyspraxia in general can be found at http://www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk