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One size does not fit all: Supporting dyspraxic students in higher education in England

Katie Brown, Senior Lecturer in Childhood Studies at Canterbury Christ Church University

Dyspraxia, also known as developmental coordination disorder (DCD), is a lifelong, neurodevelopmental disorder which affects an estimated 10 per cent of the UK population (Dyspraxia Foundation, 2023). It impairs fine and, or, gross motor skills, affecting everyday activities such as climbing the stairs or brushing one’s teeth (Dyspraxia Foundation, 2023). Beyond the physical challenges, dyspraxic individuals may also experience various social, emotional and cognitive difficulties (Kirby & Sugden, 2007); although, due to the heterogeneous nature of dyspraxia no individual experience is the same.

Research shows that the challenges dyspraxic individuals may experience can impact their ability to fully participate in higher education, and can, therefore, affect academic success (Brown, 2022; Kirby & Sugden, 2007). So, it seems reasonable that these individuals may seek support from their institutions to help navigate these challenges. As dyspraxia is classed as a disability, falling under the Equality Act 2010, higher education institutions (HEIs) have a duty to make reasonable adjustments – such as extra time in exams, specialist tuition or technological equipment to ensure that they can fully participate in their education and any facilities or services provided for students.

As highlighted above, the difficulties each dyspraxic individual experiences will not be exactly the same, so it follows that neither will their support needs. However, findings from my qualitative doctoral study (Brown, 2022) – which explored the lived experiences of four dyspraxic young adults in higher education in England – found that regardless of participants’ differing experiences and challenges, they were all offered the same forms of generic support including, a one-to-one tutor, extra time in exams, a laptop, a voice recorder and read-aloud software. While support in any form may be considered at least somewhat helpful, participants shared that some of this support was not helpful, with one participant noting that the support they were offered was inappropriate for their needs, and the one-to-one tutor they were assigned did not have an awareness of dyspraxia. This finding was shared across my participants, who reported that the support they were offered did not feel personalised or tailored to their specific needs, and that there was an overall lack of awareness and understanding surrounding dyspraxia.

‘Participants [in my doctoral study] reported that the support they were offered did not feel personalised or tailored to their specific needs, and that there was an overall lack of awareness and understanding surrounding dyspraxia.’

It seems that the support offered to those with dyspraxia focuses more on the physical challenges associated with the condition, which includes difficulty with handwriting. However, my study demonstrated that the most prominent challenges participants experienced were not the physical manifestations commonly discussed within the research literature but rather challenges which manifested from social, emotional, cognitive and environmental factors (Brown, 2022).

While participants were offered support, they shared that they were not aware of how to access it, with the responsibility to organise it and get it in place often falling to them (Brown, 2022). Essentially, they were expected to know how to ask for the support detailed in their adjustment plans and what to ask for (adjustment plans detail a student’s needs and set out support measures – HEIs have various names for these documents including Learning Support Plans, Summary of Adjustments, and so forth). These experiences led to three of the participants not having certain elements of their support in place; an experience which left them feeling frustrated with the system (Brown, 2022). Overall, as noted by Kendall (2016), while adjustment plans can be useful, the support offered within them is too generic, rather than personalised.

In conclusion, the awareness and understanding of dyspraxia needs to be developed, as it plays a significant role in the experiences of dyspraxic young adults in higher education, with the support offered by institutions being too generic and following a one-size-fits-all approach. With all of this said, it is not only dyspraxic young adults who experience this generic support approach. Therefore, how HEIs approach supporting students with disabilities needs to change to ensure that all individuals, regardless of their condition, challenges or experiences, can fully participate in their educational journey.


Brown, K. (2022). The lived experiences of dyspraxic young adults in higher education. [Unpublished Doctoral Thesis]. University of Roehampton.

Dyspraxia Foundation. (2023). What is dyspraxia.

Kendall, L. (2016). Higher education and disability: Exploring student experiences. Cogent Education, 3(1), 1–12.

Kirby, A., & Sugden, D. (2007). Children with developmental coordination disorders. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 100(4), 182–186.