The Lived Experiences of Dyspraxic Young Adults in Higher Education

  • Katie Brown

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Dyspraxia, also known as Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), affects an estimated ten per cent of the population in the United Kingdom (Colley, 2006; Meachon, 2017). However, little is known about dyspraxic young adults’ experiences. Much of the existing literature focuses on children and adolescents, primarily based on the perceptions of medical professionals, education practitioners, and parents of dyspraxic individuals. As a result, understanding dyspraxia/DCD from the perspective of the dyspraxic individual is essential, as this imbalance risks prioritising these perceptions over those of individuals with the condition. As such, this study aimed to explore the lived experiences of dyspraxic young adults, specifically focusing on the overall experience of higher education. In order to meet this aim, the study adopted an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) approach (Smith, Flowers and Larkin, 2009). Following a pilot study to gain a deeper understanding of IPA, 12 semi-structured interviews were conducted, three with each of the four participants over nine months. Participants’ narratives were analysed through a systematic and interpretative analysis in which five superordinate themes were identified. These were: 1) Trust and Judgement, 2) Socialisation, 3) Managing Emotions, 4) Being a Higher Education Student, and 5) Support. The findings were considered through the lens of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) framework (WHO, 2001), the conceptual framework adopted for this study. This thesis demonstrates that dyspraxic young adults can experience various physical, cognitive, social and emotional challenges that present barriers to participation in HE and social settings. While academic support can help remove barriers in HE, a one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate due to the condition’s heterogeneity. Furthermore, findings show that anxiety is a secondary consequence rather than a core manifestation of dyspraxia/DCD, lending support to the Environmental Stress Hypothesis (Cairney, Rigoli and Piek, 2013). Finally, due to the interrelational nature of the condition, these findings demonstrate that the ICF framework (WHO, 2001) is valuable for considering dyspraxia/DCD. This study acknowledged, however, that there is a deeper level of interaction happening within the components of the framework. As such, this thesis offers a reconfigured illustration of the ICF Framework. By focusing on the experiences of dyspraxic young adults, we may begin to address the barriers they experience to participation in HE and how these affect their overall well-being through changes to practice.
Date of Award14 Nov 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorLorella Terzi (Director of Studies) & Lida Kamenopoulou (Co-Supervisor)


  • Dyspraxia
  • IPA
  • Developmental Coordination Disorder
  • Young Adults
  • Higher Education

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