What Is Dyspraxia?

What Is Dyspraxia?

Dr. Sara Murphy, Occupational Therapist
Dyspraxia is a neurological disorder that affects fine and gross motor skills, memory, judgment, perception, information processing and other cognitive abilities. The specific cause is unknown. The most common form of dyspraxia is developmental coordination disorder (DCD), and the terms are often used interchangeably. Because it can affect so many different areas of the brain and body, dyspraxia takes different forms in different people.
Dyspraxia is recognized in early childhood and continues into adulthood. It often coexists with other disorders, such as ADHD, dyslexia and autism. Although dyspraxia is not a learning disorder, it affects the ability to learn and to participate fully in routine academic and social activities. It can adversely affect behavior, language abilities, social acceptance and self-esteem.

A child with dyspraxia typically presents by missing motor milestones that require coordination such as tying shoes or riding a tricycle. Those missing abilities may impede participation for self-care and play. Other limitations may include difficulty with dressing, eating using utensils, bathing, handwriting, using scissors and grasping. Playing games that require catching, throwing, running, jumping or kicking are difficult for children with dyspraxia.

Dyspraxia may result in poor executive functioning, sequencing and timing, generalizing learned skills to new or different tasks and spatial and perceptual errors. It often causes children to be easily distracted, or a child may be easily frustrated and unwilling to try new things based on previous failures.

Diagnosis for dyspraxia is made by medical professionals such as developmental-behavioral or neurological pediatricians and child psychiatrists. Commonly, children are evaluated at five and six years of age for cognitive and motor skills. Children with decreased fine motor skills often require and seek increased sensory input to prompt a response. Children with dyspraxia often have difficulty expressing opinions and being assertive.
Occupational Therapist’s role in treatment
A multi-disciplinary team that includes occupational, physical and speech-language therapists, psychologists and teachers can all help address issues with dyspraxia.

Occupational Therapists will commonly use motor skill intervention, sensory integration and cognitive behavior strategies to treat dyspraxia. Treatment may be remedial or compensatory. A compensatory example would be for parents to have children use shirts that are pullovers until a child masters fastening skills with buttons and zippers. A remedial approach would be breaking down an activity to practice individual components of a task, such as tying a shoe, then building to complete the whole activity.

For people with DCD, detecting when and how their body is moving in space is difficult. One remedial method used to assist sensory integration is kinesthesia, in which imagery describes movement; for example, saying “feel the ball leave your hand.” Other strategies include cognitive approaches such as asking a child to repeat instructions, using organizational
strategies such as checklists or talking out different scenarios a child may encounter. A child’s environment can be modified to decrease distractions as well.

Children with dyspraxia will not progressively lose coordination, but they do require treatment to improve or they likely will remain as they are currently functioning.

Home programs for chores can be developed for children who need to improve strength, balance and coordination. For instance, activities can include making a grocery list, setting the table, doing the laundry and helping to prepare meals.

If you have questions regarding your child’s fine or gross motor skills, or any other issue described here, please speak to your pediatrician about a referral for an occupational therapy evaluation.

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.

Chung, E. Y. H. (2018). Unveiling Issues Limiting Participation of Children with Developmental Coordination Disorder: From Early Identification to Insights for Intervention. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, (303), 373-389.

Psychology Today. (2017). www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/dyspraxia
Reed, K. L. (2014). Quick reference to occupational therapy. Austin, Tx: Pro-Ed.
Tamplain, P. (2019). Understanding developmental coordination disorder (DCD). www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/dyspraxia/understanding-developmental-coordination-disorder-dcd

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