Understanding Dyspraxia

By Erica Patino, M.A.  / The Understood Team

Hearing or suspecting that your child may have dyspraxia can stir a lot of emotions. Even though dyspraxia is fairly common, many people have never heard of it.

Dyspraxia can affect a child’s ability to do a wide range of everyday physical tasks. These can include things like jumping, speaking clearly and gripping a pencil. Some kids have mild symptoms and others more severe. There are lots of ways to help with dyspraxia at home and in school. Learning more about it can help you find the most effective solutions for your child.

What is dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia isn’t a sign of muscle weakness or of low intelligence. It’s a brain-based condition that makes it hard to plan and coordinate physical movement. Children with dyspraxia tend to struggle with balance and posture. They may appear clumsy or “out of sync” with their environment.[1]

Dyspraxia goes by many names: developmental coordination disorder, motor learning difficulty, motor planning difficulty and apraxia of speech. It can affect the development of gross motor skills like walking or jumping. It can also affect fine motor skills. These include things like the hand movements needed to write clearly and the mouth and tongue movements needed to pronounce words correctly.

Dyspraxia can affect social skills too. Children with dyspraxia may behave immaturely even though they typically have average or above-average intelligence.

Kids don’t outgrow dyspraxia. But occupational therapy, , speech therapyand other tools and strategies can help. Kids can learn to work around areas of weakness and build on their strengths.

Different Kinds of Dyspraxia
Dyspraxia can affect different kinds of movement. Professionals you speak to might break it down into these categories:

  • Ideomotor dyspraxia: Makes it hard to complete single-step motor tasks such as combing hair and waving goodbye.
  • Ideational dyspraxia: Makes it more difficult to perform a sequence of movements, like brushing teeth or making a bed.
  • Oromotor dyspraxia, also called verbal apraxia or apraxia of speech: Makes it difficult to coordinate muscle movements needed to pronounce words. Kids with dyspraxia may have speech that is slurred and difficult to understand because they’re unable to enunciate.
  • Constructional dyspraxia: Makes it harder to understand spatial relationships. Kids with this type of dyspraxia may have difficulty copying geometric drawings or using building blocks.[2]
 

How common is dyspraxia?

Although dyspraxia isn’t as widely discussed as other conditions that impact learning, like, it’s believed to be fairly common. Roughly 6 to 10 percent of children show some signs of dyspraxia.[3]

Boys are affected more often than girls.[4] But many people with symptoms are never diagnosed, prompting some experts to dub it a “hidden problem.”[5]

 

What causes dyspraxia?

Researchers don’t know yet what causes dyspraxia. Many believe that genetics could play a role. Some scientists suspect dyspraxia may be caused by a problem with the nerve cells that send signals from the brain to muscles.

Researchers also believe that children who were born prematurely, had low birth weights or were exposed to alcohol in the womb may be more likely to have dyspraxia, though it’s not clear why.[6]


What are the symptoms of dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia affects some kids more severely than others. The signs you may be seeing can also look different as your child gets older. But generally, the symptoms are present early in life. Babies may be unusually irritable and have difficulties feeding. They may be slow to reach developmental milestones, such as rolling over or walking. Here are some common symptoms for different age groups. Some or all of these symptoms may be present.

Warning Signs in a Toddler

  • Is a messy eater, preferring to eat with fingers rather than a fork or spoon
  • Is unable to ride a tricycle or play ball
  • Is delayed at becoming toilet trained
  • Avoids playing with construction toys and puzzles
  • Doesn’t talk as well as kids the same age and might not say single words until age 3

Warning Signs in Preschool or Early Elementary School

  • Often bumps into people and things
  • Has trouble learning to jump and skip
  • Is slow to develop left- or right-hand dominance
  • Often drops objects or has difficulty holding them
  • Has trouble grasping pencils and writing or drawing
  • Has difficulty working buttons, snaps and zippers
  • Speaks slowly or doesn’t enunciate words
  • Has trouble speaking at the right speed, volume and pitch
  • Struggles to play and interact with other kids

Warning Signs in Grade School or Middle School

  • Tries to avoid sports or gym class
  • Takes a long time to write, due to difficulty gripping pencil and forming letters
  • Has trouble moving objects from one place to another, such as pieces on a game board
  • Struggles with games and activities that require hand-eye coordination
  • Has trouble following instructions and remembering them
  • Finds it difficult to stand for a long time as a result of weak muscle tone

Warning Signs in High School

  • Has trouble with sports that involve jumping and cycling
  • Tends to fall and trip; bumps into things and people
  • May talk continuously and repeat things
  • May forget and lose things
  • Has trouble picking up on nonverbal signals from others

With treatment and support, children with dyspraxia may improve their muscle tone and coordination over time.

 

What skills are affected by dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia can affect a variety of skills. Here are some common ones. Keep in mind that there are ways to help your child improve in each of these areas:

  • Communication: Kids with dyspraxia may struggle with different aspects of speech. They can have trouble pronouncing words or expressing their ideas. They may also have trouble adjusting the pitch and volume of their voice. As a result, making friends and being social can be much harder.
  • Emotional/behavioral skills: Children with dyspraxia may behave immaturely. They may easily become overwhelmed in group settings. This can create problems with making friends, and kids can become anxious about socializing with others, especially as they get older. Their difficulties with sports may also affect their self-esteem and social abilities. Learn more about how dyspraxia can affect your child’s social life.
  • Academics: Kids with dyspraxia often have difficulty writing quickly. This can create a number of classroom challenges, such as trouble taking notes and finishing tests. Children who have speech difficulties also may have difficulty with reading and spelling.[7]
  • Overall life skills: Dyspraxia can make it hard to master everyday tasks needed for independence. In elementary school, kids still may need help buttoning a shirt or brushing their teeth. As teens, they could have trouble learning to drive a car or fry an egg.

 

How is dyspraxia diagnosed?

A good way to begin the diagnosis process is to start observing your child and taking notes on what you’re seeing. To be diagnosed with dyspraxia, your child has to have symptoms for at least six months.[8]

Taking notes can help you show that your child’s behavior has been ongoing and is getting in the way of everyday tasks. This can make getting a diagnosis happen a little faster.

There’s no one specific test to determine whether your child has dyspraxia. Typically, a doctor will examine your child to rule out other neurological conditions. Then your child may be referred to another professional. This could be a psychologist or an occupational therapist.

The specialist will interview you about what you’ve observed and test your child’s strength, muscle tone and coordination. The specialist also will test your child’s ability to carry out physical tasks, like throwing a ball. To diagnose your child with dyspraxia, the specialist needs to make four key findings:[9]

  • Motor skills lag behind what’s expected based on the child’s age
  • These difficulties interfere with the child’s daily life or academic achievements
  • The weaknesses in motor skills aren’t due to another neurological condition, such as cerebral palsy
  • Symptoms were present early in life, even though the condition typically isn’t diagnosed before age 5

If your child is diagnosed with dyspraxia, treatment can help. This might include or . Getting a diagnosis can also help your child qualify for special supports and services in school, such as a laptop and word-prediction software to help with typing. Your child could also qualify for one-on-one time with a speech or occupational therapist.

 

What conditions are related to dyspraxia?

It’s not unusual for children with dyspraxia to have other learning and attention issues. Doctors refer this to as comorbidity. If your child has dyspraxia, here are some other learning and attention issues you may want to read about:

  • Dyslexia: Kids with dyslexia might have trouble learning to read. Dyslexia can also make it hard to write, spell and say the words you want to say.
  • : This causes kids to have difficulties with math. Kids with dyscalculiamay have trouble remembering basic math facts such as 2 + 2 = 4, doing calculations and estimating quantities and times (such as how long a minute is). Dyspraxia can cause trouble with math, too. Find out how this is different fromdyscalculia-related math difficulties.
  • : Dysgraphia causes trouble with writing. Dysgraphia and dyspraxia are very different, but they often have overlapping symptoms—like messy handwriting. Learn more about the difference between dysgraphia and dyspraxia.
  • : ADHD can make it difficult for your child to keep still, concentrate, consider consequences and control impulses. About half of children with dyspraxia also have attention issues.[10]

 

How can professionals help with dyspraxia?

Fortunately, there are many people who can help your child with dyspraxia. Some of these people may work in your child’s school and some you might find in your community or online.

Therapists
A number of therapies can help with dyspraxia. Your child’s teacher or doctor can help you find specialists who are trained in the following:

  • Occupational therapy: An occupational therapist can help your child develop everyday skills needed to thrive in and out of school. This includes such things as learning to use a knife or write legibly.
  • Speech therapy: A speech-language pathologist can pinpoint your child’s speech issues and then suggest specific exercises that can help your child communicate more clearly.
  • Perceptual motor training: This kind of training is typically done by occupational or physical therapists. It’s designed to improve children’s language, visual, movement and hearing and listening skills. It involves giving kids tasks to do that are challenging, but not so difficult that they become frustrated. Kids are given a series of exercises that will help them better learn how to integrate motor, sensory and language information.

Your Child’s School
If your child has been diagnosed with dyspraxia and evaluated for special services, the school will come up with a plan of supports and accommodations, such as exempting your child from gym class. But even without a diagnosis, the school can do a number of things to help your child academically.

  • Response to intervention (RTI) is a program that some schools use to screen students and provide extra help to those who are falling behind. If your child’s school uses this program, then he may get small-group instruction in, say, writing or some other area. These small groups may meet in your child’s regular classroom or in another part of the school. If your child doesn’t make enough progress this way, the program will provide more intensive one-on-one instruction.
  • Informal supports are strategies your child’s teacher can use, such as breaking down writing assignments into “chunks,” so that projects are more manageable for your child. The teacher may also let your child use a laptop in class if it’s easier for him to type than to write things out by hand.
  • If your child’s teacher is using classroom , at some point you or the school may recommend getting a 504 plan for your child. This is a written plan that details how the school will accommodate your child’s needs. Your child might get modified homework, extended time on tests and copies of all class notes.
  • You may also want to consider requesting an evaluation for services. The evaluation will determine whether your child qualifies for anIndividualized Education Program (). This program can open the doors to even more resources, including assistive technology that your child can use at home and in school.

Parent Advocates
Every state has at least one Parent Training and Information Center or Community Parent Resource Center. These nonprofit centers are staffed by parents whose children have special needs. They know how to navigate the school system and can help you prepare for important school meetings and advocate for your child. You can find the center in your area through the Parent Technical Assistance Center Network’s website.[11]

 

What can be done at home for dyspraxia?

You can do a lot to help your child with dyspraxia. Here are some strategies you may want to consider.

  • Learn as much as you can. Dyspraxia isn’t well known. Family, friends and even your child’s teacher may not understand your child’s struggles. Sharing information with them will enable you to help your child get the support he needs in and out of school.
  • Encourage physical activity. Any kind of play that encourages physical activity will help your child develop motor skills. Whether it’s a swim class or a simple game of hide-and-seek, it’s good for a child with dyspraxia to get his body moving. It can also help your child build relationships with other kids.
  • Do jigsaw puzzles. Puzzles can help your child work on visual or spatial perception. They can also help your child improve fine motor skills. Puzzles are fun for the whole family to do together.
  • Toss a bean bag. This can be a fun way to help develop hand-eye coordination.
  • Get some pencil grips. These inexpensive items can make writing easier. Give your child a variety of pens, including colored and scented markers, to help keep things interesting.
  • Practice keyboarding. Typing may be easier for your child than handwriting. But it’s a skill that needs to be learned and practiced.
  • Get some putty. Squeezing Theraputty or some play-dough can help strengthen your child’s hand muscles. It can also be a good stress reliever.
  • Download some apps. Explore recommendations for fun apps that can help improve fine motor skills.
  • Adjust your expectations. Your child may need help with grooming and other everyday activities long after peers have mastered those skills. By recognizing your child’s challenges, you’ll be able to give genuine praise when he completes these tasks.
  • Praise your child’s efforts. Reward your child for attempting a new task. Celebrate even the smallest bits of progress. Learn how to harness the power of praise.

Dyspraxia can be very frustrating for your child and for you. But your child can succeed with the right tools and support. Having your love and encouragement will boost your child’sself-esteem and help him stay motivated to keep trying hard.

 

What can make the journey easier?

Raising a child with dyspraxia takes a lot of patience and energy. But remember that you’re not alone. Wherever you are in your journey—whether you’re just starting out or well on your way—this site can help you find tools, strategies and support to help your child succeed. Here are some options that can make parenting a little easier for you:

  • Connect with other parents. Find other parents whose kids have dyspraxia. They know what you’re going through and can share tips and help cheer you on.
  • Get behavior advice from the experts. Explore Parenting Coach for strategies that can help with the social and emotional issues that can come along with dyspraxia. Topics include how to improve self-esteem, make friends and deal with frustration, anxiety and fear.
  • Build a support plan. Use our site to get ideas and create your own plan for how you want to help your child.

You can do a lot to help your child. But you don’t need to do it all at once. If you try too many new strategies at the same time, it can be hard to figure out which ones are working the best. So pace yourself! Try to get more sleep, and don’t forget to carve out some time to have fun with your child. Your love and support can make a world of difference.


Key Takeaways

  • Many kids with dyspraxia also have ADHD.
  • It’s not unusual for schools to provide speech and occupational therapy.
  • You can use apps and other fun games to encourage your child to keep moving.

Sources

[1] "NINDS Developmental Dyspraxia Information Page." NINDS.nih.gov. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Web. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/dyspraxia/dyspraxia.htm

[2] Scalais, Emmanuel, Christian Nuttin, and Audrey Galluzzo. "Developmental Dyspraxia."Current Management in Child Neurology. By Bernard Maria. 3rd ed. Hamilton, Ontario: Decker, 2005. 240–45. Print.

[3] Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, Virginia: American Psychiatric, 2013. Print.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Gibbs, John, Jeanette Appleton, and Richard Appleton. "Dyspraxia or Developmental Coordination Disorder? Unravelling the Enigma." Archives of Disease in Childhood 92.6 (2007): 534–39. Web. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2066137/

[6] "Causes of Dyspraxia." NHS.uk. National Health Service (UK). Web.http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Dyspraxia-(childhood)/Pages/Causes.aspx

[7] "Reading and Spelling." Dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk. Dyspraxia Foundation. Web.http://www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk/about-dyspraxia/reading-spelling/

[8] NCLD Editorial Team. "Common Warning Signs of Dyspraxia in Children Pre-K to Grade 2." NCLD.org. National Center for Learning Disabilities. http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/dyspraxia/common-warning-signs-of-dyspraxia-in-children-pre-k-to-grade-2

[9] Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

[10] Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

[11] "Parent Center Listing." Parentcenternetwork.org. Parent Center Network. Web.

About the Author

Portrait of Erica Patino

Erica Patino, M.A., is an online writer and editor who specializes in health and wellness content.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Rina Goldberg

Rina Goldberg, M.D., is a child neurologist in practice at the Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey.