How Dyspraxia Differs from Other Development Delays in Children

Medically reviewed by Karen Gill, M.D. — Written by Ann Pietrangelo on September 26, 2019

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Dyspraxia is a brain-based motor disorder. It affects fine and gross motor skills, motor planning, and coordination. It’s not related to intelligence, but it can sometimes affect cognitive skills.

Dyspraxia is sometimes used interchangeably with developmental coordination disorder. While some doctors may consider these separate conditions, due to a lack of formal definition, others consider them the same.

Children born with dyspraxia may be late to reach developmental milestones. They also have trouble with balance and coordination.

Into adolescence and adulthood, symptoms of dyspraxia can lead to learning difficulties and low self-esteem.

Dyspraxia is a lifelong condition. There’s currently no cure, but there are therapies that can help you effectively manage the disorder.

If your baby has dyspraxia, you might notice delayed milestones such as lifting the head, rolling over, and sitting up, though children with this condition may eventually reach early milestones on time.

Other signs and symptoms can include:

  • unusual body positions
  • general irritability
  • sensitivity to loud noises
  • feeding and sleeping problems
  • a high level of movement of the arms and legs

As your child grows, you might also observe delays in:

  • crawling
  • walking
  • potty training
  • self-feeding
  • self-dressing

Dyspraxia makes it hard to organize physical movements. For example, a child might want to walk across the living room carrying their schoolbooks, but they can’t manage to do it without tripping, bumping into something, or dropping the books.

Other signs and symptoms may include:

  • unusual posture
  • difficulty with fine motor skills that affect writing, artwork, and playing with blocks and puzzles
  • coordination problems that make it difficult to hop, skip, jump, or catch a ball
  • hand flapping, fidgeting, or being easily excitable
  • messy eating and drinking
  • temper tantrums
  • becoming less physically fit because they shy away from physical activities

Although intelligence isn’t affected, dyspraxia can make it harder to learn and socialize due to:

  • a short attention span for tasks that are difficult
  • trouble following or remembering instructions
  • a lack of organizational skills
  • difficulty learning new skills
  • low self-esteem
  • immature behavior
  • trouble making friends

Dyspraxia is different for everyone. There are a variety of potential symptoms and they can change over time. These may include:

  • abnormal posture
  • balance and movement issues, or gait abnormalities
  • poor hand-eye coordination
  • fatigue
  • trouble learning new skills
  • organization and planning problems
  • difficulty writing or using a keyboard
  • having a hard time with grooming and household chores
  • social awkwardness or lack of confidence

Dyspraxia has nothing to do with intelligence. If you have dyspraxia, you may be stronger in areas such as creativity, motivation, and determination. Each person’s symptoms are different.

Though these two terms sound familiar and are both brain-based conditions, dyspraxia and apraxia are not the same.

Dyspraxia is something that someone is born with. Apraxia can develop following a stroke or brain injury at any point in life, though certain types may have genetic components.

There are several types of apraxia which affect different motor functions. It’s often thought to be a symptom of a neurological, metabolic, or other type of disorder.

Apraxia may go away on its own within weeks, especially if it’s the result of stroke.

It’s possible to have both dyspraxia and apraxia.

The exact cause of dyspraxia isn’t known.

It could have to do with variations in the way neurons in the brain develop. This affects the way the brain sends messages to the rest of the body. That could be why it’s hard to plan a series of movements and then carry them out successfully.

Dyspraxia is more common in males than females. It also tends to run in families.

Risk factors for developmental coordination disorders may include:

  • premature birth
  • low birth weight
  • maternal drug or alcohol use during pregnancy
  • a family history of developmental coordination disorders

It’s not unusual for a child with dyspraxia to have other conditions with overlapping symptoms. Some of these are:

  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which causes hyperactive behaviors, difficulty focusing, and trouble sitting still for long periods
  • autism spectrum disorder, a neurodevelopmental disorder that interferes with social interaction and communication
  • childhood apraxia of speech, which makes it difficult to speak clearly
  • dyscalculia, a disorder that makes it hard to understand numbers and grasp concepts of value and quantity
  • dyslexia, which affects reading and reading comprehension

Although some symptoms are the same, these other conditions don’t involve the same fine and gross motor skill issues of dyspraxia.

Other conditions like cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and stroke can cause physical symptoms similar to dyspraxia. That’s why it’s so important to see a doctor to get the correct diagnosis.

The severity of symptoms can vary a lot from child to child. It may not be apparent that your child isn’t developing certain skills for several years. A diagnosis of dyspraxia may be delayed until a child is 5 years or older.

If your child often runs into things, drops things, or struggles with physical coordination, it doesn’t mean they have dyspraxia. These symptoms could be a sign of a number of other conditions — or nothing at all.

It’s important to see their pediatrician for a thorough evaluation. A doctor will assess such factors as:

  • medical history
  • fine motor skills
  • gross motor skills
  • developmental milestones
  • mental abilities

There are no specific medical tests to diagnose dyspraxia. The diagnosis may be made if:

  • motor skills are significantly below what’s expected for their age
  • a lack of motor skills has a persistent negative effect on day-to-day activities
  • symptoms began early in development
  • other conditions with similar symptoms have been ruled out or diagnosed

Dyspraxia is more often diagnosed as developmental coordination disorder (DCD)


For a small number of children, symptoms resolve on their own as they age. That’s not the case for most children, though.

There’s no cure for dyspraxia. However, with the right therapies, people with dyspraxia can learn to manage symptoms and improve their abilities.

Because it’s different for everybody, treatment must be tailored to individual needs. The treatment plan will depend on a number of factors. The severity of your child’s symptoms and other coexisting conditions are key to finding the right programs and services.

Some of the healthcare professionals you may work with are:

  • behavior analysts
  • occupational therapists
  • pediatric specialists
  • physical therapists
  • psychologists
  • speech and language therapists

Some children do well with minor interventions. Others need more intense therapies to show improvement. Whatever therapies you choose, they can be adjusted along the way.

Your healthcare team can help identify problem areas. Then they can work on breaking tasks down into manageable pieces.

With regular practice, your child can learn how to better manage tasks such as:

  • tying shoes or self-dressing
  • using eating utensils properly
  • using the toilet
  • walking, running, and playing
  • organizing an approach to schoolwork

Therapy can help your child gain confidence, which may also help them socially. Your child’s school can provide special services and accommodations to make learning easier.

Adults can benefit from occupational therapy as well. This can help with practical, everyday matters involving small motor skills and organizational skills.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or talk therapy, can help modify thinking and behavior patterns that shake your confidence and self-esteem.

Even if you have physical difficulties, it’s still important to exercise regularly. If this is a problem, ask a doctor for a referral to a physical therapist or look for a qualified personal trainer.


Dyspraxia is a developmental coordination disorder. This lifelong condition affects gross and fine motor skills, and sometimes cognitive function.

It shouldn’t be confused with an intellectual disorder. In fact, people with dyspraxia can have average or above average intelligence.

There’s no cure for dyspraxia, but it can be successfully managed. With the right therapies, you can improve organizational and motor skills so you can live life to the fullest.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder by The National Institute of Mental Health Information Resource Center

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) by

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) by

Dyspraxia Developmental co-ordination disorder in children by

Behavioral Treatment for Kids With Anxiety by Jerry Bubrick, PhD

What Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder? by Rachel Ehmke

Sensory Processing Issues Explained by Beth Arky

Dyspraxia Developmental Co-ordination Disorder by  Dr Mary Lowth , Reviewed by Dr John Cox 

What is Dyspraxia / DCD? by  Dyspraxia /DCD Ireland

Childhood Apraxia of Speech by The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) 

Preschool Language Disorders by The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) 

Learning Disabilities by The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) 

Suicide in Children and Teens by TeensHealth!

Visual-Spatial Processing: What You Need to Know by Kate Kelly

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