What is dyspraxia? In this article, Grace’s Neurodiversity Advisor, Ruth, will explain what dyspraxia is and debunk some common myths surrounding this condition.
'What is dyspraxia?'
Dyspraxia is a sensory processing difficulty affecting a person's ability to plan and coordinate their movements. It is often used to describe individuals who have poor coordination and is also known as Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD).
Co-ordinating movement is a complex process that involves many different nerves and parts of the brain and any problem in this process could potentially lead to difficulties with movement and co-ordination. It's not usually clear why co-ordination doesn't develop as well as other abilities in children with dyspraxia/DCD.
‘Isn’t dyspraxia just another name for clumsiness?’
There is a common myth that if a child is clumsy, they must have dyspraxia. However, dyspraxia is a complex condition that goes beyond just being clumsy. The history of the condition can be traced back all the way to the early 1900s in which it was known as Congenital Maladroitness and in 1925 some doctors and therapists called it ‘motor weakness’. It has since been further explored and explained by Jean Ayres in her theory of Sensory Integration.
The term dyspraxia originates from the root 'dux', meaning difficult or bad and 'praxis', meaning action. In simple terms, it means 'difficulty in doing actions'. Dyspraxia is more than just clumsiness. In the sensory world, action is synonymous with movement. If someone is dyspraxic, they experience difficulty with making actions happen.
Here, we'll explain:
Ideation refers to the process of generating ideas or coming up with a plan of action. For example, if you have a box of Lego in front of you, you may come up with the idea of building a house.
To turn your idea into reality, planning is necessary. For example, when building with Lego, you may need to use all the long bricks to create the sides of your house. Then, you can plan where to put the windows and doors. As you build, you continuously determine which bricks to use and where to place them to bring your idea to life.
Physically putting the Lego bricks together is called "doing". It involves using your fingers to properly align the bricks and ensuring that they fit together. Additionally, you need to have a sense of proprioception, which means pressing with the right force to ensure the bricks stay in place.
Dyspraxia affects individuals in at least two of the above areas, and some may experience difficulty in all three. It's about more than just being clumsy but also struggling with generating ideas or figuring out how to execute them. Dyspraxia is typically more noticeable when facing new tasks or situations, as they require more planning than familiar tasks.
'So, what are the signs I should look out for?'
The signs can be different, depending on the age of the child and although signs of the condition are present from an early age, children vary widely in their rate of development, so do not be unduly alarmed if your child is later reaching some milestones than their peers; this is totally normal.
This means a definite diagnosis of dyspraxia does not usually happen until a child with the condition is 5 years old or more.
Signs of dyspraxia in preschool children
Children with dyspraxia may experience delays in reaching developmental milestones such as sitting, standing, walking, toilet training, and speaking. However, not all children who experience delays have dyspraxia.
Feeding and sleeping difficulties in early childhood.
They may not be able to run, hop, jump, or catch or kick a ball when their peers can.
Many need help managing walking up and down stairs.
Doesn't make friends easily; may prefer adult company.
Always falling over.
May not like solid food that needs to be chewed.
Has little understanding of concepts such as 'in', 'on', 'in front of', etc.
Poor at getting dressed.
Has difficulty picking up small objects and often accidentally damages small toys - 'clumsiness'.
Tends to be slow and hesitant in most of their actions, often tripping up.
Often unable to learn anything through instinct and instead requires to be taught different skills.
Poor pencil skills - drawing, holding a pencil.
Struggles with shape sorting or jigsaws.
Appears easily distracted.
Speech problems such as delayed language development or inconsistent speech patterns that make it difficult to understand.
Signs of dyspraxia in children of school-age
Similar problems to those above may persist.
Find group situations challenging.
Find maths and writing tricky.
Struggle to copy things from the board in school.
Poor concentration and listening skills.
Unable to follow instructions.
Avoiding sports and games.
Feeling angry, upset or frustrated with themselves.
Thomas tends to observe rather than participate in the playground and during sports, as he often fears he may fall over or fail to catch the ball. He struggles with knowing how to position himself at the right place and time. Recently, he got a new jacket, which he finds confusing to button up as it's different from his old coat. He struggles in art class when asked to be creative as his brain doesn't provide him with any ideas. Thomas struggles with ideation and planning.
Therapies can help children to manage their difficulties, as well as supportive strategies and aids which include:
being taught ways to do activities they find difficult, such as breaking down difficult movements into smaller parts and practicing them regularly.
adapting tasks to make them easier, such as using special grips on pens and pencils, so they are easier to hold.
It is important to recognise that dyspraxia does not affect how intelligent a child is. However, they may need extra help to access tasks and activities, including at school.
How can we help?
If you are wondering if your child has dyspraxia we are here to help.
We know that navigating 'the system', accessing assessments and managing conditions can be frustrating and often feels like an uphill struggle.
Get in touch and our dedicated team of Neurodiversity Advisers can provide you with the support you need.
Grace Consulting are the UK’s founding providers of expert independent advice on elderly care advice, special needs advice and neurodiversity advice.
Independence and client wellbeing are at the heart of everything we do. We listen, reassure and advise you on how to move forwards and find the best possible solutions for your unique life challenges.