I’ve gotten rather used to driving my huge 12-passenger van around town. The size of my family requires it. However, I remember a while back when my sister loaned me her average-sized car. As I drove it down the highway, I felt like my rear end was scraping on the ground. It definitely required some getting used to. Everything was in a different location and I felt strange sitting in it. A child with dyspraxia feels this way in his own body. Although eventually I became acclimated to the smaller car, the child with dyspraxia continues to do things as though it were the first time and new tasks do not become readily automatic.
Children with dyspraxia are not physically handicapped, but instead have poor motor-planning skills. Motor planning is the ability to generate an idea for a new task, like seeing a tricycle and figuring out how to make it go. It also involves putting the actions into the proper sequence (sitting on the seat, grasping the handle bars, pushing the pedals with feet alternating, etc.). A child with poor motor planning might find attempting to ride the tricycle frustrating.
What Causes It?
Dyspraxia could be caused by poor brainstem processing, or an immaturity of neuron development in the brain. Yet most children with the condition have no clinical neurological anomaly to explain why they have these difficulties. It often accompanies other learning disabilities or disorders but sometimes does not. Dyspraxia is the most common form of sensory integration dysfunction in children with learning disorders.
What are the symptoms?
If your child had dyspraxia, you might observe many or a few of the following signs:
- messy handwriting
- is accident prone or “clumsy”
- has been late in reaching developmental milestones (i.e. crawling, walking, etc.)
- can’t seem to learn motor games or sports as well as same-age peers
- has a hard time manipulating buttons or zippers and needs help dressing
- has awkward body movements
- has trouble with speech and language
- doesn’t seem aware of what her body is doing
- is hyperactive
- has difficulty imitating body postures or gestures
- does the “steps” of a task in the wrong order
- breaks toys or dishes
- seems weak, has limited endurance
- has an awkward pencil grasp
- looks out of place on the playground
- doesn’t sense food on his face or can’t identify where he was touched
- has trouble making block towers or three-dimensional structures
What can be done?
Children with dyspraxia are eligible for special education services, according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA). If you are concerned your child might have dyspraxia, you should request an evaluation from an occupational therapist. Your child’s school district or pediatrician should make a referral. Once the diagnosis has been made, the occupational therapist should have regular sessions with your child. These sessions should include activities which involve tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive stimulation so that motor planning skills can be improved. For example, obstacle courses could help with gross motor skills, and knot-tying activities could help with fine motor skills. The occupational therapist will know many kinds of therapeutic games and activities to help your child make progress.
Will therapy cure my child?
It will not cure your child, but it certainly will make life easier and more manageable. Improvements are typically seen six to eight weeks after therapy begins.
What can a parent do?
At home, you can play games where your child mirrors your body movements, or teach your child dance steps, help him learn a sport in your backyard, direct her in crafts at your kitchen table, or do other activities which involve motor planning. By spending time playing with your child, you are doing a world of good.
For more information on dyspraxia, visit the Dyspraxia Foundation website by clicking here.
Kristyn Crow is the author of this blog. Visit her website by clicking here. Some links on this blog may have been generated by outside sources are not necessarily endorsed by Kristyn Crow.