What is it?
Dyspraxia is a condition where a person experiences difficulty moving smoothly or in a coordinated fashion. They may also experience language and learning difficulties as well as problems with perception and thought.
Is it common?
In an average classroom of about 30 children, it is estimated that one child in almost every classroom has dyspraxia of some sort. Four out of five children with dyspraxia are boys.
What are the causes?
There is no known cause of dyspraxia. It is believed that the nerve cells that control muscles (motor neurons) do not develop correctly, which can mean that the connections between these motor neurons do not form or function properly, thus resulting in the brain taking longer to process data.
Sometimes, a brain injury due to a stroke, accident or illness can also cause a person to develop dyspraxia.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms range based on the age of the child:
- Infancy: There may be delays in learning how to sit, stand, crawl, walk and talk clearly.
- Early childhood/preschool age: They may have a higher tendency to fall over, bump into and drop things. Actions such as doing up a button or zipper and common playground movements like jumping, catching, kicking and skipping can be problematic. Their actions may also seem slow and uncoordinated and they may exhibit unusual behaviour in the company of others.
- School age: They may perform better when taught on a one-on-one basis, but not with other children around. They may also have trouble following instructions and struggle with mathematics and writing tasks.
What are the treatment options?
There is no cure for dyspraxia but over time and with proper management options, they may improve with one or more of the following treatments:
- Occupational Therapy: Involves improving motor skills that are specifically needed for everyday activities. For some children, Occupational Therapists may also identify a need to work on sensory perception skills such as sensing where each part of their body is when they are in motion to fine tune difficult activities like walking or running in a straight line. Aids such as weighted balls or spring loaded scissors are often used to help.
- Speech and Language Therapy: A speech pathologist may assign specific exercises that involve producing different consonants, vowels, words and sentences of various lengths and complexities.
- Active play: Consciously engaging children in active play encourages the development of motor skills. Abilities such as body awareness, integration of the senses to form a better picture, language skills and confidence are all enhanced when children are given plenty of opportunities to interact with their environment – whether indoors or outdoors.
Chris Chapparo, Lecturer, Occupational Therapy, Sydney University