Dyspraxia – more than just motor.

October 16, 2014
Did you know every month there are days, weeks, sometimes even a whole month to raise awareness about certain diseases, disorders, and noteworthy causes that promote safety?  Well, on October 10th it is National Depression Screening Day, National Bipolar Awareness Day, and World Mental Health Day.  The whole month of October is geared to raise awareness for ADHD, AIDS, and Breast Cancer (among many others).  There's probably one you haven't heard of however, it's called Dyspraxia.  This week (October 12-18th) is Dyspraxia Awareness week.  

Balance is affected in children with dyspraxia.

Dyspraxia is a neurological condition that affects about 10% of children.  In the past it has been referred to as the Clumsy Child Syndrome or Developmental Coordination Disorder.   Unfortunately, most think Dyspraxia is only related to motor planning deficits (the ability to plan, organize, and carry out a motor sequence), but it's much more than that.   Children with Dyspraxia often have average to above average intelligence, but their brains don't process information accurately, and therefore they have difficulty with motor, perception, and memory skills.

Motor deficits are evident when the child has difficulty figuring out how to do things.  Sometimes they have difficulty coming up with ideas and carrying out those ideas, which is motor planning (coming up with an idea, and then knowing how and what they need to carry out that idea).  Children with Dyspraxia tend to have an awkward gait and are clumsy, trip easily, and have difficulty with development of gross and fine motor skill activities.  

Perception deficits in children with Dyspraxia can vary greatly.   Some children have difficulty with the perception of sound (auditory).   Some children have difficulty tuning out extraneous auditory information (background noise and unexpected loud noises, like hearing a garbage truck that is still miles away).  Children with Dyspraxia may also have difficulty hearing spoken messages accurately.  They may ask for items to be repeated and misunderstand what is said to them.  Difficulty interpreting auditory messages can impact reading, spelling, and written language as they develop. 

Visual perception is another area that is usually affected.  Children have decreased understanding of where they are in space and how far/near the objects around them are.  They are reluctant to play with activities that require spatial problem solving (puzzles, construction activities).  They may knock things over during mealtimes, as they cannot accurately judge distance.  

Memory deficits are apparent, as children with Dyspraxia have difficulty processing information from the auditory and visual systems, thus making it more difficult to recall, remember, and use information they have learned through those channels.  Memory deficits can be seen in reading comprehension, following directions, completing homework assignments, and can affect a child's general organizational skills. 

Symptoms of Dyspraxia - Early Years

Mirror movements.

  • Delayed motor milestones - rolling over, sitting independently, crawling, walking
  • Speech and/or feeding deficits (often due to difficulty with oral-motor incoordination)
  • Difficulty with self feeding, especially using utensils
  • Language deficits, especially those involving spatial and concepts (in/on/behind/in front of)
  • Lack of purposeful play - may line up toys, throw/bang toys rather than use them for their intended purpose
  • Difficulty with puzzles, shape sorters, construction toys - prefer cause-n-effect toys
  • Clumsy and in-coordinated movements  (like walking from one surface to another, and climbing stairs)

Symptoms of Dyspraxia - School Years

Attending in the classroom can be difficult.

  • Performs poorly in gym (poor balance, coordination, difficulty with ball skills)
  • Difficulty riding a bike, running, hopping, skipping, etc.
  • Difficulty maintaining personal boundaries
  • Memory deficits
  • Possible auditory processing deficits (remembering directions, discriminating between sounds, tuning out unnecessary noises/voices)
  • Possible visual processing/motor deficits (difficulty remembering how to form letters/spelling, difficulty with reading - especially phonics, difficulty completing visually demanding worksheets, difficulty with math).
  • Poor attention
  • Social deficits - difficulty relating to peers
Does Dyspraxia exist with other conditions?

Yes, Dyspraxia often co-exists with other disorders such as autism spectrum disorders, Childhood Aparaxia of Speech, ADHD (oftentimes, children are diagnosed with ADHD when actually they are dyspraxic), and Dyslexia.
What if you suspect your child has Dyspraxia:
  • Contact your local Early Intervention agency and see if your child qualifies for occupational, physical, and/or speech therapy
  • Contact a local clinic and schedule an evaluation to obtain a baseline and determine if your child requires therapy.
  • Look for a neurologist in your area who can evaluate your child for Dyspraxia.
  • Have an audiological exam to assess auditory processing skills.
  • Get a functional vision assessment by an optometrist who specializes in functional vision (certification should be FCOVD).
  • Contact your local school district to see if your child will qualify for educational based services.  Your child may already be receiving RTI (Response to Intervention) services to support them in the educational setting.  Other options for school based support include an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or a 504 plan (non-special education services where accommodations and adaptations can be made to help your child be successful at school - they must have a diagnosis to qualify for a 504).
As with any concerns regarding your child's development, early identification and early intervention is key. 
What you can do at home:

  • Repetition, repetition, and repetition (practice, practice, practice).
  • Provide a variety of movement experiences (tapping into the movement system/vestibular system can enhance balance, coordination, postural control, and ocular motor skills).
  • Be patient and provide examples of expectations for your child.
  • Break down activities into small parts - seeing the parts as part of the whole is difficult for children with Dyspraxia, and they can become easily overwhelmed.
  • If you see your child struggling with a motor task, ask them how they could do it
  • Use positive reinforcement and/or reward systems to increase participation
  • Communicate frequently with your team members (therapists, educators, doctors, etc.)

Get the book called, The LCD Solution:  The Remarkable Nutritional Treatment for ADHD, Dyslexia, and Dyspraxia, by B. Jacqueline Stordy and Malcolm J Nicholl. 

Visit the Dyspraxia Foundation USA for more information regarding Dyspraxia.  This foundation is located in Chicago and they often have local get-togethers where you can meet other children and their families with Dyspraxia. 

In summary, not all children with motor planning deficits or Childhood Apraxia of Speech have Dyspraxia, however they have a greater chance of having dyspraxia.  As Dyspraxia is a neurologial disorder that affects many areas of learning, interaction, and development, a sensory-motor approach is the best approach to take, especially when they are young. 

Thanks for reading!

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