Dyspraxia is a motor learning disability that can affect movement and co-ordination due to brain messages not being properly transmitted to the body. A motor learning disability is a condition where people have difficulty planning and organising smooth co-ordinated movements. It’s fairly common in children and adults and used to be known as Clumsy Child Syndrome. It is also known as motor learning difficulty and developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD), minimal brain dysfunction, motor learning difficulty and perceptuo-motor dysfunction.
Dyspraxia affects coordination, often leading to clumsiness and problems with language, perception and thought. It affects boys more than girls and up to one in 20 children suffer from the condition so there may be at least one child in every mainstream school class with it. Having dyspraxia does not change how intelligent a child is but it does affect their learning ability.
Very little is known about dyspraxia, although it is thought to be due to limited (incomplete) development of motor neurones (the nerve cells that control muscles). Current research suggests that dyspraxia is caused by an immaturity of neurone development in the brain rather than brain damage. It is thought that the neurones fail to form adequate connections, which means that the brain takes longer to process information.
This means there is a greater likelihood of the brain losing the suggestion and the child therefore failing to respond to requests.
There is no clinical reason to explain the condition but dyspraxia sometimes runs in families and affects more boys than girls.
The earlier a child is diagnosed, the greater the chance of improvement. Parents should talk to their doctor, or special needs co-ordinator if they think their child may have dyspraxia so they can be referred to a pediatrician. A psychologist, physiotherapist or speech therapist can then make an assessment. The assessment usually involves a detailed account of your child’s developmental history, intellectual ability and tests of their gross and fine motor skills.
Gross motor skills include the ability to use large muscles that coordinate body movements, such as running, walking, jumping, throwing and maintaining balance. Fine motor skills include being able to use small muscles for accurate coordinated movements in activities such as writing, tying a shoelace, doing up buttons, tracing and cutting out shapes.
Developmental dyspraxia received very little recognition until the 1990s so most adults with dyspraxia will not have been diagnosed as a child. If you suspect you have dyspraxia, ask your doctor to refer you to a neurologist or clinical psychologist for assessment
An early sign of dyspraxia may be the child not reaching normal milestones, for example, they may take longer to roll over, sit, crawl, stand, walk, speak and toilet train. Sometimes, a child with dyspraxia does not even go through the crawling stage. The child’s speech may be very immature or impossible to understand in their early years and language and vocabulary skills may take longer to develop.
As they get a little bit older, they may find it harder than other children their own age to hop, jump, run and catch or kick a ball. They may also have difficulty concentrating on one thing for more than a few minutes and have problems doing shape sorter toys, building blocks or jigsaws. They may swing or move their arms and legs a lot and find it hard to sit still. They can also have a tendency to bump into or drop things and fall over a lot too. They may find it hard to walk up and down the stairs or get dressed properly. Physical movements and activities are hard to learn and difficult to maintain so they appear awkward and clumsy. They may not automatically pick up new skills but need more encouragement and repetition to help them than others.
If a child has dyspraxia, it does not mean that they are not intelligent. As with all children, some have below average, average or above average intelligence. However they are often immature in their behavior and may have great difficulty in planning and organising thoughts and understanding logic and reason. There is a poor understanding of the messages that the senses convey and this makes it difficult to relay those messages into actions.
School age children may find it difficult to use scissors and coloring pens and their drawings may appear to be scribbled and more childish than they should be. At school, children with dyspraxia tend to do much better on a one-to-one basis.
Children with dyspraxia often avoid joining in with playground games or PE because of their lack of co-ordination and may be at risk of becoming unfit. They can also struggle with handwriting, tying shoelaces, doing up buttons and using a knife and fork, which they can find upsetting in a school environment. Other problems can be with maths, writing stories, copying from the blackboard and having a poor attention span.
Dyspraxia cannot be cured but the child will improve in many ways as they get older. However, it is important that a proper diagnosis is made, as the earlier a child is treated, the greater chance of improvement.
Once dyspraxia has been diagnosed, treatment is available from a variety of specialists including occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and speech and language therapists. An occupational therapist will look at how the child manages everyday activities at home, school, and during play, providing help with skills development where necessary. For example, help may be required with speech or behavior, or in academic areas, such as numeracy, spelling, reading and literacy.
Treatment may also involve perceptual motor training which is a set of tasks that cover language, visual, motor and auditory (hearing and listening) skills. The child may be given a graduated series of exercises to develop these skills. Each exercise is difficult enough to challenge the child but not so difficult that the child becomes frustrated. This combined with extra help at school can all help a child to overcome many difficulties.
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