Dyspraxia is a relatively common neurodevelopmental disorder that results in a child’s inability to coordinate their movements properly. It’s estimated that around 5% of school-aged children have dyspraxia, with mild to severe difficulties. Dyspraxia is usually diagnosed around age 6 or 7, but can often be detected far earlier by parents and primary care practitioners. 

Children with dyspraxia have difficulty planning and completing movements. From walking downstairs to brushing teeth, children with dyspraxia have difficulty accomplishing everyday tasks that require balance, control, and coordinated movement.

The neurological cause of dyspraxia is unknown, but it is believed to be due to improper development of motor neurons in the brain that control muscles. In dyspraxia, the brain signals are not correctly communicated through motor neurons out to muscles, resulting in poor coordination. There may be a genetic component to dyspraxia, with a family history of dyspraxia being common. It is also common for dyspraxia to be co-diagnosed with ADHD and autism spectrum disorders.

Children with dyspraxia typically do not meet developmental milestones: they are delayed in crawling and walking, have trouble climbing up and down stairs, and have a great deal of difficulty dressing themselves (zipping up, buttoning sweaters). They lack balance and are often described as clumsy, often bumping into things. On a fine motor level, children with dyspraxia typically have difficulty drawing, cutting with scissors, gripping a pencil, and writing. They also often have problems with short-term memory and have difficulty completing tasks, as they can get lost in processes. Like dyslexia, however, dyspraxia itself has no bearing on a child’s overall intelligence.

The neurological cause of dyspraxia is unknown, but it is believed to be due to improper development of motor neurons in the brain that control muscles.

Conventional Treatment

Dyspraxia may range from mild to severe and is a lifelong condition, but treatment is available to help children develop facility in self-care and important daily life skills. A pediatrician or neurologist must first rule out other potential disorders before diagnosing dyspraxia. Once a diagnosis has been made, a spectrum of occupational, speech-language and physical therapies can help children to improve their abilities to accomplish gross and fine motor tasks such as throwing and catching a ball, brushing teeth, writing, and typing. These therapies are given three to five times a week over the course of several years. Children with moderate to severe dyspraxia will often qualify for early intervention programs and parents should make contact with programs as soon as a diagnosis is made.

Children with dyspraxia often find living with the disorder to be physically and mentally frustrating because accomplishing even the simplest tasks involves great care. Adults and caregivers can help these children by providing nurturing environments that both reduce frustration while encouraging children to explore their world physically and mentally. Parents should encourage active and physical play which can stimulate the brain, and help children better perceive the environment around them. Because dyspraxic children often have difficulty with short-term memory, organizing, and planning, parents can assist their children by structuring their home to minimize stress and create a routine.