Understanding Dyspraxia: Signs, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Dyspraxia is a neurological disorder that begins in childhood. It can cause life-long challenges with motor skills, movement, coordination, and processing. Another term for this condition is developmental coordination disorder (DCD).

Dyspraxia can affect many areas of a person’s life, including physical, neurological, language, and sensory development. For example, children with dyspraxia may have a speech delay. Or they may have a hard time keeping their balance and moving their body the right way. These issues are due to a disconnect between the neurons in the brain that control motor skills and sensations. 

This guide explains the risk factors, symptoms, and treatment for dyspraxia. Each person with dyspraxia will have different challenges and abilities. A variety of therapies can help people with dyspraxia improve their motor skills and overcome many of these challenges.

How common is dyspraxia?

The Dyspraxia Foundation estimates that 1 in 10 children is affected by dyspraxia. It can occur on its own, but it often co-occurs with other disorders, such as ADHD, dyslexia, and autism.

Dyspraxia can affect a child’s ability to learn, but it does not impact their intelligence.

What causes dyspraxia?

While we don’t know the cause of dyspraxia, research has highlighted some risk factors. These include:

  • Being of the male sex; males are four times more likely to have dyspraxia

  • Prematurity or low birth weight

  • Genetics, or a family history of dyspraxia

What are the signs of dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia affects people differently. So, symptoms of dyspraxia will look different for each person. However, common signs of dyspraxia include: 

  • Poor balance and coordination

  • Vision and perception problems 

  • Difficulty with reading, writing, and speaking

  • Poor social skills

  • Poor posture

  • Challenges with short-term memory 

Challenges with planning and coordinating fine and gross motor skills are usually recognized in early childhood. Children with dyspraxia may not meet expected milestones for their age, like sitting up and crawling. 

Children with developmental coordination disorder may also have problems with speech, language, and feeding. They might have difficulty with memory and concentration. It may be hard for them to interact with other people or to express themselves with spoken or written language.

While this isn’t a complete list, here are some of the challenges you may notice in a child with dyspraxia from birth to age 6 years old:

0-3 years

Feeding: Feeding difficulties as a baby, with continued problems in the first 3 years of life 

Speech and language: Delays in language development, with single words not occurring until 3 years of age

3-5 years

Feeding: Spills liquid while drinking from cups; prefers to use fingers to feed 

Social skill development: Isolates from other children and prefers to be with adults 

6+ years

Feeding: Sensory issues

Speech and language: Delays with the processing of speech and language; difficulty with short-term memory, organization, and planning; difficulty following directions; verbal speech delays

Social skill development: Difficulties with social communication 

For more about signs and symptoms of dyspraxia by age, you can visit the Dyspraxia Foundation’s website

How does dyspraxia affect children?

Developmental coordination disorder can have an impact on a child’s schoolwork and success in the classroom. That’s because it can affect their ability to write, organize their things, or speak clearly.

Dyspraxia can also affect a child’s ability to participate in extracurricular activities, like sports, or their self-care routines, like brushing teeth. This is because dyspraxia affects balance, coordination, and motor planning.

Dyspraxia can affect a child's ability to write, organize their things, or speak clearly.

For these reasons, receiving the right support and accommodations in school is essential for kids with dyspraxia. Many children with dyspraxia have a 504 Plan or IEP (individualized educational plan) to help them succeed in school. Getting the right therapy services, such as speech and occupational therapy, is also important for children with dyspraxia.

How is dyspraxia diagnosed and treated?

There is no cure for dyspraxia. Because dyspraxia affects each person differently throughout their life, the goal is to support each person’s individual needs at each stage. 

According to the Dyspraxia Foundation, “The best way to treat dyspraxia is to find the most effective therapy to address each symptom.” For example, speech therapy would help children with speech production challenges. Other therapies for dyspraxia may include occupational therapy, physical therapy, eye vision therapy, psychological therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy. 

The best way to treat dyspraxia is to find the most effective therapy to address each symptom.

Dyspraxia can be diagnosed or identified by medical doctors, including pediatricians, developmental pediatricians, pediatric neuropsychologists, and child psychiatrists. Other professionals may also assess and treat developmental coordination disorder. These include:

  • Speech therapists 

  • Physical therapists

  • Occupational therapists  

  • School evaluators 

  • Psychologists 

How does therapy help children with dyspraxia?

The right kind of therapy can make a big difference for people with dyspraxia! Here are some examples.

  • Speech therapy for dyspraxia can focus on any speech, language, cognition, or feeding/swallowing skills that are affected by motor and coordination challenges. Speech therapy can help kids make certain speech sounds, speak clearly in longer sentences, or build independence when self-feeding with cups and utensils. 

  • Occupational therapy for dyspraxia focuses on improving motor skills by working on motor tasks, such as handwriting.

  • Physical therapy can address balance and muscle tone. 

  • Vision therapy can help with vision and perception issues, such as problems with eye tracking.

As a parent of a child with dyspraxia, the most important thing you can do is advocate for your child. Take time to learn and understand this diagnosis and your child’s needs and abilities. This will help you work with the healthcare and education professionals on your child’s team. 

To learn more about dyspraxia and find resources for families, check out The Dyspraxia Foundation USA

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