Dyspraxia is a neurological disorder that affects fine and gross motor skills, memory, judgment, perception, information processing, and other cognitive abilities. Although dyspraxia is not a medical condition, it can also affect the immune and nervous systems. The most common form of dyspraxia is developmental coordination disorder, and the terms are often used interchangeably. Because it can affect so many different areas of the brain and body, dyspraxia takes different forms in different people.
Dyspraxia is recognized in early childhood, continues into adulthood, and though it can be a singular condition, it often coexists with other disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactive disorder, dyslexia and autism. Although dyspraxia is not a learning disorder, per se, it affects the ability to learn and to participate fully in routine academic, social, and professional activities.
Symptoms of dyspraxia usually appear early in life and may change as a child ages and is challenged with the need to learn new life skills. Early on, babies with dyspraxia are overly irritable and have problems with feeding. In toddlerhood, the child may continue to have problems with normal feeding and display other developmental delays, such as difficulty with toilet training, refusing to play with puzzles or toys that require construction, and inability to throw and catch a ball or learn to ride a tricycle.
Children with dyspraxia usually appear clumsy, frequently drop things, and have trouble with activities that involves hand-eye coordination. For instance, they often have trouble managing buttons, zippers, and snaps. Weak muscle tone results in difficulty in sports and gym classes, and even standing for any length of time. These children frequently have speech and writing delays, may be forgetful and often lose things, and have trouble picking up on nonverbal social cues.
Problems with motor coordination, memory, perception, speech and language skills, following directions, and emotional control usually persist into adulthood, causing difficulties with planning, organization, concentration, and accuracy. The result is often erratic or impulsive behavior, or a tendency to avoid new or unpredictable situations, or those that require teamwork. These ongoing problems can result in a variety of emotional and behavioral issues, including depression, anxiety, stress disorders, low self-esteem, fears and phobias, and addictions.
The cause of dyspraxia is unknown, but the condition may result from impaired development of brain cells. Problems exist within the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is responsible for executive functioning, or higher-order thinking, and the cerebellum, which is associated with motor skills. Research suggests that relationships within the neural pathways that connect these two areas of the brain help explain why neurodevelopmental disorders such as dyspraxia affect such a variety of cognitive, movement, and behavioral abilities.
Although dyspraxia cannot be cured, treatment can help manage symptoms and improve muscle tone and coordination. A diagnosis of dyspraxia can allow a child to qualify for occupational therapy, speech therapy, and other special services and accommodations through the school system. At home, children can be encouraged to participate in physical activities and active play to strengthen muscle tone and improve physical coordination, and work on puzzle skills and activities such as tossing a beanbag, to improve eye-hand coordination. Simple interventions, like the use of pencil grips or learning to type, can help with communication skills. In one study, therapeutic horseback riding was found to significantly improve cognition, gait and signs of depression in children and teenagers with dyspraxia.
Dyspraxia USA Foundation
Patino, E. Understanding Dyspraxia. Understood.org. Reviewed by R. Goldberg MD.
LeonardHC, Hill EL. Executive difficulties in development coordination disorder: Methodological issues and future directions. Current Developmental Disorders Reports. June 2015;2(2):141-149.
Hession CE, Eastwood B, Watterson D, et al. Therapeutic horse riding improves cognition, mood arousal, and ambulation in children with dyspraxia. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. January 2014;20(1):19-23.
Last reviewed 02/07/2019