“Clumsy” or “uncoordinated” are just a couple of words that many parents use to describe their children who may later be diagnosed with Dyspraxia.
What is Dyspraxia?
Dyspraxia can be loosely defined as a difficulty in planning and coordinating movement. There are various terms used to describe Dyspraxia, including Developmental Co-ordination Disorder, Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia (DVD), Developmental Dyspraxia, and Childhood Apraxia of Speech.
Dyspraxia may relate to large movements (gross motor skills) or small movements (fine motor skills). It can also affect the muscles of the mouth, impacting on articulation and thus the clarity of speech. Dyspraxia may co-occur with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Language Disorders, Dyslexia or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Possible Symptoms of Dyspraxia
- Delayed developmental milestones (e.g. sitting, crawling, walking, talking)
- Feeding difficulties
- ‘Clumsy’ movements that result in bumps, trips and falls
- Excessive movements (fidgeting and difficulty sitting still)
- Poor Fine Motor Skills (e.g. difficulty holding a pencil to draw/write or use a knife/fork)
- Poor Gross Motor Skills (e.g. running, walking)
- Speech and Language difficulties
- Inconsistent articulation errors
- Difficulty completing tasks
- Difficulty planning and carrying out sequences of movements
Who can be affected by Dyspraxia?
Dyspraxia affects all ages. It can affect children as they develop, as well as adults who have had difficulties all of their lives. In addition, it can be a result of a neurological event (e.g. stroke or other types of acquired brain injuries). The Dyspraxia Foundation webpage is a good source of information for people with Dyspraxia.
Parents and Health/Educational Professionals are becoming increasingly aware of Dyspraxia and hence more children are being diagnosed at a younger age, allowing for early intervention to be put into place.
Tips for Dyspraxia:
There is no cure for Dyspraxia, but once identified, professionals can provide strategies to manage it.
Seek Assessment and Treatment
It is important to have a formal assessment if Dyspraxia is suspected. For gross motor coordination concerns, seek the support of a Physiotherapist. For fine motor coordination and sensory integration concerns, contact an Occupational Therapist. For feeding/speech/oral coordination concerns, see a Speech and Language Therapist.
Encourage Physical Activity
When people lack coordination, it is not uncommon for them to avoid sports such as those that require catching and batting skills. The unpredictable nature of a ball makes planning a response all the more difficult for someone with Dyspraxia. All types of physical activity should be encouraged, as it is a good way to direct both physical and emotional energy. It is important for individuals to experience success and not be so disheartened by sport that they reduce physical activity which could ultimately lead to health problems.
Boost Self Esteem
Self-esteem issues may arise within team sports in which one does not want to ‘let down the team’. A good alternative is to provide opportunities to participate in individual and non-competitive sports.
Activities such as swimming, cycling, and trampolining are popular with people with Dyspraxia. This is because the repetitive movements are more achievable. It is important to note however that people participating in these sports may not observe the skills acquired easily transfer to everyday activities. For example, physiotherapists will comment that skills achieved in water may not always be so easily generalised to ‘land’.
Balance and Core Stability
Any activity requiring balance skills increases the awareness of where one’s body is in space. Improving core stability makes balancing easier. This could be achieved by standing on an unstable balance board, using gym balls as chairs, or doing Pilates/yoga.
Soft Play Areas and Obstacle Courses
Soft play areas and playgrounds are perfect for establishing obstacle courses, which are a fun way for children to practise planning their physical movements. Obstacle courses can also be created at home (e.g. paper/cushions/doormats for ‘stepping stones’, dining chairs to commando crawl under or climb over, tables to crawl under, brooms suspended over buckets to step over, and rugs/mattresses on floor to roll over).
Fine Motor Skills
Encourage activities that promote fine motor skills, such as drawing/colouring pictures, writing stories, completing puzzles, sorting shapes, cutting/pasting, threading beads and creating with playdough.
Following an assessment, a Speech and Language Therapist can guide a tailored program for people with speech difficulties. In addition, people are taught specific exercises that improve the strength, range, speed and coordination of movements of the lips and tongue. Some general oral exercises that would be beneficial include:
- Sucking via a straw (whether it is functionally by drinking through a straw, or playing a game in which a straw is used to suck, lift and transfer sweets/crisps from one plate to another)
- Blowing through a straw (ping pong ball or cotton wool ball ‘football’)
- Blowing balloons, candles, whistles or party horns
- Singing rhymes such as “Pat a cake, pat a cake, baker’s man…,” which require a range of well coordinated lip and tongue movements
- Tongue Twisters (e.g. Dr Seuss books)
B.Sp.Path.(Hons) MSPAA CPSP, Cert. MRCSLT, MASLTIP, JP(Qual. Australia), Cert IV Life Coaching