Dyspraxia is a term used to describe the sensory processing difficulty children and adults have when they struggle to plan and organise their movements. The term is commonly used to describe anyone who is clumsy or has poor coordination. In this post we discuss some of the common myths surrounding the term dyspraxia.
Myth 1 – My child is clumsy – they must have dyspraxia!
Dyspraxia was first described by Jean Ayres when she was outlining her theory of Sensory Integration. It is also one of the sensory issues included in the Lucy Miller’s Sensory Processing Disorder model. For occupational therapists there is much more to dyspraxia that just being clumsy.
The term dyspraxia originates from the latin ‘dux’ meaning difficult or bad and ‘praxis’ meaning action. So, in short, it is a ‘difficulty in doing actions’. In the sensory world we like to think of action as movement. So. if you’re dyspraxic you have poor ability with making actions happen.
Praxis includes three different areas or parts:
- Ideation: Ideation means coming up with an idea. Or having the idea of what to do. So, if you have a box of Lego in front of you, your idea might be to build a castle. If you have an empty paper towel roll, you might have an idea to turn it into a telescope.
- Planning: Planning is figuring out how to do your idea. With the Lego, you might decide you need all the long bricks to create the outline of your caste. Then you might plan where the doors will go and where to put the windows. Whilst building you are constantly figuring out which bricks to put where to bring your idea to life! With the paper towel roll, you need to organise its direction so you can look through it easily.
- Doing: Doing is the part where your body moves. So, for the Lego it involves using your fingers to put the brick together and having the ability to line to bricks up so that they fit. It includes making sure you press with the right amount of force (or proprioception). With your telescope, you need to move it into the correct position so you can see through it, whilst making sure you don’t poke your eye.
There must be difficulty with the ideation and/or planning
In order to have dyspraxia, sensory integration therapists would expect that there is difficulty with at least two of these areas. Some people with dyspraxia may have difficulty with all three areas. So, they are not just clumsy with their movements. They must also have difficulty either thinking of an idea of what to do and/or figuring out how to do it. If the child or adult only has difficulty with doing, then this would not meet the criteria for dyspraxia as described by Ayres. Children and adults with dyspraxia also have some difficulty with tactile discrimination. You can read more about what tactile discrimination is in our post ‘Everything you Need to Know about the Touch Sense.’
Myth 2 – Dyspraxia and DCD are the same thing
The terms Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) and dyspraxia are often used interchangeably. Children with DCD must have delays with their motor skills greater than would be expected for their age. Their difficulties need to affect all areas of their life, so both school and home. The delays in their motor skills must also not be due to another condition, such as cerebral palsy. It is recommended that this condition is not diagnosed until after the age of seven.
Where there is a difficulty with motor skill performance, or ‘doing’ only, DCD would be the most appropriate description of the child’s or adult’s difficulties. These children and adults will by clumsy with their movements but, unlike children with dyspraxia, they will know what they want to do and have an idea of how to do it. Their movements are typically poorly coordinated and clumsy, but they have the idea and the plan. Children with dyspraxia have difficulty with not just movement. They struggle to come up with ideas for and/or knowing how to plan their movements.
It is very common for children with dyspraxia to receive a diagnosis of DCD. This is, firstly, because children with dyspraxia typically meet the criteria for DCD and their motor skill ability is poor. Secondly, although the term dyspraxia is commonly used to describe motor planning difficulties and clumsiness, it does not exist as a formal diagnosis. It is not listed in the diagnostic manuals or in the international disease classification document. Therefore paediatricians and occupational therapists use the term DCD when giving a formal diagnosis, even if they refer to dyspraxia as well.
Why does this matter?!
For me, as an occupational therapist, the main reason this matters is because it is important to consider when helping children and adults with motor skill difficulties. If the child or adult only has challenges with the motor performance, then practising their motor skills will help improve their abilities. If, however, the child or adult has dyspraxia, they will also need support to develop their ability to think of ideas and/or how to plan what they will do.
This is very important to remember if you are the one helping a child or adult with dyspraxia. Firstly, they will need more help and time when learning new tasks. Secondly, they will not necessarily generalise (transfer) skills they have learnt from one activity to the next one. I have seen a child unable to transfer the skill of putting on his winter coat to putting on his autumn coat. Because the coats were different for him, it was like learning the skill of putting on a coat all over again. He was not being difficult or naughty; he genuinely could not transfer the skill.
Finally, they will need support to either come up with ideas, figure out how to plan their idea or both. This is different to children who have the idea and know what to do but have poor coordination and just need to work on their motor skills.
Myth 3 – If a child has dyslexia then they also have dyspraxia
Dyslexia refers to a difficulty with reading. It is completely different to dyspraxia. Children and adults with dyspraxia may also have dyslexia, but they are definitely not the same thing! You can read more about dyslexia here. Another term that is often confused with dyspraxia and dyslexia is dyscalculia. Dyscalculia refers to difficulty with numbers and mathematics. The three terms refer to three very different difficulties. All three can occur together but do need to be treated with different support strategies. Dyspraxia can often occur alongside other sensory processing difficulties, such as poor sensory modulation. It is also frequently present in children and adults with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.
Myth 4 – Children and adults who are dyspraxic can’t be good at sports
These children and adults often just need more practice than others! They will find the initial learning stage much more difficult than others do. However, with practice and clear instructions they can learn and also succeed at sports. It is just very important to find a patient coach or teacher and just make sure you allow more time for them to practice and learn. Their own motivation and confidence building is very important to help them to succeed.
How can I find out if my child is dyspraxic and how to help them?
Title Picture – Photo by Anna Kolosyuk on Unsplash
Girl with balloon – Photo by Gabriel Baranski on Unsplash
Football figure – Photo by Click and Boo on Unsplash
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