What is dyspraxia?
Dyspraxia can affect any or all areas of development – intellectual, emotional, physical, language, social and sensory – and may impair a person’s normal process of learning. Usually, it’s said to be an impairment or immaturity of the organisation of movement, but associated with this may be problems of language, perception and thought.
Problems arise in the process of forming ideas, motor planning and execution, since people with dyspraxia have poor understanding of the messages their senses convey and difficulty relating those messages to actions.
This means physical activities are hard to learn, difficult to retain, and hesitant and awkward in performance.
Dyspraxia affects each person in different ways and at different stages of development. How an individual is affected is inconsistent, too. For example, one day they may be able to perform a specific task, the next day they can’t.
Causes of dyspraxia
Anything that injures the brain may result in dyspraxia. It may be that cells didn’t develop properly during a baby’s development in the womb, or that a lack of oxygen during birth was responsible. It may follow brain damage caused by illness, stroke or an accident later in life. Often, however, there’s no obvious cause.
Symptoms of dyspraxia
Children with dyspraxia may be late in reaching milestones, and may not be able to run, hop or jump, for example, when their friends can. They may find it hard to walk up and down stairs, and may not be able to dress easily. Their speech may be immature or unintelligible in their early years. Language may be impaired or late to develop.
At school, a child with dyspraxia may have difficulty with maths and writing stories. They may avoid games, be slow at dressing and unable to tie shoelaces, be poorly organised or have a short attention span. They may find it hard to remember and follow instructions. Poor handwriting is one of the most common symptoms.
Adults with dyspraxia often find routine daily tasks such as personal grooming, driving and household chores challenging. They may find it hard to cope at work and opt out of doing things they find difficult. They may experience problems riding bicycles and playing certain sports, such as those that involve using a bat. Their gait may be clumsy.
Dyspraxia is often described as a hidden problem, because children with the condition appear no different to those who don’t have it.
Up to ten per cent of the population may show symptoms of dyspraxia, with around two per cent being severely affected. Males are four times more likely to be affected than females. Dyspraxia sometimes runs in families.
Treatments for dyspraxia
It’s not possible to cure dyspraxia, but those affected can learn ways to get around their difficulties so they can achieve their full potential.
This involves a team approach, using the skills of many different specialists. These may include occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, psychologists and specialist teachers, according to the specific needs of the individual.
These specialists should offer advice and exercises to help the person with dyspraxia learn how to perform problematic daily tasks and activities, and to develop reading and writing skills. They may also offer advice about behaviour modification.