A person with dyspraxia has problems with movement, coordination, judgment, processing, memory and some other cognitive skills. Dyspraxia also affects the body's immune and nervous systems.
Dyspraxia is also known as Motor Learning Difficulties, Perceptuo-Motor Dysfunction, and Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD). The terms Minimal Brain Damage and Clumsy Child Syndrome are no longer used.
According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities1, individuals with dyspraxia have difficulties in planning and completing fine motor tasks. This can range from simple motor movements, such as waving goodbye, to more complex ones like brushing one's teeth.
Contents of this article:
At the end of some of the sections you will see introductions to any recent developments that have been covered by MNT's news stories.
What is dyspraxia?
Individuals with dyspraxia often have language problems, and sometimes a degree of difficulty with thought and perception. Dyspraxia, however, does not affect the person's intelligence, although it can cause learning problems in children.
Developmental dyspraxia is an immaturity of the organization of movement. The brain does not process information in a way that allows for a full transmission of neural messages. A person with dyspraxia finds it difficult to plan what to do, and how to do it.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke2 (NINDS) describes people with dyspraxia as being "out of sync" with their environment.
Experts say that about 10% of people have some degree of dyspraxia, while approximately 2% have it severely. Four out of every 5 children with evident dyspraxia are boys. If the average classroom has 30 children, there is probably one child with dyspraxia in almost each classroom.
Daniel Radcliffe and dyspraxia
Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe, who has dyspraxia. Photo by Joella Marano
In an interview with the Daily Mail4 in 2008, Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe explained that he has dyspraxia and discussed what it is like to live with it. He said he went into acting partly because his dyspraxia meant he was not successful at school.
Radcliffe said, regarding tying shoelaces "Why, oh why, has Velcro not taken off?".
Radcliffe said he wanted to become an actor from the age of five, but his mother was against it. When he was nine, she finally allowed him to audition to play in a BBC version of the Dickens classic David Copperfield. He believes his mother ceded because she felt he needed a confidence boost. "I was having a hard time at school in terms of being c**p at everything, with no discernible talent." He won the part and David Copperfield became his first hit.
The meaning of dyspraxia
The English medical word dyspraxia comes from:
- The Greek word duspraxia, which means "dyspraxia".
- The Greek word duspraxia comes from the Greek word Praxis, meaning "to practice; (concretely) an act; by extension, a function".
- The Greek word Praxis comes from an older Greek word Prassein (prattein), meaning ""to pass through, experience, practice".
Symptoms of dyspraxia
Dyspraxia symptoms may vary based upon the age of the child. With that in mind, we will look at each age individually below.
Very early childhood
The child may take longer than other children to:
- Crawl - the Dyspraxia Foundation5 says that many never go through the crawling stage.
- Speak - according to the Children's Hospital at Westmead6, Australia, the child may be slower in answering questions, finds it hard to make sounds or repeat sequences of sounds or words, has difficulty in sustaining normal intonation patterns, has a very limited automatic vocabulary, speaks more slowly than other kids, and uses fewer words and more pauses.
- Become potty trained (get out of diapers/nappies).
- Build up vocabulary.
Later on the following difficulties may become apparent:
Tying shoelaces can be a difficult task for children suffering with dyspraxia.
- Problems performing subtle movements, such as tying shoelaces, doing up buttons and zips, using cutlery, handwriting.
- Many will have difficulties getting dressed.
- Problems carrying out playground movements, such as jumping, playing hopscotch, catching a ball, kicking a ball, hopping, and skipping.
- Problems with classroom movements, such as using scissors, coloring, drawing, playing jig-saw games.
- Problems processing thoughts.
- Difficulties with concentration. Children with dyspraxia commonly find it hard to focus on one thing for long.
- The child finds it harder than other kids to join in playground games.
- The child will fidget more than other children.
- Some find it hard to go up and down stairs.
- A higher tendency to bump into things, to fall over, and to drop things.
- Difficulty in learning new skills - while other children may do this automatically, a child with dyspraxia takes longer. Encouragement and practice help enormously.
- Writing stories can be much more challenging for a child with dyspraxia, as can copying from a blackboard.
The following are also common at pre-school age:
- Finds it hard to keep friends
- Behavior when in the company of others may seem unusual
- Hesitates in most actions, seems slow
- Does not hold a pencil with a good grip
- Such concepts as in, out, in front of are hard to handle automatically.
Later on in Childhood
- Many of the challenges listed above do not improve, or do so very slightly
- Tries to avoid sports and PE
- Learns well on a one-on-one basis, but nowhere near as well in class with other kids around
- Reacts to all stimuli equally (not filtering out irrelevant stimuli automatically)
- Mathematics and writing are difficult
- Spends a long time getting writing done
- Does not follow instructions
- Does not remember instructions
- Is badly organized.
Social and sensory - individuals with dyspraxia may be extremely sensitive to taste, light, touch and/or noise.
There may also be a lack of awareness of potential dangers. Many experience moods swings and display erratic behavior.
Researchers at the University of Bolton7 in England say that there is often a tendency to take things literally "(the child) may listen but not understand."
Causes of dyspraxia
Scientists do not know what causes it. Experts believe the person's nerve cells that control muscles (motor neurons) are not developing correctly. If motor neurons cannot form proper connections, for whatever reasons, the brain will take much longer to process data.
Experts at the Disability and Dyslexia Service8 at the Queen Mary University of London say that studies suggest dyspraxia may be caused by an immaturity of neuron development in the brain, rather than any specific brain damage.
A report from the University of Hull9 in England says that dyspraxia is "probably hereditary: several genes have been implicated. Often, there are many members within a family who are similarly affected."
Recent developments on dyspraxia from MNT news
A study carried out by researchers at Orebro University Hospital, Sweden, indicated that poor physical coordination during childhood is linked to a higher risk of obesity later in life.
One study carried out at Children's Hospital Boston, USA, found that when there was injury to the cerebrum among premature babies; the cerebellum failed to grow to a normal size. The cerebellum grows rapidly late in gestation - much faster than the cerebral hemispheres - premature birth arrests this surge in development. Premature babies with cerebellum problems are likely to have deficits that extend beyond motor, and may benefit from early intervention.
A study by scientists at the Universite Laval, Canada found that mothers who take omega-3 during the last months of pregnancy will boost their child's motor and cognitive development.
A study carried out at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that fetal heart rates give clues to children's later development during toddler years.
If a person develops dyspraxia later in life it is usually due to traumas suffered by the brain after a stroke, accident or illness. If a person is born with dyspraxia, it is also known as Developmental Dyspraxia.
On the next page we look at the diagnosis of dyspraxia, available treatments to help people with the condition and we feature a video focusing on the life of a child with dyspraxia.