Dyspraxia is a condition where you find it hard to coordinate and complete movements. Therapy helps, as does family support.

Dyspraxia is a neurodevelopmental (brain development) disorder that affects your motor skills and coordination. The condition, most often diagnosed in childhood, is not a physical, behavioral, or learning disorder — though it often coexists with one.

Dyspraxia involves developmental delays in the following motor skills:

  • movement
  • balance
  • coordination

Family members may notice the signs when a child is very young, such as trouble with physical tasks like drawing, writing, jumping, or running.

Children with dyspraxia will benefit from occupational, physical, and sometimes psychological therapy to help manage the symptoms. Coordinating care as a team can help everyone involved — including the child, their family, and school staff — to better understand and work with the condition.

Dyspraxia is a disorder that affects your ability to execute motor skills (gross and fine) and your coordination. The symptoms of dyspraxia can be seen as clumsiness, and it used to be known as “clumsy child syndrome.”

Dyspraxia is also known as developmental coordination disorder (DCD), a term that’s gaining wider use.

According to a 2007 report, dyspraxia affects between 6% and 10% of children. The report estimates that 2% have severe symptoms and another 10% have milder symptoms.

The condition often occurs simultaneously with at least one other learning or developmental disorder. Among the most common comorbidities are:

Children develop motor skills at different rates throughout childhood. A child with dyspraxia will show consistent motor weakness over time and across a variety of skills — both fine and gross motor skills.

The signs of dyspraxia during childhood may include:

  • delays in crawling and walking
  • difficulties with fine motor skills, such as holding utensils and pencils, fastening zippers and buttons, and holding scissors
  • coordination issues that make it difficult to jump or catch a ball
  • general irritability
  • awkward body positions
  • difficulties with handwriting and typing
  • feeding or sleeping problems

Dyspraxia is not the only cause of developmental delays. If you think your child may have delayed development, it’s important to speak with a medical or mental health professional to work out the cause so you can find the best treatment.

The precise cause of dyspraxia is unclear, but experts believe it may be due to variations in how the neurons in the brain develop.

However, there are some known risk factors for the disorder:

  • Sex: Males are affected by dyspraxia up to 4 times as often as females, according to a 2007 study.
  • Birth weight: Low birth weight and premature birth are also significant risk factors for the development of dyspraxia.
  • Genetics: A 2021 study found some genes that could reveal information about the biology of dyspraxia.

Before diagnosing dyspraxia, a doctor should rule out any other physical or neurological causes. They may test the child’s hearing and vision to rule out sensory causes. They will also test:

  • motor skills
  • cognitive skills
  • strength
  • balance
  • coordination

Your child may be asked to draw, color a picture in a coloring book, trace shapes, or string beads to assess their fine motor skills.

The doctor may ask you about when your child hit certain milestones, or when you became concerned about missed milestones. They may ask you and your child about their school and home life.

The following professionals can diagnose dyspraxia in children:

  • pediatrician
  • developmental pediatrician
  • child psychiatrist
  • pediatric neuropsychologist

Sometimes, one or more experts will work together on your child’s diagnosis.

Dyspraxia doesn’t have a cure. A small number of children grow out of dyspraxia symptoms, but a majority will be affected by the condition throughout their lives.

With the right support, people can better manage the symptoms. There are several treatment options, and the right one will depend on several factors, such as the severity of the condition and comorbidities.

Occupational therapy

Occupational therapy is the first line of treatment for dyspraxia.

The focus is on improving the child’s fine motor skills. This means that they will practice the desired skill over and over until there’s an improvement. These skills might include handwriting, using scissors, tying shoes, and using buttons and zippers.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy may also help with dyspraxia, focusing on improving gross motor skills.

As with occupational therapy, much of physical therapy is task-focused. Improving balance and overall muscle tone are two important focuses of physical therapy for dyspraxia.

Speech therapy

Children with dyspraxia often have other learning difficulties, including speech or language impairments.

A speech therapist can work with your child to help them find ways to communicate. This might involve lip or tongue exercises, breathing control, and practicing making certain sounds.

Psychological treatment

Psychological treatment can help children build self-esteem, which helps them cope with their motor difficulties and delays in school.

Psychological support has become a key part of treatment for dyspraxia in recent years.

Children with dyspraxia may experience bullying, low self-esteem, and anxiety. Treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) can support them in these experiences.

Group therapy, where children can meet others with dyspraxia who may be able to share tips and coping skills, can also help.

School programs

It can help to involve your child’s school in their treatment plan.

Some children with dyspraxia will benefit from either an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or 504 plan in school.

Those plans may allow your child to receive occupational or physical therapy at school, which may be less disruptive to them and your family than traveling for services.

A note on IEP/504 plans

The difference between an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and a 504 plan is the amount of accommodation your child might need for success in school.

It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of this decision for your child. These programs tend to stay on a child’s record as they move from school to school.

You can learn more about these plans and their differences here.

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Parental help and involvement

If your child has dyspraxia, know that resources are available to help you and your child cope with the condition.

As you support your child through the diagnosis you might want to seek out a support group or social media group for parents of children with the same condition.

Getting a formal diagnosis and school support is invaluable for both you and your child. Getting support from others in a similar situation can also help.

For your child, having someone to talk with about living with dyspraxia, whether one-on-one or in a group setting, may help them work through the realities of the diagnosis and learn coping skills, as well as tips and tricks for managing both in school and at home.

For you, talking with other parents, in person or online, can help you learn strategies for putting together a care team and navigating education services at your child’s school. You may also find relief through talking with others who have had similar experiences.