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Dyspraxia affects a child's ability to organise, plan and coordinate actions, particularly movements. It's a disorder that affects how a child's nervous (or neurological) system processes information. Sometimes it can be tricky to spot the difficulties a child with dyspraxia has.

We all rely a lot on trial and error to learn new things. As we do things, our senses send messages to our brain about what is happening. The more we do something, the faster those messages become, until they're automatic.

But if a child has dyspraxia, the messages about moving and coordinating become muddled. This affects three processes:

Children with dyspraxia sometimes also have other conditions, such as dyslexia, autism spectrum disorder, and sensory processing disorder.

Symptoms of dyspraxia

One of the first things you might notice if your child has dyspraxia is that they find it difficult to learn new movements such as jumping, hopping and skipping.

Your child may also find it hard to do things that involve timing and coordination, such as kicking or throwing a ball. Once they have learned the basic skill, they might have difficulty doing it when something changes. For example, throwing a ball to someone who is moving.

Applying a skill to a new situation can also be difficult. For example, they may have learned to hold Lego pieces when playing, but not be able to hold a spoon or tie their shoelaces.

Typically, they may have difficulty with:

Your child may become frustrated because they find things so hard to do. They might be able to do something one day, then have trouble doing the same thing when asked the next day.

Causes of dyspraxia

We do not know exactly what causes dyspraxia, but it's thought genetics plays a part (it runs in families).

Diagnosing dyspraxia

If you think your child may have dyspraxia, the first step is to talk to your child's teacher. The teacher may have information about what help is available from the Ministry of Education. You can also contact the Ministry of Education directly.

Generally, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and speech language therapists do most of the assessment for dyspraxia. But your child's teacher can help you find out who your child can see. You can always discuss your child with your GP, who can help you find the right services. It's also a good idea to make sure your child's vision and hearing checks are up to date.

Helping my child with dyspraxia

A child with dyspraxia will need more time and practice when learning new skills, especially skills that require movement. They may find demonstrations of what to do very helpful. Visual instructions (such as photos or pictures of what to do) can also help.

When your child goes to school, it can help to have one of the health professionals working with them go with you to explain what difficulties they have. This may make it more likely that they get the support they need at school.

If they have difficulty with writing, make sure their seating is right, so their difficulties aren't made worse by poor posture. It can also be very helpful to find other ways for them to record their work and ideas, such as dictating to someone or using a computer.

There are community child development support services that can help. Your GP or child's school may also know what services are available for you and your child. You can also get information and practical support from the Dyspraxia Support Group.

Long-term effects of dyspraxia

Dyspraxia affects some people more than others – some people go through life without it ever being diagnosed. Most children with dyspraxia will have full, happy lives, especially if they have had good support as a child. People with dyspraxia tend to choose jobs and hobbies that suit their strengths, minimising the difficulties they face.

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Written by a private occupational therapist, Canterbury. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Page created August 2021.


Page reference: 375394

Review key: HICDG-40335