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Dyspraxia, a type of developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD), is a disability that affects affects basic motor skills (such as walking or sitting upright) and fine motor skills (such as writing or picking up small objects) in children and adults.
It is a condition that will last for life and is recognised by international organisations, including the World Health Organization. Read more about dyspraxia in adults.
Although the exact causes of dyspraxia in children are unknown, it is thought to be caused by a disruption in the way messages from the brain are transmitted to the body.
Dyspraxia is characterised by difficulty in planning smooth, co-ordinated movements. This leads to clumsiness and lack of co-ordination. Often, it can lead to problems with language, perception and thought.
The symptoms of dyspraxia in children are normally noticeable from an early age. The condition used to be known as clumsy child syndrome.
Dyspraxia is more common in boys and sometimes runs in families. It may also occur alongside other conditions, such as:
Many children with dyspraxia also have ADHD.
It is hard to estimate exactly how many children are affected by dyspraxia. Some studies have argued around one in 50 children are affected. Others think the true figure could be as high as one in 12.
Read more about diagnosing dyspraxia in children.
There is no cure for dyspraxia, but a number of therapies can make it easier for the child to cope with their problems. These include:
For children with mild problems, these may disappear as they grow up. However, up to nine out of 10 children with dyspraxia will continue to have difficulties as a teenager and adult.
Having dyspraxia does not change how intelligent a child is, but it does affect their learning ability. They may need extra help at school to keep up with classmates.
Read more information about how dyspraxia in children is treated.
Problems caused by dyspraxia, a type of developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD), may be visible from an early stage.
An early sign of dyspraxia may be that your child does not reach the normal stages of development. For example, they may take slightly longer than expected to:
Your child's speech may be very immature or impossible to understand in their early years, and language and vocabulary skills may take longer to develop.
As your child gets older, they may find it harder than other children of the same age to join in playground games and to perform fine (detailed) movements, such as handwriting. They may also have difficulty processing thoughts and concentrating.
Some children may also start to avoid activities at home or school to avoid feeling embarrassed in front of friends or family.
If your child has dyspraxia, they will have problems with movement and co-ordination. They may find the following difficult:
A child with dyspraxia may also bump into objects or drop things, and may fall over a lot. This makes them appear awkward and clumsy.
If your child has dyspraxia, they will have difficulty concentrating and learning. They may:
These problems can be upsetting for the child.
As your child gets older, these problems may start to have a different effect on them. For example, problems with muscle movement may mean they:
Your child may also have low self-esteem (the way they feel about themselves) as a result of these problems.
Sometimes, dyspraxia may be confused with other, similar conditions. However, dyspraxia is different to:
Dyspraxia specifically relates to the development of a child’s motor skills (their ability to make smooth, co-ordinated movements).
Children with dyspraxia may also have other conditions, such as:
Little is known about the cause of dyspraxia, a type of developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD).
Performing smooth, planned movements involves a number of different processes, including using your senses to plan movements. All the information is then processed by the wiring in your central nervous system (brain, nerves and spinal cord).
Dyspraxia is a disability that affects movement and co-ordination. People with the condition have a problem with the processes in the brain that help co-ordinate movement. This means they are unable to perform movements in a smooth, co-ordinated way.
Dyspraxia may be caused by motor neurones in the brain not developing properly. Motor neurones are specialised nerve cells that pass signals from your brain to your muscles, allowing you to move them.
It is thought that motor neurones in people with dyspraxia fail to form proper connections and are less effective at transmitting electrical signals from the brain to the muscles.
Sometimes, the electrical signal from the brain does not reach the muscle at all and your muscles fail to respond to requests from your brain to move.
Although it is not known what causes dyspraxia, there may be a link between dyspraxia and:
The earlier your child is diagnosed with dyspraxia, a type of developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD), the greater their chances of improvement.
Talk to your doctor, health visitor or special needs co-ordinator if you think your child has dyspraxia. They may refer your child to another healthcare professional who cannot confirm the diagnosis by themselves, but can provide additional information to help with the diagnosis process.
These may include:
Other doctors who may be involved include a neurodevelopmental paediatrician or a paediatric neurologist. These are paediatricians (see above) who also specialise in the development of the central nervous system (the brain, nerves and spinal cord).
A neurologist can also rule out other neurological conditions (conditions that affect the brain and nervous system) that may be causing your child’s symptoms.
After your child has been referred, the healthcare professionals involved will carry out an assessment. The assessment will usually involve a detailed account of your child's:
There will also be tests of your child’s gross and fine motor (movement) skills:
These skills will be tested by asking your child to carry out physical activities, such as throwing a ball or completing some handwriting. The healthcare professionals will be able to determine whether your child’s motor skills are abnormal for what is usually expected for children of their age and intellectual ability.
Since the mid-1990s, dyspraxia has been diagnosed using the following criteria:
Your child may be diagnosed with dyspraxia if they match all these criteria.
Dyspraxia (a type of developmental co-ordination disorder) cannot be cured. However, there are ways to teach your child to cope with their problems. It is important a proper diagnosis is made, as your child may have a greater chance of improvement if treatment is started early.
A small group of children, usually those with mild symptoms of clumsiness, may ‘grow out’ of their symptoms. However, as many as 9 out of 10 children will continue to be affected as a teenager and an adult.
Once dyspraxia has been diagnosed, treatment is available from a variety of specialists (see below). This, combined with extra help at school, can help your child overcome many difficulties.
A number of healthcare professionals may be involved in your child’s care, including:
This therapy involves identifying problem areas in your child’s everyday life, and working out practical solutions.
Your child’s occupational therapist will watch your child at home, at school and when playing to identify when your child experiences problems. For example, your child may have difficulty:
Your child’s occupational therapist can then work out ways around the problem, for example by breaking the action down into small steps and practising individual movements. Alternatively your child may need some physical aids, such as crutches to help them walk, or a stairlift fitted at home.
Read more information about occupational therapy.
Dyspraxia affects co-ordination, which includes co-ordinating muscles used to speak. Speech and language therapy may be useful if your child has problems with speech. For example, your child may:
A speech and language therapist will:
The therapist will arrange a programme to address your child’s needs. This may involve:
With speech and language therapy, your child could learn to manage their disability.
Treatment may also involve perceptual motor training. This is a set of tasks that cover:
Your child may be given a graduated series of exercises to develop these skills. Each exercise is difficult enough to challenge your child but not so difficult that they become frustrated.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.