What is Developmental Dyspraxia?
Developmental dyspraxia is a disorder that causes problems with planning and completing motor tasks. Symptoms may also include difficulties with balance, coordination, and sensory impairment. Complications of the condition often include behavioral, social, emotional, and learning difficulties.
The term developmental dyspraxia is often used interchangeably with Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), a diagnosable condition that affects physical coordination and movement. Some experts make a distinction between the two conditions, but their symptoms and treatments are largely similar.
Symptoms of Developmental Dyspraxia
Developmental dyspraxia primarily affects movement and coordination, but its symptoms may include a wide range of impairments in many different areas. Common effects of the disorder can include:
- Poor balance
- Poor coordination
- Poor hand-eye coordination
- Frequent stumbling or other signs of clumsiness
- Problems planning the steps necessary in physical tasks
- Poor organizational skills
- Poor fine-motor skills such as handwriting
- Poor posture
- Poor short-term memory
- Sensitivity to sensory stimuli such as noises or touch
- Speech difficulties
- Social awkwardness
- Behavioral problems
- Emotional problems
- Learning disabilities despite normal or above-average intelligence
What Causes Developmental Dyspraxia?
Scientists don’t know what causes dyspraxia. People with the disorder don’t show any neurological abnormalities that would explain their difficulties with motor function. Researchers think that nerve cells in the brain may develop incorrectly, making them unable to communicate with other cells the way they should. The factors that trigger abnormal neuron development and the precise nature of the abnormality remain unknown.
Is Developmental Dyspraxia Hereditary?
Developmental dyspraxia appears to run in families. Often, several family members are affected, and people with a family history of the disorder are more likely to have the condition themselves. This suggests that the condition has a genetic component, but researchers have not yet discovered a gene or genes that are definitely associated with dyspraxia.
How Is Developmental Dyspraxia Detected?
Early signs of dyspraxia may emerge in infancy. The earliest symptoms can include:
- Delays in motor milestones such as sitting, crawling, standing, and walking
- Delays in language development or problems making certain sounds
Signs of dyspraxia in later childhood can include:
- Problems with coordination and balance
- Difficulties with physical activities such as running, skipping
- Problems with fine-motor tasks such as dressing, shoe-tying, writing, or drawing
- Social awkwardness
- Problems with concentration or attention span
How Is Developmental Dyspraxia Diagnosed?
A medical doctor or psychologist typically diagnoses dyspraxia or DCD. A medical examination is vital to rule out other possible causes of motor symptoms. To make a diagnosis, the practitioner will look for several diagnostic criteria, including:
- The child’s motor skills and ability to learn new skills are below the expected level for their age.
- The child’s difficulties with motor skills have a significant negative impact on their daily functioning.
- The onset of the motor difficulties occurred early in development.
- The motor difficulties are not explained by other conditions such as sensory impairment, neurological disorders, or intellectual delays.
After diagnosis by a medical doctor, assessments by specialists such as occupational or physical therapists can identify the best course of treatment for the child’s specific challenges.
PLEASE CONSULT A PHYSICIAN FOR MORE INFORMATION.
How Is Developmental Dyspraxia Treated?
There is no cure for dyspraxia. Treatment of the disorder focuses on helping the child find ways to lessen the impact of symptoms.
Common treatment approaches include:
- Physical therapy to improve impairments in coordination and balance
- Occupational therapy to assist the child in accomplishing daily tasks and routines
- Special education to deal with learning disabilities
How Does Developmental Dyspraxia Progress?
At one time, doctors believed that dyspraxia was simply the sign of a “clumsy child,” and the consensus assumption was that the child would grow out of the clumsiness in adulthood. However, the current understanding is that the symptoms of dyspraxia typically continue into adulthood. With the lingering symptoms comes the risk of secondary emotional, social, and health problems indirectly caused by the disorder.
Long-term complications of dyspraxia and DCD can include:
- Difficulty planning and organizing daily activities at home and work
- Health problems related to poor posture
- Chronic fatigue
- Short-term memory deficiency
- Sleep disruption
- Difficulty maintaining relationships
- Depression or anxiety
How Is Developmental Dyspraxia Prevented?
The cause of developmental dyspraxia and DCD is unknown. Consequently, there is no known way to prevent the disorder from occurring. Scientists have not identified any genetic markers that could predict when a child is at risk of the condition. It is also unclear whether any environmental risk factors might trigger the disorder.
Some risk factors may increase the chances of a particular child developing the disorder. These factors include:
- Low birth weight
- Premature birth
- Mother’s use of alcohol or drugs during pregnancy
Because the disorder appears to run in families, those with a family history of dyspraxia should be alert to the signs of the condition in their children.
Developmental Dyspraxia Caregiver Tips
- Learn how to help your child. There are many ways that you can help your child build motor skills. Developing strategies such as using visual cues to guide your child through daily activities can help, as can encouraging your child to participate in activities that develop fine-motor skills, such as video games and puzzles.
- Advocate for your child. Be prepared to educate teachers and others in your community about the challenges your child faces.
- Online support groups put you in touch with other people who know what it’s like to live with dyspraxia.
Developmental Dyspraxia Brain Science
Scientists do not all agree on whether dyspraxia should be considered a medical or social disorder. So far, research has not found a neurological cause of the condition. Most definitions of dyspraxia and DCD characterize the disorder as motor control difficulties not caused by physical, neurological, or intellectual impairments.
Scientists are also attempting to sort out the differences between developmental dyspraxia and DCD and other disorders, such as dyslexia and attention-deficit disorder, that often coincide with dyspraxia.
Developmental Dyspraxia Research
Title: DCD & ASD Imaging Intervention Study
Principal investigator: Jill G. Zwicker, PhD
University of British Columbia
Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a child’s ability to learn motor skills, such as tying shoelaces, learning to print, or riding a bicycle (APA 2013). It often co-occurs with other conditions, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Its high co-occurrence with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has only been permitted since 2013, so it is less well known. Recent neuroimaging studies have begun to unravel the neural underpinnings of each disorder; however, few brain imaging studies have included children with co-occurring DCD and ASD. The first aim of the proposed project is to understand brain structure and function in children with DCD+/-ASD. Despite the high co-occurrence of DCD and ASD (Green 2009), motor impairment and functional problems are rarely the focus of therapy for children with ASD. The current best practice for improving motor function is a cognitive orientation to Occupational Performance (CO-OP). The second aim of this study is to examine the effectiveness of this treatment approach for children with DCD+ASD and determine if there are brain changes and improvements in motor skills as a result of an intervention. This novel project is the first to integrate brain imaging and motor-based rehabilitation in this population and builds on a current study examining brain changes in children with DCD (with and without co-occurring ADHD). Examining the neural basis of these motor difficulties in the presence or absence of co-occurring conditions will help determine the neural correlations specific to DCD and whether the response to treatment differs in children with co-occurring conditions.
Title: tDCS and Motor Learning in Children With DCD
Principal Investigator: Jill G. Zwicker, Ph.D., OT
University of British Columbia
Children with a neurodevelopmental condition called developmental coordination disorder (DCD) struggle to learn motor skills and perform daily activities, such as tying shoelaces, printing, riding a bicycle, or playing sports. Evidence suggests that motor-based interventions combined with non-invasive brain stimulation to the motor cortex (transcranial direct-current stimulation, tDCS) have effectively improved motor skills in children with cerebral palsy and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Still, few studies have examined tDCS in children with DCD. The purpose of this randomized, blinded, sham-controlled interventional trial is to explore the effectiveness of anodal tDCS over M1 combined with a motor learning task in increasing motor skill learning in children with DCD.
Title: Development of Children With DCD Before the Age of Six
Principal Investigator: Amy Roubaix
This study aims to map the early development of children with DCD and compare it to typically developing (TD) children.
At first, we will investigate to what extent motor delay, reduced force, higher BMI, behavioral, ADL, and participation problems occur in toddlerhood in DCD children and how this relates to TD children. We will also look into the evolution of these parameters in time (stability of development).
Secondly, we will explore if the diagnosis of DCD can be predicted using a standardized test before the age of five.