What is Dyspraxia?


Movement Matters, an umbrella organization representing major national groups in the UK that represent people with coordination difficulties, offers the following definition:

Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), also known as dyspraxia, is a common disorder affecting fine and/or gross motor coordination in children and adults. DCD is formally recognised by international organisations including the World Health Organisation. DCD is distinct from other motor disorders such as cerebral palsy and stroke and occurs across the range of intellectual abilities. Individuals may vary in how their difficulties present: these may change over time depending on environmental demands and life experiences and will persist into adulthood.

An individual’s coordination difficulties may affect participation and functioning of everyday life skills in education, work and employment. Children may present with difficulties with self-care, writing, typing, riding a bike and play as well as other educational and recreational activities. In adulthood many of these difficulties will continue, as well as learning new skills at home, in education and work, such as driving a car and DIY. There may be a range of co-occurring difficulties which can also have serious negative impacts on daily life. These include social and emotional difficulties as well as problems with time management, planning and personal organisation, and these may also affect an adult’s education or employment experiences.

The Dyspraxia Foundation adds to the Movement Matters description, recognising the many non-motor difficulties that may also be experienced by people with the condition and which can have a significant impact on daily life activities. These include memory, perception and processing as well as additional problems with planning, organising and carrying out movements in the right order in everyday situations. Although dyspraxia may occur in isolation, it frequently coexists with other conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, language disorders and social, emotional and behavioural impairments.

The Dyspraxia Foundation also provides support to people affected by verbal dyspraxia (also known as ‘childhood apraxia of speech’) which can occur alongside motor coordination difficulties, or as a separate condition. A definition and information about verbal dyspraxia is provided separately.
Dyspraxia Foundation (2015)

What causes Dyspraxia?

For the majority of those with the condition, there is no known cause. Current research suggests that it is due to an immaturity of neurone development in the brain rather than to brain damage. People with dyspraxia have no clinical neurological abnormality to explain their condition.

Indicators of Dyspraxia?

The pre-school child

  • Is late in reaching milestones eg rolling over, sitting, standing, walking and speaking
  • May not be able to run, hop, jump, or catch or kick a ball, although their peers can 
  • Has difficulty in keeping friends or judging how to behave in company
  • Has little understanding of concepts such as ‘in’, ‘on’, ‘in front of’ etc
  • Has difficulty in walking up and down stairs
  • Poor at dressing
  • Slow and hesitant in most actions
  • Appears not to be able to learn anything instinctively but must be taught skills
  • Falls over frequently
  • Poor pencil grip
  • Cannot do jigsaws or shape sorting games
  • Artwork is very immature
  • Often anxious and easily distracted

The primary school age child

  • Probably still has all the difficulties experienced by the pre-school child with dyspraxia
  • Avoids PE and games
  • Difficulty with dressing and undressing eg tying shoe laces, tie, buttons 
  • Does badly in class but significantly better on a one-to -one basis
  • Reacts to all stimuli without discrimination and attention span is poor
  • May have trouble with maths and writing structured stories
  • Experiences great difficulty in copying from the blackboard
  • Writes laboriously and immaturely
  • Unable to remember and /or follow instructions
  • Is generally poorly organised

The secondary school age child

  • Movements appear awkward, motor skills remain delayed in around 50% 
  • Continue to have difficulties with P.E /games and using sport equipment 
  • Difficulty with handwriting, both speed and style
  • Poor fine motor skills: manipulating classroom equipment eg in maths and science 
  • Difficulty judging speed & distance 
  • Poor spatial awareness 
  • Poor stamina
  • Difficulties with organisational skills/handing in homework, losing work, etc
  • Poor short-term memory/copying skills
  • Poor social skills – at risk of social isolation/bullying 
  • Difficulty adapting to new situations 
  • Literal use of language


Strategies to support a student with dyspraxia


In the Classroom (Primary and Secondary)

  • the child may need supervision and encouragement to stay on a task 
  • ensure good seating – it should allow the child to rest both feet flat on the floor and the child be encouraged to sit with upright posture 
  • identify and focus on teaching necessary play skills: turn-taking, negotiating, etc
  • introduce a circle of friends or buddy system to help build relationships
  • make prepared recording sheets available to reduce the quantity of handwriting required and write out homework for the child if necessary 
  • break down activities/tasks into small components 
  • never give the child more than 3 -4 instructions at one time and ensure that they are prepared for the instructions before they are given. Be prepared to repeat instructions several times give as much encouragement and positive feedback as possible. It is vital that the child does not lose their self-esteem 
  • allow extra time for the completion of a task
  • encourage the student to practise their typing skills and to produce work on the computer. Liaise with the relevant medical professionals for further advice in the classroom and PE setting, especially with regard to specialist equipment
  • give homework at the start of the lesson 
  • collect the planners of students who need help at the start of the lesson and write homework down for them. 
  • help the student to set up a timetable to show when homework should be handed in
  • advise the student precisely how they should set out their work and how they should organise their files and folders, both their hard copies and computer folders
  • give clear guidance for the organisation of essays and assignments, eg by using a PowerPoint slide for each section or unit
  • give clear guidance for time management
  • during group work, ensure that the student with dyspraxia is included
  • work with parents to set up a system at home so the individual can plan ahead, particularly for course work.
  • suggest suitable time limits for an individual to spend on homework 
  • for important messages, contact parents directly 
  • encourage individuals to put messages and letters into a clear plastic wallet.