Question: My 12 year old son seems to be having so much more trouble than his brothers with easy things like catching a ball, riding a bike, and even cutting his food. He’s so smart, but feels dumb because he’s often doing silly things like dropping things. What do you think is going on?
Answer: This is such a great question! There are many children (and adults) who suffer from an undiagnosed condition called Dyspraxia. These are kids who seem to be accident-prone, clumsy or uncoordinated. Dyspraxia is officially called a developmental coordination disorder. The symptoms can be mild, moderate, or severe. Basically, these kids have difficulty planning and coordinating physical movement. There are lots of ways to help with dyspraxia at home as well as with teachers or tutors in other settings. Learning more about it can help you find the most effective solutions for your child.
Although dyspraxia isn’t as widely discussed as other conditions that impact learning, like dyslexia, it is actually very common. At least four times more boys than girls are affected (some researchers think as many as seven times).
For many children the symptoms are never diagnosed. Thus, dyspraxia is often called the “hidden or misunderstood problem”. This can be hard on the child, since he feels it is his fault.
One of the most puzzling parts of this disorder for both the child and the parent is that somewhere along the line, the messages are not getting through from the brain to the muscle but this occurs inconsistently. In the morning the message may have gone through, but later in the day the child cannot perform the same task. The plan has been lost somewhere. It may turn up again at another time. It can look like the child is just “not trying.”
Common Characteristics of Dyspraxia
Many parents are puzzled with the wide array of symptoms in their child. This difficulty with coordination and physical movement can affect them in different ways. No child has all the symptoms. The following symptoms can be mild (annoying), but not affect school or other performance greatly, or moderate (causing more difficulty), or even severe (making everyday expectations very difficult to accomplish) this is where teachers and tutors take notice:
- Gross Motor Symptoms
- learning to ride a bike is difficult
- jumping or skipping is hard
- sports are hard, often being the last to be picked for a team
- poor balance…drops things frequently
- rhythm…difficulty clapping in time to the music
- often does not work with his books in front of him…will push a notebook to the side to write in.
- constantly losing things
- Fine Motor Symptoms
- difficulty catching a ball
- difficulty crossing the midline
- messy eater…food and drink fly everywhere…using cutlery is hard
- grooming seems haphazard
- switches hands for activities (no dominant hand chosen)
- writing messy…no spacing. NOTE: Dysgraphia and Dyspraxia are very different, but they often have overlapping symptoms, such as spatial problems, messy writing, and writing reversals.
- difficulty writing quickly…note taking and copying is laborious
- Speech Symptoms
- apraxia of speech…difficulty with motor movements of the tongue and mouth
- dyspraxia often leads to lack of proper enunciation…slurring or mumbling speech
- Social Symptoms
- easily overwhelmed in group settings
“Life can be extremely tiring for dyspraxic children as they have to work harder than other children at seemingly ordinary activities. They have to approach each action as if it were a first-time try and concentrate when other children are moving easily, apparently without thought,” says Christine Macintyre, author of Dyspraxia in the Early years.
There is no one specific test to determine whether you child has dyspraxia. A doctor or physical or occupational therapist could evaluate your child’s muscle tone, coordination, throwing a ball, etc. They can help determine whether a child’s motor skills lag behind. However when parents carefully observe their child each day, these weaknesses have become all too apparent, especially when it begins to affect their schoolwork.
These children, who often have average or above average intelligence, struggle with the “output” in schoolwork and life that they would like.
There are lots of ways to help with dyspraxia at home and with outsourcing.
- You can seek Occupational Therapy or Physical Therapy to strengthen the muscles and improve balance in your child. These therapists can be found through your child’s pediatrician, or sometimes through your local school.
- If your child has difficulty with speech, you may want to seek Speech Therapy for improved mouth and tongue movement for clearer speech, especially for apraxia of speech which causes difficulty forming sounds.
- Home or with your Tutor
- Encourage non-competitive motor coordination at home by jumping on a trampoline, playing catch (with a parent), squeezing a ball for hand strength, practicing the keyboard. There are also many lists of this type of activities on the internet.
- Do easy home exercises that are specifically designed to integrate motor, sensory and language information. As many of these children have not internalized the “cross crawl” (crossing the midline) I have had my classroom and clinic students do specific exercises to make these important brain/body connections. These home visual/motor/perceptual exercises can be found in the Brain Integration Therapy Manual on my website. I have found significant benefits from doing these brain trainings. If you have time to do only one exercise a day, I would recommend the Visual/Motor/Spatial exercise. Most parents see their child’s ability to manage his space, have better balance, and be more connected with his body in a few months.
- Incorporate specific nutritional interventions that have shown to alleviate many of these puzzling symptoms. Research abounds showing that nutritional supplementation with long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids can help children with dyspraxia (as well as children with ADHD and Dyslexia). These fats are critical for brain health, and make a dramatic difference in the life of a child facing these learning/motor glitches. To find a detailed list of fatty acid supplements you may read Dr. Jacqueline Stordy’s book, The LCP Solution, or my article in the Old Schoolhouse Magazine, entitled, “Brain Fats for Learning.”