This article is going to cover what dyspraxia is, symptoms, and whether or not there is a possible link between dyspraxia and autism spectrum disorders. Although there will be discussion about this condition, it is always recommended to talk to your child’s doctor for information related to dyspraxia and any questions or concerns about your children.
There’s no question that children use their fine and gross motor skills in daily life. When they are struggling with these skills, problems can arise, as well as unnecessary stress.
The good news is that your child’s doctor should have information that they can share with you if you have concerns. If they don’t have the answers or support that you are looking for, they can refer you to someone who does.
What is dyspraxia?
Dyspraxia is a neurological disorder that can affect:
- fine motor skills
- gross motor skills
- how the person perceives and remembers
- processing of information
- cognitive functions
Dyspraxia can manifest in different ways in different people. One part of dyspraxia is developmental coordination disorder (DCD).
Developmental coordination disorder:
- also called motor clumsiness
- typically starts developing during early developmental stages
- struggle with fine and gross motor skills compared to peers
- can find daily tasks difficult, like tying shoelaces
In the United States, children go to well child visits where parents typically fill out a form about their child’s development. Doctors and therapists will look at this form and compare it to typical developmental milestones.
If a child has started showing signs of delay in their motor skills and other developmental milestones, the doctor can see this by looking at the questionnaire the parents fill out and examining the child. Although not completely full-proof, this questionnaire has become a valuable child development tracking tool.
This tool can help with the diagnosis of dyspraxia or developmental coordination disorders. These diagnoses can start in early childhood all the way up to adulthood, depending on the individual.
Although dyspraxia is not any of the categorized learning disabilities. It can affect how an individual learns and participates in school, social interactions, and can even follow an individual into their career and other professional ventures.
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What are the symptoms?
Dyspraxia symptoms can show up as early as infancy and present themselves differently at each stage. Below are some examples in different stages of life:
- more consistent irritability
- eating difficulties
- continued above symptoms
- delays with gross and fine motor development and skills
- motor impairment as with hand-eye coordination (hair brushing)
- difficulty with motor planning
- continued difficulty with gross and fine motor control
- muscle development
- speech delays
- difficulty writing
- difficulty with memory
- difficulty understanding social cues
School age and beyond
- controlling motor skills
- more memory difficulties
- speech skills
- language development
- difficulty with executive functioning skills (planning, self-control, etc.)
- possible emotional reactions and responses (depression, anxiety, etc.)
- phobias and erratic fears
Are there similarities to autistic symptoms?
There are many symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorders. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the three categories are:
- Social interaction and communication difficulties including (but not limited to):
*avoiding eye contact
*not responding to verbal cues, like name being called
*difficulty displaying emotions
*not participating in pretend play
*not interacting with or responding to music through singing, dancing, and/or acting it out
- Restrictive and/or repetitive behaviors and interests:
*hand flapping, spinning, and other stimming activities
*hyper focus on one subject or item (trains, dinosaurs, etc.)
*not flexible with schedule and/or play
*strong or unusual reactions to sensory experiences
- Other actions and activities like:
*delay in speech, social/emotional, and physical development
*gastrointestinal issues (upset stomach, food allergies, etc.)
*overly fearful or lack of fear in situations
*sensory processing differences
*comorbid diagnoses like dyslexia, dyscalculia, etc.
There are more, the symptoms listed are only a start in order to discuss some similarities there may be between dyspraxia and autistic traits. When looking at all the symptoms between dyspraxia and autism, I noticed that it is mainly social skills and large and small motor skills development.
That would be an oversimplification of comparing the two types of diagnoses. It is always dependent on the individual who has been diagnosed and the needs that they have.
What treatment and therapies are available for autism spectrum disorder and dyspraxia?
The main therapy that is available for dyspraxia is occupational therapy. That is because, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
“Occupational therapists treat patients who have injuries, illnesses, or disabilities through the therapeutic use of everyday activities.”
The use of everyday activities will help build muscle development and memory for those daily activities that are important to achieve to thrive. Also, using everyday activities will help with appropriate motor skills and motor planning that children use often.
Some other therapies that could help with dyspraxia symptoms are:
- Physical therapy (physiotherapy):
This therapy helps children that have difficulty moving be able to stretch and move more freely, as well as developing better hand-eye skills, balance, and overall coordinated movement.
- Speech therapy:
This is for children that have a difficult time forming words or even thoroughly chewing their food, as the therapy focuses on strengthening the muscles of the mouth and being able to speak clearly.
- Physical play, education, and sports/after school activities:
These can be in a school setting, outside, or at home and use playing games, movement, and exercise to train and strengthen the muscles for gross and fine motor skills control in a less restrictive way.
The great news is that those therapies are a few that have been put into practice for autistic students as well. There are a lot of therapies and evidence-based practices that are available for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders that aren’t specific to dyspraxia.
As always, it is best to contact your child’s doctor and talk to them about the options that are available for your child. They will have the resources and know how to move forward or will be able to point parents in the direction that would best benefit their child.
This article has discussed similarities and differences that are found in dyspraxia and autism spectrum disorder, as well as potential therapies for each of the diagnoses. The therapies are not a complete listing, but a good start at what is currently available.
It is important to always discuss any questions or concerns with your child’s doctor, as they have the ability to properly diagnose and discuss what your child could potentially need. The doctor also has the ability to refer to a specialist that would be better-suited for the discussion.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Signs and Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html
Center on the Developing Child. (2023).Executive Function and Self-Regulation. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/executive-function/
Lexicon Reading Center, (2022). What Treatment Activities Help with Dyspraxia? https://www.lexiconreadingcenter.org/dyspraxia-treatment-activities/
McPherson, D. (2022). Evidence Based Practices and the Benefits for Autism. https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/evidence-based-practices-for-autism/
Psychology Today. (2019). Developmental co ordination disorder. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/developmental-coordination-disorder
Psychology Today. (2021). Dyspraxia. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/dyspraxia
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2022). Occupational Therapists. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapists