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What is dyspraxia?

Also known as developmental coordination disorder, dyspraxia is a condition that causes children to appear clumsy and uncoordinated compared to other kids their age. They frequently drop things, break things, or bump into things.

Some kids with dyspraxia have trouble with fine motor skills, like using a pencil or eating with a spoon. Others struggle with gross motor skills, like catching a ball or riding a bike. Some have issues with both kinds of motor skills.

In kids with dyspraxia, there’s nothing wrong with their muscles. Instead, their problems with coordination happen because their brains have a hard time telling their bodies what to do.

What are the symptoms of dyspraxia?

In young children, signs of dyspraxia include being slow to develop abilities including:

  • Sitting up
  • Crawling
  • Walking
  • Using utensils
  • Drawing
  • Making hand gestures

Dyspraxia can also be diagnosed in older children. Signs that a school-age child might have dyspraxia include:

  • Trouble with fine motor skills like holding a pencil, using a zipper, or fastening buttons
  • Difficulty balancing
  • Trouble with physical activities like running and jumping
  • Frequently stumbling or tripping
  • Avoiding activities like drawing, writing by hand, or playing sports
  • Getting teased by peers for being clumsy

How is dyspraxia diagnosed?

It’s normal for kids to be clumsy sometimes. Dyspraxia is diagnosed when a child’s issues with coordination get in the way of daily activities like schoolwork, play and getting dressed.

Dyspraxia can be diagnosed by professionals including pediatricians, psychologists and learning specialists. More severe cases may be diagnosed by a neurologist, who can determine if a neurological problem is causing the child’s challenges.

How is dyspraxia treated?

Dyspraxia is often treated by an occupational therapist. The goal is to help kids build stronger motor skills.

Treatment involves identifying the skills that the child is struggling with and breaking them down into small steps. Then, the therapist helps the child practice each step and slowly build up to more complicated coordination. For example, a child who struggles with handwriting might start by practicing tracing letters and work up to writing words. Finding and encouraging the child’s strengths is also an important part of treatment.

Treatment can include accommodations in school as well, like being allowed to type instead of hand write.

Finally, the therapist can help the child’s family identify skills that the child might not need to master. For example, a child who has a very hard time tying shoelaces could wear Velcro shoes instead.

This guide was last reviewed or updated on December 18, 2023.