What is Dyspraxia?
Developmental Dyspraxia (as we know it in New Zealand) or Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), is a common neuro-developmental disorder affecting the process of ideation, motor planning, and execution. It may affect any or all areas of development in children and adults. It is inconsistent, and affects each person in different ways, at different stages of development, and to different degrees. This disorder is life-long and is recognised by international organisations including the World Health Organisation.
It is a hidden disability as, under normal circumstances, people with Developmental Dyspraxia/DCD may appear no different from their peers. Developmental Dyspraxia/DCD occurs across the range of intellectual abilities. There may be changes over time depending on environmental demand and life experience. Diagnosis can only be made by an appropriate professional.
Developmental Dyspraxia (Developmental Co-ordination Disorder) is a neurologically based disorder of the processes involved in praxis or the planning of movement to achieve a predetermined idea or purpose. This may affect the acquisition of new skills and the execution of those already learned, or the process of ideation (forming an idea of using a known movement to achieve a planned purpose), motor planning (planning the action needed to achieve the idea), and execution (carrying out the planned movement).
Dyspraxia may affect any or all areas of development – physical, intellectual, emotional, social, language, and sensory – and may impair the normal process of learning, thus is a learning difficulty. It is not a unitary disorder (like measles or chicken pox, where all those affected share a common set of symptoms), and affects each person in different ways at different ages and stages of development, and to different degrees. It is inconsistent, in that it may affect the child one day but not the next – as if sometimes information is ‘put away in the wrong drawer’ – and it may affect children in different ways at different ages and developmental stages.
It is a hidden disorder as, under typical circumstances, children with Dyspraxia may appear no different from their peers, until new skills are tried or known ones taken out of context, when difficulties may become apparent. In many affected children, Dyspraxia occurs with or as part of other neurological conditions so that defining common symptoms may be confusing. Therefore a diagnosis, naming the disorder, is often very difficult, and sometimes the closest may be ‘shows some Dyspraxic tendencies’.
Developmental Dyspraxia is not the result of poor physical strength, impaired primary sensation, delayed development, body deformity, or anything that would show up on normal neurological examination. Developmental Dyspraxia occurs from birth or an early age, thus affecting the typical development of the child, and its causes are not obvious. There may be an inherited tendency towards similar neurological disorders.
There may have been a glitch of some kind (illness, slight trauma, momentary lack of oxygen, etc.) at the crucial developmental time or at birth which caused damage to some cells. It may be that the growth of the dendrites or the connections – synapses and neurotransmitters – which connect the cells is at fault. It may be a matter of which cells, and how many, failed to grow and develop enough to reach their destination at the right time before birth. It often co-exists with other disorders (e.g. Dyscalculia ASD, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Disorder, etc.) This fact also makes diagnosis difficult, as symptoms intermingle or are shared by more than one disorder. The gathering, sorting, and storing of sensory information may be faulty. Or the cause may remain completely unknown. In other words, very little is known of the causes, despite considerable research over the years.
ASSESSMENT AND DIAGNOSIS
Different tests may be given by occupational therapists, speech therapists, teachers, psychologists, and pediatricians. As it can affect many different functions of the body, complete assessment and evaluation is complicated. Contact DSGNZ for the names of treatment providers in your area of NZ.
The multiple nature of Developmental Dyspraxia means that therapy covers many areas, and may include perceptual motor training, sensory integration therapy, speech and language therapy, maths and numeracy, reading and literacy, spelling, environmental. manipulation, behaviour modification, eye tracking exercises. These may be delivered by Occupational Therapists; Speech and Language Therapists, Educational Psychologists, Specific Learning Disability Tutors, Behavioural Optometrist, Social Worker or Counsellors.
The aim of intervention is to teach the child Praxis – to be able to form ideas of trying new things and familiar things in new ways – to plan the actions, and to execute them. Intervention also focuses on the different stages of Praxis, and helps it to develop following the developmental plan. Intervention should if possible be given with a team approach, each aspect tying in with the others holistically. Each child’s programme of intervention is individual to that child, and should be regularly reviewed. Contact DSGNZ for the names of treatment providers in your area of NZ.
As has been indicated, the main aim of intervention is to help the person circumnavigate their difficulties, to learn and to achieve their potential. As everyone is different, the type of intervention varies greatly. Some individuals need small amounts for short periods whereas others will benefit from regular ongoing intervention over a longer time frame. There isn’t a one size fits all solution and the family / whanau must look at all the options available to them. A person diagnosed with dyspraxia can and will lead a happy and productive life. People with dyspraxia have the same strengths as other people, they may just take a slightly different route to success. Anything is possible with the right attitude and support.