Dyspraxia is a lifelong developmental coordination disorder that affects gross and fine motor skills, and sometimes cognitive function. There is no cure, but it can be successfully managed with therapies.

Dyspraxia is a brain-based motor disorder. It affects fine and gross motor skills, motor planning, and coordination. Although it can affect cognitive skills, it’s not related to intelligence.

Children born with dyspraxia may be late to reach developmental milestones and behave immaturely. They can find it challenging to make plans and carry them out. They might have speech difficulties and appear clumsy, leading to the outdated term “clumsy child syndrome.”

The National Institutes of Health describes it as appearing “out of sync” with the environment.

Into adolescence and adulthood, symptoms of dyspraxia can lead to learning difficulties and low self-esteem.

Dyspraxia is also known as developmental coordination disorder. It affects about 5 to 6 percent of the pediatric population and about 10 percent of the population overall. It’s a lifelong condition, and there’s currently no cure.

However, there are effective strategies, including occupational and speech therapies, to effectively manage dyspraxia.

Though these two terms sound familiar and are both brain-based conditions, dyspraxia and apraxia are not the same.

Dyspraxia is something that someone is born with. Apraxia can develop following a stroke or brain injury at any point in life, though certain types may have genetic components.

There are several types of apraxia that affect different motor functions. It’s often thought to be a symptom of a neurological, metabolic, or other type of disorder.

Apraxia may go away on its own within weeks, especially if it’s the result of stroke.

It’s possible to have both dyspraxia and apraxia.

If your baby has dyspraxia, you might notice delayed milestones, such as lifting the head, rolling over, and sitting up, though children with this condition may eventually reach early milestones on time.

Other signs and symptoms can include:

  • unusual body positions
  • general irritability
  • sensitivity to loud noises
  • feeding and sleeping problems
  • a high level of movement of the arms and legs

As your child grows, you might also observe delays in:

Dyspraxia makes it hard to organize physical movements. For example, a child might want to walk across the living room carrying their schoolbooks, but they can’t manage to do it without tripping, bumping into something, or dropping the books.

Other signs and symptoms may include:

  • unusual posture
  • difficulty with fine motor skills that affect writing, artwork, and playing with blocks and puzzles
  • coordination problems that make it difficult to hop, skip, jump, or catch a ball
  • hand flapping, fidgeting, or being easily excitable
  • messy eating and drinking
  • temper tantrums
  • becoming less physically fit because they shy away from physical activities

Although intelligence isn’t affected, dyspraxia can make it harder to learn and socialize due to:

  • a short attention span for tasks that are difficult
  • trouble following or remembering instructions
  • a lack of organizational skills
  • difficulty learning new skills
  • low self-esteem
  • immature behavior
  • trouble making friends

Dyspraxia is different for everyone. There are a variety of potential symptoms, and they can change over time. These may include:

  • abnormal posture
  • balance and movement issues, or gait abnormalities
  • poor hand-eye coordination
  • fatigue
  • trouble learning new skills
  • organization and planning problems
  • difficulty writing or using a keyboard
  • having a hard time with grooming and household chores
  • social awkwardness or lack of confidence

Dyspraxia has nothing to do with intelligence. If you have dyspraxia, you may be stronger in areas, such as creativity, motivation, and determination. Each person’s symptoms are different.

The exact cause of dyspraxia isn’t known, and there may not be a single cause.

According to experts at Queen Mary University of London, research suggests it could have to do with variations in the way neurons in the brain develop. This affects the way the brain sends messages to the rest of the body.

That could be why it’s hard to plan a series of movements and then carry them out successfully.

The severity of symptoms can vary a lot from child to child. It might not be apparent that your child isn’t developing certain skills for several years. A diagnosis of dyspraxia may be delayed until a child is 5 years or older.

If your child often runs into things, drops things, or has a difficult time with physical coordination, it doesn’t mean they have dyspraxia. These symptoms could be a sign of a number of other conditions — or nothing at all.

It’s important to see their pediatrician for a thorough evaluation. A doctor will assess such factors as:

  • medical history
  • fine motor skills
  • gross motor skills
  • developmental milestones
  • mental abilities

There are no specific medical tests to diagnose dyspraxia. The diagnosis may be made if:

  • motor skills are significantly below what’s expected for their age
  • a lack of motor skills has a persistent negative effect on day-to-day activities
  • symptoms began early in development
  • other conditions with similar symptoms have been ruled out or diagnosed

A doctor might diagnose the condition as dyspraxia or developmental coordination disorder.

For some children, symptoms resolve on their own as they age. That’s not the case for most children, though.

There’s no cure for dyspraxia. However, with the right therapies, people with dyspraxia can learn to manage symptoms and improve their abilities.

Because it’s different for everybody, treatment must be tailored to individual needs. The treatment plan will depend on a number of factors. The severity of your child’s symptoms and other coexisting conditions are key to finding the right programs and services.

Some of the healthcare professionals you may work with are:

  • Behavior analysts. Behavior analysts are trained in the science of behavior. A type of therapy called applied behavior analysis (ABA) can help improve social and self-help skills, communication, and independence through positive reinforcement strategies tailored to the individual’s needs.
  • Occupational therapists. Occupational therapists can help people learn new ways of doing things and to reach specific goals regarding performance of everyday activities.
  • Pediatric specialists. These pediatricians specialize in a specific area of children’s health. For example, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician has advanced training in medical and psychosocial aspects of child and adolescent development.
  • Physical therapists. Physical therapists use hands-on care and education to help people improve movement and exercise.
  • Psychologists. Psychologists can help with a variety of issues, such as stress management, coping skills, and overall mental health.
  • Speech and language therapists. Speech and language therapists work with people who have difficulty making certain sounds, stuttering, and other communication problems.

Some children do well with minor interventions. Others need more intense therapies to show improvement. Whatever therapies you choose, they can be adjusted along the way.

Your healthcare team can help identify problem areas. Then they can work on breaking tasks down into manageable pieces.

With regular practice, your child can learn how to better manage tasks, such as:

  • tying shoes or self-dressing
  • using eating utensils properly
  • using the toilet
  • walking, running, and playing
  • organizing an approach to schoolwork

Therapy can help your child gain confidence, which may also help them socially. Your child’s school can provide special services and accommodations to make learning easier.

Adults can benefit from occupational therapy as well. This can help with practical, everyday matters involving small motor skills and organizational skills.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or talk therapy, can help modify thinking and behavior patterns that shake your confidence and self-esteem.

Even if you have physical difficulties, it’s still important to exercise regularly. If this is a problem, ask a doctor for a referral to a physical therapist or look for a qualified personal trainer.

Dyspraxia is thought to be 3 or 4 times more common in boys than girls. Risk factors for developmental coordination disorders may include:

It’s not unusual for a child with dyspraxia to have other conditions with overlapping symptoms. Some of these are:

Although some symptoms are the same, these other conditions don’t involve the same fine and gross motor skill issues of dyspraxia.

Other conditions, like cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and stroke, can cause physical symptoms similar to dyspraxia. That’s why it’s important to see a doctor to get the correct diagnosis.

Dyspraxia is a developmental coordination disorder. This lifelong condition affects gross and fine motor skills, and sometimes cognitive function.

It shouldn’t be confused with an intellectual disorder. In fact, people with dyspraxia can have average or above average intelligence.

There’s no cure for dyspraxia, but it can be successfully managed. With the right therapies, you can improve organizational and motor skills, so you can live life to the fullest.