As many as 50% of individuals with dyslexia have dyspraxia, although many of them won’t have heard the term. Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe spoke about his dyspraxia which affects his ability to write by hand and tie shoelaces. He’s said part of the reason he became an actor was because his dyspraxia meant he was not successful at school.
Dyspraxia is defined by the NIH as “an impairment in the ability to plan and carry out sensory and motor tasks. Generally, individuals with the disorder appear “out of sync” with their environment. Symptoms vary and may include poor balance and coordination, clumsiness, vision problems, perception difficulties, emotional and behavioral problems, difficulty with reading, writing, and speaking, poor social skills, poor posture, and poor short-term memory. Although individuals with the disorder may be of average or above average intelligence, they may behave immaturely.”
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We’ll talk about some latest research about the role of sensory processing and dyspraxia and practical strategies to help [it-exchange-member-content membership_ids=”5253,1879,1870″]
Daniel told how he longed to be an actor from the age of five.
But he revealed: ‘My mother said, “Oh no you don’t.”’
When she finally allowed him to audition to play David Copperfield, in a BBC version of the Dickens classic when he was nine, he says it was because she could see he needed a confidence boost.
‘I was having a hard time at school…with no discernible talent,’ he says.
Dyspraxia has also been found to co-occur with ADHD in up to 50% of individuals and controversies still exist regarding what findings and differences should be attributed to dyspraxia alone (see Gibbs et al. below).
DYSPRAXIA FAST FACTS
1. Dyspraxia Often Presents with Motor and Sensory Processing Symptoms in the Early Years of School. Students with dyspraxia can have symptoms related to speech (trouble articulating words), fine motor (tying shoelaces and handwriting), or gross motor (sports) coordination. A child may have mainly one type of symptom (for instance pronouncing words) or have difficulties with all three (oral, fine, and gross motor).
2. The Sensory Processing Aspect of Dyspraxia is Relatively New. Dyspraxia was initially seen as a motor planning difficulty, but over the last decade there has been a greater recognition of the sensory feedback or kinesthetic component to smooth motor functioning.
Dyspraxic children usually don’t have trouble with feeling touch; what they struggle with is positional feedback in the fingers so that they may have more trouble mastering the formation of letters automatically without visual monitoring. Children with gross motor sensory or kinesthetic feedback can be unsteady in sports or walking on uneven ground.
3. Motor and Sensory Feedback Training Can Help for Dyspraxia. Consistent with the idea that sensorimotor training or therapy would be beneficial for individuals with dyspraxia, researchers have now shown that assisted training of sensory-motor movements (in this study, using a mechnical and virtual reality interface) dramatically improved the replication of movements important for handwriting. The researchers mention the potential ‘Catch-22’ issue involved with trying to help dyspraxic students train for a task they can’t perform. It is a Catch-22, because they cannot do a movement that practice would improve.
An obvious take-home point from such a study is to find a way to assist students with challenging tasks. From a therapist or parent perspective wanting to help their child, this migh mean breaking down complex movements into simpler tasks, guiding fingers or arm movements through correct sequences, or modifying tasks that a child cannot do.
For instance, when a child has trouble with the motor timing to catch a small rubber ball, try using a larger and even partially deflated soft ball that a child can grip more easily and react more slowly too. Too often if a child can’t do something, the activity is dropped rather than modified. The psychologist Vygotsky developed this notion of the zone of proximal development: a difference between what a learner can and cannot do as long as it’s with guidance. He considered the task of education to be to present students with experiences that are within their zones of proximal development.
For dyspraxic students learning to write by hand, guidance might mean writing larger letters with a visual guide or verbal prompt (like Handwriting Without Tears). Because of the ways that sensory maps are organized in the brain, writing large letters (large arm movements) is easier than small, where the twist and turns of individual fingers can get confusing.
4. The Cognitive Aspect of Dyspraxia is Just Beginning to Be Explored The NIH definition includes different aspects of cognition, but this area is only just beginning to be studied. As a group, students with dyspraxia are more likely to have trouble with emotional regulation, social interactions (think about the quick back and forth that’s required with two children interacting), and working memory, but these issues can also be secondary to the sensory-motor challenges.
Dr. Sylvia Moody in the UK has argued for a broader understanding of dyspraxia, especially as it may present with challenges in adults.
Misconception: “Dyspraxia in adulthood is characterised chiefly by poor motor co-ordination.”
This is often not the case. Dyspraxic adults have often improved their motor co-ordination skills over the years, and their chief difficulties in education and employment are more likely to be related to the neuro-cognitive aspects of dyspraxia i.e. a general difficulty with sequencing and structuring information, work organisation, time-keeping, and sometimes also social skills.”
To read more of Dr. Moody’s recommendation, see her paper at bottom of this post.
5. The Neuroscience of Dyspraxia is Also Beginning to Be Explored. To date, researchers studying brain differences between dyspraxic and non-dyspraxic students have noted no large structural differences between groups. From Canadian researchers, though there is an interesting study that suggests a more diffuse pattern of connectivity in sensory and motor pathways seems to correlate with motor scores on an assessment (paper below).
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By the way, if you think Daniel Radcliffe’s dyspraxia has kept him from taking on challenging movement roles, check out his energetic dance routine from his hit Broadway musical, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying!