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Dyspraxia symptoms & assessment

The symptoms of dyspraxia are related to the poor development of motor control of muscles and muscle groups. All muscles have to work in groups in order to make simple as well as complex movements.

As one muscle contracts, another relaxes, so as to allow movements to be executed precisely around joints. For more complex skills, many muscles have to act simultaneously, in a co-ordinated way. This takes a huge amount of practice to learn to do automatically.

A common symptom of dyspraxia is what is called hypotonia or low muscle tone. This leads to floppy movements and sometimes over-flexible joint movements (‘double-jointed’). Interestingly, hypotonia is one of the most common signs of poor cerebellar function.

The task in hand

As well as controlling individual muscles, we also have to learn to develop increasingly skilful movements through practice. This takes many years and the process is called ‘procedural learning’. Unlike ‘declarative learning’, which involves absorbing data, knowledge and facts and is easily explained, ‘procedural learning’ involves ‘how to’ skills that aren’t easily expressed in words – like how to ride a bike, learn to touch type, play an instrument or learn to swim – it’s stuff you don’t talk about, you just ‘do’ .

Through practice, we gradually improve the speed and accuracy with which we can perform a task, until finally, it becomes automatic. Simple tasks may not take long, but complex ones may have to be repeated many thousands of times before they become automatic.

Let’s try that again

Dyspraxics have very poor procedural learning skills and therefore need to repeat a task many times more than normal in order to develop the same level of skill. If they do not, their skills will fall further and further behind those of their peer group. This is why dyspraxic children seem to get worse as they get older and why they can never fully master more complicated skills. Again, it is the cerebellum which is critical to the development of such skills.

Motor skills

Dyspraxics also have problems with their motor skills, which are actions involving muscle movements in your body. Gross motor skills engage legs, arms, feet or trunk and affect bigger actions, like running, throwing, catching or balancing. Fine motor skills involve manual dexterity, like picking things up between finger and thumb, undoing buttons and handwriting. One or all of these areas of skill performance can be affected.

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