Dyspraxia, usually referred to as developmental coordination disorder, is a motor-based difficulty with everyday tasks such as tying shoelaces, eating with a knife and fork, managing buttons and many more. This is typically caused by delayed motor skills and motor planning ability. Despite its name, dyspraxia is more than just a motor coordination disorder. Many children with dyspraxia also have difficulty with certain academic tasks, organisational skills and/or social skills.
Understanding and processing information from our environment is a vital part of everyday living. This skill, known as sensory processing helps us makes sense of the information we get from our senses, including our body and movement senses. We use this important information to determine how to respond and react in the world. Unfortunately, at least 7% of people have a hard time making accurate sense of this information and this can result in a sensory processing disorder (SPD) which can affect everyday activity. Sensory processing disorder is usually treated with sensory integration therapy by a specially trained occupational therapist.
So, is there a link between sensory processing and dyspraxia? Well, due to the historical challenges in assessments and classifications, research in the past has not been able to draw definitive conclusions either way, although newer research is suggesting that there may be a correlation. An increase in awareness of both dyspraxia and sensory processing is likely responsible for this. Now, researchers are often including sensory processing assessments in studies of children with dyspraxia.
Nonetheless, paediatric occupational therapists have argued for a link between these two for some time. This is a logical conclusion to draw. Since processing sensory information affects how we use our body, it's easy to see why difficulty processing sensory information can result in difficult organising and using the body. Examples of tasks which rely on good sensory processing might be something like handwriting: in order to write neatly and accurately, we need to understand how we are holding a pencil, where we are positioning our letters, exactly how far and in which direction to draw our lines, etc. Another example might be doing up buttons: We would need to feel the button in our hands, move the button to be pointing forward and thread the button exactly into the hole, which we are holding with our other hand. Thus, we can easily see how important it is to have good understanding of our sensory systems in order to effectively carry out these tasks.
What are the implications of this? Well, understanding the cause of difficulties can help us address them more effectively. Helping children understand the information they receive from their environment and their body can help them use their body more effectively which can lead to better skills in everyday tasks. Therefore, including sensory integration therapy into a child's intervention programme can be beneficial for a child.
Catherine Milford is an Irish-based occupational therapist and psychologist specialising in dyspraxia. You can learn more about dyspraxia by visiting the dyspraxia information website - [http://dyspraxia.eu].