The main focus of an occupational therapist (OT) specializing in SPD is to pinpoint exactly which areas require the most attention and sensory stimulation. During the diagnosis process, parents may discover that there are conditions that stem from the base diagnosis of SPD as they pertain to specific sensory systems. One of these conditions is Dyspraxia.
What is Dyspraxia? Different professionals will have different definitions of what Dyspraxia is, depending on their focus and area of specialty. For example, a teacher may conclude that the child has difficulty with concentration, paying attention and following instructions, while a psychologist may say that the child has delayed motor skills that have no clinical cause. The truth is, both of these observations are correct, only adding to the confusion.
According to the Dyspraxia Foundation, Dyspraxia is defined as, ‘an impairment or immaturity of the organization of movement. Associated with this there may be problems with language, perception and thought.’ Bearing this definition in mind, it can be an ‘a-ha’ moment for many parents with children struggling with vestibular, proprioception, fine and gross motor, auditory, visual and speech delays.
What causes Dyspraxia? Again, there are different conclusions as to exact causes depending on the professional asked. However, because it interferes with the brain’s ability to communicate to the body how to react and respond to sensory stimulation (delayed sensory integration), it can often be seen in many children diagnosed with more severe forms of SPD. And an OT working with these children will create a treatment plan that includes exercises and activities to help strengthen the sensory systems and decrease the symptoms of Dyspraxia.
What are signs of Dyspraxia? Some of the symptoms are very similar to what an OT might find in a child with SPD. A few of the basics signs would be:
- Slow to learn how to roll over, pull themselves up, crawl or walk.
- Difficulty with speech, eating or similar oral motor tasks.
- Difficulty with fine motor tasks such as tying laces, holding and using writing tools, holding and using eating utensils or playing with toys.
- Difficulty getting dressed and understanding the steps involved, including zippers, buttons or pulling shirts over the head.
- Becoming confused or ‘lost’ when carrying out a task or getting upset from not understanding instructions or rules.
- Unable to move the body to play sports or other activities that involve jumping, kicking, skipping, throwing, swimming, biking, song games or otherwise being unable to move body parts in a coordinated way.
- Not understanding directions such as, ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘in front’ or ‘behind’ or ‘next to’ and seems lost when attempting activities that cross the midline (eg: moving an object from one hand to the other).
- Seem clumsy, disorganized, unable to concentrate, and easily distracted (eg: think of the environment in the classroom where there are several sensory distractions in addition to the task at hand).
- Unaware of the level of pressure needed to complete a task, either too much or not enough (eg: pressing, pulling, pushing, twisting, etc.).
- Weak muscle tone.
- Bumps into people or objects.
These are only a few areas, however, a parent can see how all sensory systems need to work together in order to complete even the most basic task. When one or more of these systems is impaired, and the child isn’t able to understand and/or verbalize why they are struggling, it can be a frustrating time. Watching out for these signs, and contacting experts in the areas of hearing, speech, and overall brain functioning to rule out any clinical conclusions, is a stepping stone to figuring out the root of the child’s struggles.
How can we help children with Dyspraxia? When diagnosed in conjunction with SPD, an OT will create a sensory plan that includes sensory engaging exercises, games and activities that help give the child the proper sensory input, at the right times throughout the day, that their bodies need to regulate their systems, especially the vestibular and proprioceptive systems.
An OT will know through a careful and thorough assessment exactly what specific areas the child needs to focus on. At home, parents should be practicing what they and their child learn during therapy sessions in order to maintain the appropriate level of input. Taking the child to the park, going for walks, doing ‘heavy jobs’ (eg: lifting milk jugs, help carry groceries, etc.), deep pressure massage, riding a stationary bike, creating mini flash cards showing the steps involved in completing certain tasks, and other sensory engaging activities, alongside with what the OT suggests, can make a great difference for these children.
There is great comfort and empowerment for parents in finally having a name for what they’ve been witnessing in their child, as well as understanding how to help them cope.
For more information on SPD and Dyspraxia, the STAR Institute (https://www.spdstar.org/) and the Dyspraxia Foundation (https://dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk/) for a wealth of information, treatment options and helpful resources.