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Dyspraxia is a condition that affects movement and coordination skills in children and adults. Find out about the symptoms and how to manage them.

What is dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia is often referred to as developmental coordination disorder (DCD) by doctors. It affects fine motor skills, like writing and using implements, and gross motor skills, like sports, making daily life difficult.

What causes dyspraxia?

The causes of dyspraxia aren’t always clear, but it’s thought that certain factors may increase the risk of developing the condition. These include:

  • Premature birth, before the 37th week of pregnancy

  • Babies born with a low birth weight

  • Family history of the condition

  • Alcohol or drug use during pregnancy

Dyspraxia symptoms

Dyspraxia mainly affects your movement and coordination skills, but it can impact daily life in many other ways too.

Dyspraxia in children

Dyspraxia symptoms develop during childhood. Many symptoms are more noticeable earlier on in life, but others may become more obvious later on. Dyspraxia doesn’t affect intellectual ability, but it can make it harder for children to learn. Additional support is often helpful.

Symptoms that affect movement and coordination in children can include:

  • Difficulty with two-handed tasks like using cutlery and doing craft activities

  • Problems with writing and drawing skills

  • Help needed with getting dressed, doing up buttons and putting on shoes

  • Difficulties with physical activities like jumping, running, throwing, catching and kicking a ball

  • Children may appear ‘clumsy’ and often trip and bump into things

Dyspraxia can also affect other areas of life, including:

  • Concentration span

  • Organisational skills

  • Over-sensitivity to light, sound, touch, smell and taste

  • Emotions and behaviour

  • Social interactions

Dyspraxia in adults

Many dyspraxia symptoms continue into adulthood. Adults with dyspraxia may also find it hard to take in and remember information and learn new skills like driving a car or doing DIY. Dyspraxia can affect time management, planning and personal organisation skills, impacting how you develop at work.

Dyspraxia diagnosis

Even if dyspraxia is suspected earlier, it’s not usually possible to diagnose it until at the least the age of four.

If your child is slow to develop their movement and coordination skills, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor, health visitor or special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) at their school.

Your child may then be referred for an assessment, which can be done by a range of healthcare professionals, including:

  • Specialist paediatric staff (who specialise in the care of babies and children) including a paediatrician, a paediatric occupational therapist and a paediatric physiotherapist

  • An educational psychologist

  • Mental health professionals, like a clinical psychologist or Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) clinician

Dyspraxia assessment

The dyspraxia assessment for children involves tests that score their motor skills abilities in line with the normal ranges for their age group. This method is called Motor ABC, and it requires assessment of:

  • Fine motor skills – How well they use muscles to control smaller movements, like using tools and implements and putting pegs into holes

  • Gross motor skills – How well they can use larger muscles to control bigger body movements, like jumping and balancing

Other things that will be taken into consideration include:

  • Mental abilities – Dyspraxia doesn’t affect intellectual ability, so your child may have an assessment to check that their mental abilities are in line with what’s expected at their age

  • Medical history – Including any problems during childbirth and other developmental delays

  • Family history – Like whether other family members have had dyspraxia

Dyspraxia treatment

There’s no single cure or treatment for dyspraxia, but there’s lots of support that can help to manage the symptoms.

If your child is diagnosed with dyspraxia, they will usually be given a tailored treatment plan that involves a number of healthcare specialists. Each specialist will be able to help with different aspects of daily life. For example:

  • Paediatric occupational therapist – Can help your child develop day-to-day skills like dressing, writing and using cutlery

  • Paediatric physiotherapist – Will suggest activities to improve physical skills like walking, running, balance and coordination

  • An educational psychologist – May be needed if your child is struggling with their educational progression

  • A clinical psychologist – To help your child address and manage the effect of their condition on their mental health

Older children and adults are often supported in additional ways to help them in education and at work. For example, they may be eligible for assistive technology or extra time in exams.

Treating associated conditions

It’s common for children with dyspraxia to have other conditions, for example:

  • Dyslexia

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

  • Autism

In these cases, your child will need separate treatment plans to help them manage the symptoms of these conditions.

Further support

Whether you have dyspraxia or caring for a child with the condition, it’s crucial to get support. Self-help and support groups can be a positive way to address your emotions by talking to others who are in a similar situation and sharing your own experiences with them. Talk to a doctor about what’s available in your area.

Reviewed by:

Dr Rhianna McClymont

Lead GP at Livi

Last updated: