Dyspraxia is a neurological developmental disability which is present from birth. It is a motor planning disorder not a muscular deficit. The person knows what they want their body to do but they cannot get their body to do it. There are three different types of dyspraxia – oral, verbal, and motor. A person can have one or all three types and the disorder varies in severity. It is believed to be an immaturity of parts of the motor cortex (in the brain) that stops messages from being properly transmitted to the body. Dyspraxia does not affect intelligence in any way but it can impact on behaviour and social skills.
Oral dyspraxia is a difficulty with planning and executing non-speech sounds, such as blowing, sucking, or individual tongue/lip movements. This can indirectly affect speech and/or swallowing skills. Someone with oral dyspraxia may dribble profusely, have trouble licking ice-cream and may have a preference for either soft or hard textured foods.
Verbal dyspraxia is a speech disorder that affects the programming, sequencing, and initiating of the movements required to make speech sounds. People that suffer from verbal dyspraxia may have highly unintelligible speech, simplify words, have inconsistent speech patterns, move the sounds in a word, have delayed expressive language, adopt a complex gesture system in order to help their communication skills, and have difficulty in sequencing words.
Motor dyspraxia is a difficulty in planning, sequencing, and then executing the correct movement in order to perform age appropriate skills in a smooth and coordinated manner at will or on command. People with motor dyspraxia may have trouble learning a new skill, performing coordinated movements, handwriting, consistent performance, timing and rhythm, learning rules, responding quickly, problem solving, using appropriate cues, analyzing what is needed for task performance, and preparing for the next stage in task performance.
The cause of dyspraxia is not known but it is not caused by brain damage. Dyspraxia can run in families so it may be inherited in part. It can be associated with other developmental problems such as developmental delays, learning problems, Down’s syndrome or reading difficulties, but many people with dyspraxia have no trouble with thinking or understanding. Research suggests that the difficulties have a similar cause to those of stuttering.
Speech pathology is one of the therapies for dyspraxia. Speech pathologists may choose to follow a motor skill training approach which gets people to practice making sounds quickly and accurately, making it easier to put these in normal speech. People with dyspraxia may also need practice with listening, in order to ensure that they are not leaving sounds out when speaking.
Occupational therapy is another therapy for dyspraxia. It helps people to improve physical skills and fine motor tasks. Physical therapists can also be of help. Early intervention is important.
Neuro Developmental Therapy (NDT) addresses the shortcomings of the vestibular system by encouraging the development of mature reflexes while the Tomatis Method of sound therapy uses specially modified music designed to stimulate the cochlear and vestibular systems and strengthen neural connections from the auditory system to the brain. The theory for using NDT along with the Tomatis Method draws on the assumption that all types of dyspraxia stem from the same source. Instead of treating each area of impaired functioning as unrelated, the Tomatis Methods aims to strengthen the structure of the inner ear while the NDT exercises revisit motor development as it ideally should have been experienced.