Dyspraxia: What You’re Seeing

By The Understood Team



At a Glance

  • A common cause of trouble with coordination and movement is dyspraxia, also sometimes called developmental coordination disorder.
  • Other conditions can also cause problems with movement.
  • There are therapies that can help with coordination and movement issues.

Drawing, running and kicking a ball are things most kids do easily. But if your child has issues with simple physical tasks, a condition called dyspraxia might be the cause. affects basic skills such as writing and the physical act of speaking. But there are other conditions that can have similar symptoms. Learn more about what can cause trouble with movement, and how you can help.

What You Might Be Seeing

Movement issues can take different forms. Weakness in fine motor skills makes it hard to direct small muscle groups like fingers. Weakness in gross motor skills affects large muscle groups in the body such as legs. And trouble with hand-eye coordination can make things like buttoning a shirt difficult.

Some kids who have dyspraxia, which doctors may call developmental coordination disorder, have weaknesses in both skills. They may also have trouble with multi-step tasks, such as getting dressed. And their speech can be affected if the muscles in the mouth are involved.

Here are some common signs of trouble with coordination and movement:

    • Resists drawing and writing
    • Tires easily during small-motor tasks
    • Has trouble holding a pencil correctly
    • Has slow handwriting
    • Has trouble running, jumping, throwing and catching
    • Can’t ride a bike
    • Has trouble with rhythm
    • Struggles with personal grooming
    • Has poor balance
    • Is overly clumsy
    • Has difficulty playing sports
    • Doesn’t speak at a normal rate
    • Slurs words
    • Has trouble sensing direction
    • Has difficulty learning to drive

If you’ve seen some of these signs in your child for at least six months, it’s a good idea to look into what may be causing them. Knowing what’s behind your child’s issues with movement can guide you in finding the best help.

What Can Cause Trouble With Physical Coordination and Movement

Trouble with fine and gross motor skills is the main symptom of dyspraxia, a condition that affects learning. But other issues can also impact those skills.

Dyspraxia: This fairly common condition makes it hard to plan and complete specific movements. The brain has trouble directing the muscles to do things. That doesn’t mean your child has low intelligence or weak muscles, however.

Dyspraxia affects the fine motor skills that help kids hold a crayon or button a shirt. It also affects the gross motor skills used in running and throwing. In some cases it can impact the muscles involved in speaking. Other challenges can include problems with balance and coordination.

It’s important to know that a child with dyspraxia won’t necessary have all of these problems. And not all kids experience symptoms in the same way. The symptoms of dyspraxia can range from mild to severe, and change as kids get older.

: This condition also affects fine motor skills, making it hard to write. Kids with dysgraphia may hold a pencil awkwardly and have sloppy handwriting. They often have trouble properly spacing letters and writing within margins. Because of weak motor skills, they may struggle with other tasks like tracing or tying shoes.

: This condition can cause problems with hand-eye coordination. Kids with sensory processing issues may also walk or skip awkwardly or fall a lot. Problems with movement are not the main symptom, however. Most kids with sensory processing issues have extreme reactions to touch and sound.

How You Can Get Answers

Knowing why your child has trouble with coordination and movement will let you find the best ways to help. Sorting it out may take time. It may require a visit to more than one medical professional. Here are some steps you can take to find out what’s behind your child’s struggles:

  • Talk to your child’s teacher. When it comes to understanding your child’s issues with movement, the teacher can be a great source of information and insight. The signs the teacher is seeing at school may be different from what you’ve seen at home. Sharing your concerns may also lead to informal supports in the classroom.
  • Look into an educational evaluation. You or your child’s teacher can request that the school evaluate your child for learning issues. If the school agrees, you won’t have to pay for it. Depending on the results, your child may be able to get services to meet his needs. Those services will be put into writing in either a 504 plan or an IEP. Those might include occupational or . If your child is under age 3, you can contact your state’s  system and request an evaluation free of charge.
  • Talk to your child’s doctor. This can also be a good place to start getting answers about what’s behind your child’s difficulties. The doctor may be able to confirm or rule out some medical causes. But you may also get a referral to a specialist for more in-depth evaluation.
  • Consult with specialists. The professional who can assess and treat writing issues is an occupational therapist. Some OTs can also assess and treat sensory processing issues. A speech-language therapist can evaluate and treat speaking issues related to dyspraxia. And psychologists often assess movement issues.

What You Can Do Now

Even if you don’t know whether dyspraxia is the cause of your child’s issues, there are things you can do to help him improve his motor skills. You can also take steps to make the journey easier for both of you. Here are some things you can try:

  • Learn as much as you can. Knowing what’s causing your child’s trouble with movement and coordination can make it easier to find the help he needs. It can also help you remember that he can’t help it when his homework looks messy or he keeps missing the ball.
  • Observe and take notes. By observing your child, you may see patterns in his struggles with movement. That can help you find different strategies to try. It can also be helpful when you’re talking to friends, family and professionals who are working with your child.
  • Encourage active play. Being active can help your child improve his motor skills and balance. Encourage him to play games that involve jumping and hopping, like hopscotch.
  • See it through your child’s eyes. Unless you have learning and attention issues yourself it may be hard to understand what your child is experiencing. Through Your Child’s Eyes can give you a sense of what it feels like to struggle with movement and coordination issues.
  • Try different strategies. The expert advice in Parenting Coach could be helpful. Get tips and ideas on issues like self-esteem and social challenges.
  • Connect with other parents. Although it may feel like you’re the only family dealing with these issues, you’re not. This site can help you find parents whose kids are also struggling with movement issues. These parents know what you’re going through and can share insights and strategies.
  • Try to stay positive. It can be hard to see your child struggling with basic physical activities. But focusing on his strengths and efforts can make both of you feel better. Your help and encouragement can keep him motivated to work on his weaknesses.

Most kids who have trouble with coordination and movement don’t just grow out of them. But with the right supports and therapies they can develop their motor skills and gain more confidence. Getting there is a process, and by learning more about the challenges you’ve taken a big step.

Key Takeaways

  • Problems with fine and gross motor skills are caused by the brain not communicating well with the muscles.
  • Occupational therapists can help kids work on practical things like button shirts and holding a pencil.
  • Being physically active can help kids become more coordinated.

About the Author

Understood Team Graphic

The Understood Team is composed of writers, editors and community moderators, many of whom have children with learning and attention issues.


Brain Scans Show Early Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder by Dr. Francis Collins

Preschool Language Disorders by The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) 

Learning Disabilities by The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) 

Suicide in Children and Teens by TeensHealth!

Different Types of Dyslexia By The Understood Team

Visual-Spatial Processing: What You Need to Know By Kate Kelly

Anxiety Disorders by  KidsHealth


Reviewed by

Portrait of Elizabeth Harstad

Elizabeth Harstad, M.D., M.P.H., is a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.