Dyspraxia: Strategies for Sensory Processing Disorders



Dyspraxia is one of the 6 subtypes of Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD)  Many children have more than one of the following subtypes:

  1. sensory over-responding (sensory modulation disorder)
  2. sensory under-responding (sensory modulation disorder)
  3. sensory craving (sensory modulation disorder)
  4. postural disorders   (sensory based motor disorder)   
  5. dyspraxia (sensory based motor disorder)
  6. sensory discrimination disorders 

The Impact of Dyspraxia

Dyspraxia impacts abilities to plan and execute coordinated movements. Children with sensory-based motor disorders typically have decreased body awareness. The child might

  • sit on top of, instead of next to, another child,
  • have difficulty fitting his arm into a sleeve,
  • or use so much force on a spoon that he splatters food on his clothing when scooping.

Children with dyspraxia often do not stabilize materials when working- such as steadying the paper while writing. They may not have developed a preference for the right or left hand by grade school. Also, they often avoid reaching from one side of the body to the other. This is called crossing midline. 

The boy shown in the above photo has low muscle tone, poor postural control, body awareness and difficulty coordinating his hands together to push the ball with the "batter" made out of 2 soda bottles. The video at the end of the post demonstrates how to make this.

What is Body Awareness?

Imagine yourself on the moon wearing a bulky, awkward spacesuit. You are wearing thick gloves so you can't feel the moon's surface very well. You can't tell how rough, hard, or smooth the rocks feel. Since you weigh one-sixth of your usual weight, you have to use much less force when walking or picking up rocks. Its easy to accidentally use too much force for a task.

The astronauts had lots of preparation for these conditions back on earth. Still, when they landed on the moon they looked like kids learning how to move their bodies, literally, in space. children with poor body awareness have similar challenges. Even though they have spent all their years on earth, they often struggle to accurately interpret relationships between their body and objects. Body awareness refers to how our brains interpret and use sensory information from touch and movement to know

  • where our arms and legs are in space, and
  • how our body parts are moving in relation to each other, the environment, and objects.

The woman in the photo below has a poor sense of where her body is in relation to objects and avoids using her hands together to stabilize materials.

Children with decreased body awareness may touch the walls while walking down the hallway to help them judge distances or they may depend on their vision to guide their hands while buttoning a sweater. Children with poor body awareness and coordination often benefit from sensory strategies including adapted seating and positioning, weighted materials and materials that vibrate. they often benefit from activities that are multi sensory-or engage several senses, require using force, and are adapted to make success easy and frequent.

What are Multi-Sensory Materials?

Multisensory games, toys and other products  engage several senses. Some children respond better when more than one sense is stimulated. Examples are:

  1. ring stacks and puzzles that play music
  2. baby toys that vibrate
  3. markers may be scented, and
  4. some balls make giggly sounds when thrown.

Multi sensory products like these may help children better understand where objects are in relation to their bodies and how parts fit together. Many  children find that multi sensory and resistive activities help them to tolerate touch better so that they can engage in hand activities. The following video demonstrates how to make a sensory peg board that is especially fun to use because it makes music, vibrates and is visually stimulating.

Adapting Hand Activities to be Resistive

Hand activities that involve squeezing, pushing, or pulling provide deep pressure sensory stimulation to muscles, joints, and tendons. these activities are called resistive because they require force. Pulling a heavy door open or playing tug-of-war are resistive because the arms and shoulders use a lot of force. Resistive activities such as squeezing a hole puncher, coloring over sandpaper with a crayon, or ripping cardboard use the smaller muscles in the hands while the arm and shoulder muscles work to stabilize the body. The boy in the photo above squeezes a "Hungry Harry" tennis ball to feed him pennies removed from putty.

Resistive activities feel good-not only children but many adults love to pull, squeeze, and push with their hands and bodies. We see this during pillow fights and wrestling matches, or when people squeeze balls sold to relieve stress. there are many simple resistive activities that use the arms and shoulders. Examples are

  • using the hands to roll a large ball up and down a wall while standing or kneeling
  • "painting" a garage or other outdoor structure with water using a heavy brush or roller
  • shoveling snow or sand
  • dragging a blanket that is holding another child or a pet
  • washing the car

The following video demonstrates a client using force to string rings onto a coiled hose. Notice that the rings are easier to grasp and have larger holes than than beads typically do.

The following are examples of a few commercially available resistive toys.

Adapting to Make Success Easy and Frequent

Children with dyspraxia may avoid fine-motor activities due to past failures. Let's adapt activities so that success becomes easier and more frequent by making materials

  • larger - the holes in the lacing board shown above can be cut to be as large as needed
  • less flimsy- the cord used in the lacing board shown above is not flimsy like string
  • with less choices- shape sorter with  only 1 or 2 shapes and corresponding openings are easier.
  • that use visual and/or tactile cues such as a rubber band that shows where to grasp a marker
  • repetitive so that there are plenty of opportunities to practice a skill

The girl in the photo below is inserting only 2 different shapes into the box. This is much easier than the commercial shape sorters that provide several shapes and corresponding openings.

This link and the following video demonstrates how to make and use a toy called Zoom Ball (Sometimes called Forward Pass). It is resistive because it takes force to open the handles that make the ball shoot across to the other player. Players develop the coordination to use both hands together and rhythm to repetitively open and close arms at the right times.

These are just a few tips on how to help individuals with dyspraxia develop hand skills. Please check out my book From Flapping to Function: A Parent's Guide to Autism and Hand Skills for many more strategies...

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