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Developmental coordination disorder - Diagnosing dyspraxia

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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The earlier your child is diagnosed with dyspraxia, a type of developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD), the greater their chances of improvement.

Talk to your GP, health visitor or special needs co-ordinator if you think your child has dyspraxia. They may refer your child to another professional who cannot confirm the diagnosis by themselves, but can provide additional information to help with the diagnosis process.

These may include:

  • an occupational therapist - a healthcare professional who works out practical solutions to everyday problems
  • a paediatrician - a doctor who specialises in the health of children and babies
  • a physiotherapist - a healthcare professional who is trained to use physical methods, such as massage, to promote healing
  • a clinical psychologist - a healthcare professional who specialises in the assessment and treatment of mental health conditions to deal with emotional problems
  • an educational psychologist - a professional who assists children who are having difficulty progressing with their education as a result of emotional, psychological or behavioural factors

Other doctors who may be involved include a neurodevelopmental paediatrician or a paediatric neurologist. These are paediatricians (see above) who also specialise in the development of the central nervous system (the brain, nerves and spinal cord).

A neurologist can also rule out other neurological conditions (conditions that affect the brain and nervous system) that may be causing your child's symptoms.

Assessment

After your child has been referred, the healthcare professionals involved will carry out an assessment. The assessment will usually involve a detailed account of your child's:

  • developmental history, such as when they first sat up or crawled
  • intellectual ability, such as how they are progressing with reading and writing

There will also be tests of your child's gross and fine motor (movement) skills:

  • gross motor skills are the ability to use large muscles that co-ordinate body movements, such as running, walking, jumping, throwing and maintaining balance
  • fine motor skills are the ability to use small muscles for accurate co-ordinated movements, such as writing, tying a shoelace, doing up buttons and tracing and cutting out shapes

These skills will be tested by asking your child to carry out physical activities, such as throwing a ball or completing some handwriting. The healthcare professionals will be able to determine whether your child's motor skills are abnormal for what is usually expected for children of their age and intellectual ability. 

Diagnostic criteria

Since the mid-1990s, dyspraxia has been diagnosed using the following criteria:

  • Your child's motor skills are significantly below the level expected for their age and intelligence
  • This lack of skill affects your child's day-to-day activities and their achievements at school
  • This lack of skill is not caused by another medical condition, such as cerebral palsy (a set of neurological conditions that affect a child's movement and co-ordination) or muscular dystrophy (an inherited condition that gradually causes the muscles to weaken)
  • If your child also has a learning difficulty, their motor skills are worse than expected for someone with this learning difficulty

Your child may be diagnosed with dyspraxia if they match all these criteria.

Medical Review: July 03, 2012
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