What is Dyspraxia?

To understand what dyspraxia is we must first learn what “praxia” is. Praxia is from the Greek word “praxis” which means movement process. Praxis is the process by which we figure out how to plan our actions and move our bodies easefully towards achieving a goal.

Praxis enables the young child (after much trial and error) to learn how to carry out gross and fine motor movements such as crawling, walking, running, hopping, jumping and skipping. Also, it enables the child to learn how to do many more complex tasks, such as how to dress herself, tie her own shoe laces, manage a knife and fork at the table without making a huge mess, and swim overarm.

As the child enters school, praxis is the process used to learn a myriad of new tasks, such as how to write, remember how to do long division, plan and write a story or essay, catch a ball and throw it back to a partner, shoot goals in netball and learn new skills in gymnastics.

Movements developed via praxis are not reflexive or automatic movements such as the primitive reflexes of sucking and grasping. They are movements which are purposeful, chosen and require planning.

How does the process of Praxis work?

1. First must come the idea or goal

An infant’s goal might be to “get up that step”, “to get that spoon into my mouth”, “to put those blocks in that box’ or “to get out of my cot and find Mum”.

The goal arises as a result of many hours of sensory experience in the environment, taking in sounds, sights, textures, smells, taste, and experimenting with moving the body, in the process developing body awareness and spatial awareness orientation.

A wide range of related sensory information will need to be available which has been processed and stored in the sensory memory bank via previous experience, before the task can even be attempted.

2. Then the plan of action must be formulated

This is sorted out by the motor planning part of the brain in the parietal lobe. It must decide before anything else happens which positions the various parts of the body will need to be in during this task, which muscles will be needed, which are to contract and which are to stretch, how the fingers and hands must move in order to achieve the goal and also the sequence of all these movements.

For example, if the goal is to climb up one step, the brain must sort out which muscles will be needed for each small segment of the plan, which might look something like this:

A. Move one hand up onto the step

B. Move the other hand up onto the step

C. Move the knees up onto the step one at a time

D. Turn around. Finally sit down to admire the view.

3. Execution of the plan

The other senses of balance, self movement and proprioception are also involved and all senses need to be functioning in an age appropriate fashion so that the child can successfully carry out the plan.

This is where it all comes together: the initial sensory experience, the forming of the goal, the motor plan and the execution of that plan. If all goes well the infant learns a new skill, enjoys a new sensory experience and with some repetition and persistence can add this to his growing repertoire of skills.

4. Storage of the plan for future use.

The plan is then stored in the cerebellum for future use. With each subsequent similar or identical task the cortex (where the idea is formed) alerts the cerebellum as to which plan is the most appropriate. Modifications are made by the cerebellum to suit the new situation and the plan is carried out.

Frequent repetition of movements leads to increased dendrite development in the brain so that in the future, once these message pathways are laid down, action plans can be relocated more quickly when needed. Plans are then actioned and the movements then occur quickly and smoothly, without the need for conscious planning and trial and error.


Developmental dyspraxia therefore is the condition in which this motor planning system in the brain and body does not function well from birth. It is a neurologically based disorder. This means that at some point in the process of planning, carrying out that plan and storing that plan for future use, the neurological pathways needed for these tasks are not connecting properly.

The breakdown may be in the following:

  • Sensory system (poor collection and storage of sensory information),
  • Incomplete dendrite development ( the nerve pathways which branch out from neurons in the brain ),
  • A lack of neuro transmitters ( substances which enable the messages to leap across the gaps between dendrites), or
  • In the storage and retrieval department in the cerebellum.

What are some of the signs of Dyspraxia?

Does your son or daughter fall over often? Are they clumsy, or do they avoid organized games and sports

Inside the classroom your child may:
  • Be slow to learn how to hold a pencil properly
  • Have difficulty using scissors
  • Be unable to print letters correctly
  • Have great ideas but struggle to write them down
  • Frequently reverse letters
  • Have messy writing
  • Forget their spelling words
  • Lose their place when reading
  • Forget where to start when doing maths
  • Be unable to understand long division
  • Socially, your child may be able to make friends quickly, but might have difficulty retaining them.
Tantrums and meltdowns may also occur more often than usual for their age due to overload and frustration.

What to do if you suspect your child is suffering from Dyspraxia?

The first step is to get an assessment. Here are some options:

  • Children under the age of 7 can be assessed by a paediatric occupational therapist at your local Early Childhood Developmental Service. These centres are free, funded by the Ministry for Education.  
  • Book an Assessment at the Developmental Learning Centre to understand the underlying causes of your child's difficulties.
  • Children over the age of six can be referred by their teacher to the GSE service for assessment and support in the classroom.
  • A trained and experienced neuro developmental therapist will also be able to give you an excellent assessment and there are now a number of private practitioners in this field working in New Zealand.

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Does your child display symptoms of Dyspraxia?

Call 0800 543 399 or Request a free call back with the Developmental Learning Centre to understand if how your child could benefit from our natural and holistic therapies.

Want to learn more about Dyspraxia?

Discover other expert articles on Dyspraxia:

‘How do I know if my child is dyspraxic? Common symptoms of Dyspraxia'.