What is dyspraxia? Dyspraxia (also called apraxia) is a general term for a condition that makes talking difficult. Dyspraxia can affect movements of the body, speech or swallowing.
The brain needs to plan how to say what it wants to say so it needs to tell all the nerves and muscles what movements to make, in the right order. Usually, the brain plans it, carries it out and makes adjustments as needed. This is called a motor program.
Dyspraxia occurs when a motor program doesn’t happen as it is supposed to.
The good news is that dyspraxia is very treatable. Read more about dyspraxia treatment here.
Definitions of dyspraxia often contain the term “motor program”.
A motor program is what the brain does every time it plans an action by any part of the body. The brain is actually performing countless mathematical calculations that are needed to plan an action. For example, if you want to reach out and pick up your coffee cup from the table in front of you, your brain is working out how far to reach, how heavy it is likely to be, how much pressure you will need to hold it firmly but not too tight, how much effort will be required to bring it back.
It also adjusts the movements as necessary, for example, if you find out that the cup is fuller or heavier than you expect you change the amount of pressure you use.
The brain always plans whole actions at a time, not bit-by-bit. So when we are going to talk, it plans a whole section of what we are going to say at a time. In adults this can be whole phrases or sentences about one idea. In young children learning to talk this might be just one word.
Dyspraxia is when this planning is interrupted in some way or does not happen effectively, or if the body is not able to carry out the plan.
Dyspraxia is different to other speech difficulties.
In children, if a child is not speaking at an age-appropriate level it may be for a number of reasons, including speech delay. Speech delay can occur for many reasons, but this is not the same as dyspraxia or apraxia.
Dyspraxia does not usually involve weak muscles or low muscle tone in the tongue, lips or cheeks.
In adults, disruption to speech or language can happen when any adverse event happens to the brain. Many parts of the brain are involved in producing speech. Other diagnoses include aphasia, expressive aphasia, receptive aphasia and dysarthria. These are all conditions that are different to dyspraxia or apraxia.
A Speech Pathologist can diagnose which of these conditions are present. It is possible for a person to have a combination of these conditions.
As babies, these children make only a limited range of babbling sounds. When they try to start to talk they are unsuccessful, and difficult to understand. They have difficulty making many of the sounds of speech.
Often words are represented by other sounds that may sound quite different to how the real word should sound. They don’t always say a word the same way every time. And they have a great deal of difficulty in putting words together and making sentences.
Children with dyspraxia usually understand other people well.
What is dyspraxia in adults? Adults can acquire dyspraxia, usually by having something happen to their brain such as a stroke (CVA) or a lesion of some kind. This can cause a disruption to the neurological (brain) processes. A fluent speaker can lose the ability to speak.
Dyspraxia happens when the brain is no longer able to plan how to say words or sentences or to actually perform the movements needed.
There is often some loss of comprehension at the same time because the parts of the brain affected are also needed for understanding and remembering about words and language.
People with dyspraxia may often have an idea or concept of what they want to say but it just doesn’t “come out”. When they speak, their words can be either not happening at all or meaningless sounds, or else totally different words can come out – as if the wiring has been somehow crossed.
Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS)
Developmental Apraxia of Speech (DAS)
Verbal apraxia / verbal dyspraxia
Oral apraxia/ oral dyspraxia – includes other movements of the mouth such as licking and blowing
If the term “developmental” is used, it is always in relation to children. The term “acquired” relates to a condition that a person has not been born with, and usually involves adults.
Read more about these terms and what they mean on the dyspraxia definition page.