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Does your child appear clumsy?
Do they appear less coordinated than their peers?
Do they struggle with playing sports, riding a bike, or other games?
Do they typically choose the same playground structure that are familiar?
Did they take a longer time to jump with two feet?
Do they have difficulty catching or throwing a ball?
If you answered YES to many of these questions, your child may have developmental dyspraxia, or difficulty with motor planning abilities. Many different brain processes are involved in movement and can cause poor coordination. One type of poor coordination that is a result of sensory integrative dysfunction is a deficit in motor planning.
Motor planning is, in some ways, the highest and most complex form of functioning in children. Because it involves conscious attention, it is closely linked to mental and intellectual functions. It depends upon very complex sensory integration throughout the brain stem and cerebral hemispheres. The brain tells the muscles what to do, but the sensations from the body enable the brain to do the telling. Motor planning his the “bridge” between the sensorimotor and the intellectual aspects of brain function.
To improve their motor planning, these children need activities involving a lot of vestibular, tactile, and proprioceptive experiences, along with adaptive responses that help to organize these sensations. The impulses from the vestibular system generate the muscle tone that keeps the muscles firm and ready to respond. Most children with developmental dyspraxia have low muscle tone, and this reduces the amount of proprioception the muscles send back into the nervous system. This is one more reason why we must develop the vestibular system to help the child to motor plan.
So what can you do as a parent? It is best to seek an evaluation & treatment from a professional with sensory integration experience.
The following are some ways to help your child to develop praxis (motor planning) abilities:
- When your child is involved in a novel activity, you may need to give physical assistance and verbal reassurance the first few times they perform the new activity.
- Activities that incorporate climbing over, under, through, and so on, such as playing on playground climbing structures or building obstacle courses, can help your child gain an understanding of how their body moves in space.
- Activities that involve imitation such as ‘Simon Says’ or ‘Follow the Leader’ help the child be able to plan actions based on watching and copying peers.
- Help your child engage in activities that require specific timing of body movements and anticipation of where and how to move, such as kicking a rolled ball, using a jump rope, or hitting a ball with a bat. Remember your child will need extra repetitions of these activities in order to master the movement.
- Encourage your child to try new ways of playing with toys or play equipment and try new playgrounds.
Many children who have trouble motor planning may say “I can’t” frequently or want to be the ‘boss’ during play activities because they can control the situation and avoid challenging situations. In all cases helping your child copy and to make and keep friends is important.
**excerpts from Sensory Integration and the Child by A. Jean Ayres, Ph.D.