Dyspraxia vs. Apraxia

Instructor: Elizabeth Diehl

Elizabeth studied to be a special education teacher at Regis University, and received her masters in 2014.

Do dyspraxia and apraxia confuse you? Do you know how you might help your student with either disability fit in your classroom? Today, we'll explore what these terms mean.

What Do These Terms Mean?

The terms dyspraxia and apraxia describe two disabilities that are closely related. It helps to understand what the words apraxia and dyspraxia mean. The root word 'praxis' means 'skilled movement'. The prefix 'a' means 'not, or lack of', and the prefix 'dys' relates to 'partial'. So even the terms almost mean the same thing, 'partial skilled movement' or 'lack of skilled movement'. In certain circles of professionals, the terms are used interchangeably, which adds to the confusion. We will focus on the definitions provided by medical specialists and organizations such as The American Speech Language Hearing Association.

What are Dyspraxia and Apraxia?

Dyspraxia is a developmental disability that affects motor planning, or how a person plans and controls their body to do a task. For a person with dyspraxia, something inside his brain confuses the signals needed to move the correct muscles so that he can make the right action. The action might use large muscles, like those needed to kick a ball, or fine motor skills, such as writing the letter A. Some basic activities, such as climbing stairs, balancing on one foot, or even putting events of a story in order can be affected too. As one might expect, many people with dyspraxia hesitate before completing an action. Usually the hesitation means the person is mentally rehearsing what they need to do to complete the action. Often for people with dyspraxia, learning new things is very difficult, and they might be resistant to join in a game or activity.

Struggling to kick a ball is a classic example of dyspraxia.
kicking a ball is an example of gross motor planning

Apraxia is a term used to describe a speech disability that specifically affects a person's verbal planning. The complete formal diagnosis name for apraxia would be either Childhood Apraxia of Speech, or Acquired Apraxia of Speech, depending on the age of the person and how apraxia was discovered. For Childhood Apraxia of Speech, the developmental disability is discovered as the child grows, and language skills become apparent. Acquired Apraxia of Speech occurs usually after a medical event, such as a stroke or even dementia. For a person with apraxia, she knows what she wants to say, and can make all the correct sounds, but gets stuck trying to put the sounds in the right order. Something inside her brain confuses the signals needed to move the right muscles in her mouth so that the words are said correctly.

People with apraxia know what they want to say, but struggle to get the words out correctly.
People with apraxia know what they want to say, but struggle to get the words out correctly.

How are These Disabilities Alike?

Apraxia is very closely related to dyspraxia, in that apraxia is a form of dyspraxia. While dyspraxia is a broader term used to describe muscle planning developmental disabilities, apraxia is used to describe muscle planning needed especially for speech. Neither disability is something a person will outgrow, or get over, but with careful instruction and hard work, people with either disability can learn to work through their challenges.

What Sort of Challenges Do These Bring to the Classroom?

Obviously, how these disabilities might impact a student in school will play out differently, from person to person. Students with either diagnosis benefit from supportive teachers who both encourage them and recognize their struggles.

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