Have you heard the term motor planning? Or perhaps you’ve heard the word praxis. They mean the same thing, the ability of a person to assess a situation and figure out how to complete a task in a coordinated manner. This is done automatically with little thinking required unless it is a new or difficult task. Motor planning is involved on some level in practically everything we do: walking, talking, dressing, driving, swimming, writing, our hobbies and our work. Think of learning how to jump rope, how you watched other people doing it then tried it yourself. You had to really think about what you were doing until you practiced enough to be so good at it that you could even hold a conversation or sing a song while jumping. You motor planned that task then repeated it over and over. You did the same thing when you learned how to drive a car.
Motor planning involves a few steps. First is ideation, which is when you study the situation. This is not usually a lengthy step, just enough to figure out what needs to be done. Next is organizing your plan of action, how to do it. Finally you execute the plan. This can be as simple as dodging a ball or learning how to write the alphabet. Many of the kids we see in therapy have difficulty with one or more of these steps. They may have a hard time when encountering new activities or have to relearn familiar tasks. You will see kids playing with toys in an atypical manner, which is fine when it is imagination at work. But if the child does not seem to “get” how to interact with toys, it could be a motor planning problem. This is often referred to as dyspraxia.
What do we do about dyspraxia? First your therapist will assess where your child is having difficulty and meet him at that level in a safe secure environment. He will be exposed to fun motivating activities of gradually increasing difficulty. Children with dyspraxia are often afraid to step out of their comfort zone and learn how to avoid confusing situations. Trial and error is much better with a therapist by his side, and success ensures improved confidence. It is important to note that many factors impact motor planning which can include sensory processing, fine or gross motor coordination, vision, cognitive skills, etc. These other areas must also be addressed.
What can you do at home? First thing is to understand your child and her needs. Your therapist will help you with this step. Follow through with your home program and report any issues or changes. Offer your child a good variety of activity at her level, giving her your help especially when getting started. It is often beginning the task that is most difficult. Repetitive engaging tasks are very good depending on your child’s needs. If your child has difficulty with fine motor praxis, then your activities should be in that realm.
Sometimes in OT, a child is given a multi-step obstacle course using a variety of gross and fine motor challenges to work on motor planning. This can be done at home with a little imagination, and kids love to help setting up the stations. A home obstacle course could include crawling over or under a couch cushion, a set of jumping jacks, dribbling a ball, tossing a stuffed animal into a laundry basket and placing a few puzzle pieces. The child goes through the course then repeats until the puzzle is finished, maybe 4-5 times total. Children will often comply better with difficult activity when they know there is a specific end. Be encouraging and positive, and your enthusiasm will be contagious, helping your child to feel more confident to try new fun things.
Nancy E.A. Weiss, MOT, OTR/L