Dyspraxia: Tips for Treating and Teaching Children with Coordination Challenges

Guest post by Barbara A. Smith.

Dyspraxia is one type of sensory processing disorder (SPD) that makes it difficult for children to plan and perform motor tasks such as stringing beads or riding a bicycle. Children with dyspraxia may

  • Appear clumsy
  • easily break things because they use too much force or
  • struggle to fit their arms into sleeves or sequence steps to shoe tying

Children with SPD often have more than one of the 6 subtypes that impact how their brains interpret and respond to what they see, hear, feel, smell, taste and how they move. They may seem extra active or lethargic, super sensitive or oblivious, have difficulty controlling their body while using their hands or can’t discriminate what part of their body was touched or is in pain.  Let’s take a look at a few strategies that may help children with dyspraxia and other types of SPD as well as children who are typically developing.

Simplify for Success

Nobody likes failure; especially young children who have poor coordination to stack rings, string beads or lace boards.  Consider purchasing, making or adapting these types of activities to make success easy and frequent. Try using

  • an extra large tube as a ring stack and rings to stack. The one shown in the photo is made by wedging a swimming noodle into a juice container and has a motorized pen inserted on top to make it vibrate.  Vibration helps children to focus on what their hands are doing.
  • thick cord and shower curtain rings for stringing instead of offering string and beads. Many toddlers will find this an easier introduction to stringing.
  • lacing boards with a few extra big  holes and thick cord. I attached the photo of a horse to this lacing board that I used with clients during Hippotherapy (therapy using a horse as a therapeutic tool).
Vibrating Ring StackLacing Board

Practice Makes Perfect

Design activities to require repetition. When a child closes a jacket there is usually only one zipper to connect or a few buttons. Many children benefit from the repetition of closing several button squares. As I describe in my book From Rattles to Writing: A Parent’s Guide to Hand Skills, these are made by sewing a large button or round plastic piece (see photo) to fabric. Then cut a slit into another piece.  As your child develops skill, offer button squares with smaller buttons.

Button Squares

ZippersMany children are able to close a zipper once the slider is connected.  But connecting the slider onto the zipper is very tricky. In the photograph you see me wearing an old jacket and attaching several zipper sliders.  The sliders are sold in zipper repair kits or you can remove nice big ones from broken backpacks and suitcases. I have taught adults with developmental disabilities to zip their own jackets after practicing connecting and pulling up several slider every day.

Let’s Take Apart

Button BoardOpening buttons, screw caps, zippers and knots seems to be a lot easier than closing them.  One of the strategies I describe in my book From Flapping to Function: A Parent’s Guide to Autism and Hand Skills is to teach children to “ take- apart” before teaching them to “put-together”. In this way they will become familiar and successful with the materials before learning the more challenging motor skills of tying, buttoning, snapping, screwing lids etc. It is much easier to remove the fabric pieces from the “buttoning board” shown below and children will have many opportunities to practice. This board was made by drilling holes into a book stand and tying the “buttons” onto cord that is knotted through the holes.

Manipulation BoxIn my book The Recycling Occupational Therapist I describe how to make activities that are perfect for opening and taking apart. The Manipulation Box shown in the photograph has screw covers, Velcro strips, pull lids, and magnets attached to a cookie sheet so that children can remove a variety of objects to drop inside.

Keeping It Fun

Yes, practice is important but we need variation and to add sensory stimulation to keep it fun. That’s why I love

  • form boards and ring stacks that make music
  • adding a motorized pen inside containers to make insertion tasks vibrate
  • using materials such as Velcro and elastic cord that feel good to pull
  • toy animals with clothing fasteners to manipulate
  • using pretend play toys such as “Feed the Bunny”

Bunny Insertion TaskI covered an oatmeal container with fur, attached a face to the lid and photocopied some food items. Now “Feed the Bunny” is more than a plain old shape sorter. This great for working on choice making (i.e. shall we feed bunny a carrot or tomato?), identifying pictures, counting and of course promoting a healthy diet.  I hope that you have fun implementing some of these strategies!

Here are some great Therapro products I recommend that you might use in addition to the activities I’ve discussed:

Squiggle Wiggle Writer Pen
Squiggle Wiggle Writer Pen
Sound Puzzles
Sound Puzzles
Giant Plastic Nuts and Bolts
Giant Plastic Nuts and Bolts
Learn to Dress Monkey
Learn to Dress Monkey

Barbara A. Smith has worked with children and adults with developmental disabilities for over 40 years! She is the author of the Recycling Occupational Therapist, From Rattles to Writing: A Parent’s Guide to Hand Skills and From Flapping to Function: A Parent’s Guide to Autism and Hand Skills. Learn more about her work at RecyclingOT.com.

AOTA Conference & Expo 2017


The AOTA Annual Conference & Expo in Philadelphia this year surpassed expectations with 14,000 therapists convening at the Convention Center!  The opportunity to celebrate the 100th birthday of Occupational Therapy drew revelers from around the world. Therapro brought a team of 5 seasoned therapists, including Karen, Ginger, Linda, and Kim, and me, who worked together like a well oiled machine setting up our huge and colorful Therapro exhibit display, and for the following three days, discussing Therapro products, problem-solving with therapists, and enjoying the constant traffic and spirited interactions at our booth.  This year, once again, we shared our booth with authors, Carolyn Murray-Slutsky, MS, OTR, C/NDT and Betty A. Paris, PT, MEd, C/NDT, along with Carolyn’s husband, Herman. Their publications: Autism Interventions, Is It Sensory or Is It Behavior?DTI: Laminated Card Series – Sensory Modulation & Positive Behavioral Strategies, and the new Sleep ‘N Sync materials flew off the shelves!

Here are a few of the exciting new products we introduced:

Therapists loved the newly revised products: Fine Motor Olympics and Drive Thru Menus. Some other HOT items included Progressive Grip Kit, Farm Sticks, Yoga Cards the Game, Fidgets and Wind Ups, Crayon Rocks, Sensory Connection books, Follow the Leader Maze and Dolphin Diving Maze, Letter Treasure Hunt Game, Chew Necklaces, and Trackit.

The Therapro team was exhausted after our Philadelphia adventures, but still had enough gas in the tank to declare – “Let’s do it again next year in Salt Lake City!”  Our commitment to occupational therapy was reinforced over and over in Philadelphia and remains unwavering!!  AOTA, we wish you continued growth and development as we begin the second hundred years!

Filomena Connor, MS, OTR/L

Saturday Seminar: An Introduction to Yoga and Mindfulness in the Classroom

The energy at Therapro Headquarters was palpable on Saturday, April 8, in anticipation of Meg Durkin, MS, E-RYT, RCYT’s seminar: An Introduction to Yoga and Mindfulness in the Classroom: Tools to Improve Self-Regulation, Learning, and Classroom Climate. A totally different feeling in the room was achieved after Meg led a group experience of several yoga and mindfulness exercises in a sample “Morning Meeting Sequence” that included: Chime Listening/Pass the Chime which helped focus attention in the moment; Mountain, Washing Machine, King Dancer, and Imagination Vacation.

Meg is a licensed Yoga 4 Classrooms instructor, ChildLight Yoga Trainer, and founder of Yoga Magic 4 Kids. She is a registered adult and child yoga teacher through Yoga Alliance. She teaches workshops to elementary school teachers about integrating yoga into the classroom. Her skills include mindful breathing, standing yoga poses, seated yoga poses at the desk, imagination vacations, be well topics, and mindful games. She has trained in Brain Gym and yoga for children with special needs.

According to Meg, increasing numbers of students lack the critical life skills of self-regulation, impulse control and focus that negatively affect their behavior, ability to learn and overall well being. In her seminar, she demonstrated how students can learn these skills. In her practice, she utilizes yoga and mindfulness techniques especially designed for the classroom that are convenient, effective and fun. Integrating yoga movement, breathing and mindfulness can be used in a variety of ways.  They can be used as an activity in and of themselves, and/or integrated in the typical class day, throughout the day. For example, she suggested that students could put their heads on their desks as they listen to Mindful Meditations read to them. The result is a positive, peaceful, and productive classroom climate for all students who are then in a better “learning-ready state.” Specifically in the Yoga for Classrooms curriculum, the focus is on providing a simple, accessible, sustainable whole child health and wellness program that includes 67 yoga and mindfulness based activities specifically designed for the “space and time-crunched classroom.”

We appreciated Meg citing research to support the use of yoga and mindfulness in the classroom setting. An interesting pilot study she discussed in which Yoga for Classrooms was used with 2nd and 3rd grade students was conducted by an Exercise Physiology Department and measured salivary cortisol levels, performance on an attention network test, and teacher surveys.  Overall results in perceived improvement occurred in a broad number of areas including social interaction, attention span, ability to stay on task, ability to deal with stress/anxiety, etc.

The classroom is a busy, bustling environment.  Meg taught us that taking “yoga breaks” is an effective way to refocus students and the energy in the classroom. Meg’s skill as a yoga instructor was apparent to all of us today who left with a more calm, focused energy to tackle the rest of our weekend.

Here are some comments from attendees:

“It’s very practical in today’s fast paced world – I have integrated both breath work and yoga asanas into my classroom and have seen the improvement in my students.” Kristine P., Teacher

“I learned great activities to help my students to focus and concentrate.” Anonymous, SLP

“Interesting. I like the positive attitude and incremental approach offered; not a ‘do it all or nothing’ message.” Maura, Teacher

“Great way to get additional ideas to incorporate into OT sessions (groups & classroom). Definitely could see incorporating “count down to calm” & “imagination vacation” into sessions that typically only include Zones of Regulation. I like the emphasis on movement at accessible level.”  Meredith, Occupational Therapist

Thank you, Meg!

Filomena Connor, MS, OTR/L