Dyspraxia vs Apraxia: what’s the difference?

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This article will discuss the definitions of dyspraxia and apraxia, the main difference between them, and several aspects such as their nature, impact on speech, the severity of the condition, and the relationship between them. It is important to raise awareness about these conditions as they both affect the brain’s ability to plan movements needed to make speech sounds.

What exactly is dyspraxia?

The definition of dyspraxia may depend on the individual’s profession you are asking. Dyspraxia may have different definitions depending on different fields such as physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, teachers and so on. However, according to the Dyspraxia Foundation, it can be defined as “an impairment or immaturity of the organisation of movement. Associated with this there may be problems of language, perception, and thought”. In other words, it is about the brain’s immaturity in processing information which affects the body’s responses. Moreover, the Greek etymology of the word means poor performance of movements.

What is apraxia?

Apraxia is used to define the impaired ability of performing a gesture, despite several brain functions being engaged in the action. This means that people have difficulties in performing certain movements, even though their muscles are normal. Being a neurological condition, milder forms of apraxia are defined as symptoms of dyspraxia.

There are different forms of apraxia which affect different gestures or movements. For example, orofacial apraxia affects facial gestures such as lip licking or winking. Another form of apraxia is related to a person’s capacity to move their arms and legs. Moreover, apraxia of speech raises difficulties in people’s lives when they have to move their mouth or tongue to speak. Additionally, apraxia of speech can be acquired in people of all ages, or it can be present from birth, affecting children’s ability to form sounds and words.

Several symptoms of apraxia of speech may consist of difficulty in saying long or complicated words, omitting consonants at the beginning and end of words, distorting of vowels, speech inconsistencies, babbling during childhood, and so on. Usually, apraxia of speech in children can be observed along with other conditions such as grammatical issues, limited vocabulary, clumsiness, and problems with chewing and swallowing.

What are the main differences between apraxia and dyspraxia?

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Both terms, apraxia and dyspraxia, describe two disabilities which are closely related. For example, in children, when they have a difficulty in pronunciation, language therapists may diagnose them with Childhood apraxia of speech and verbal dyspraxia too. According to research, the term apraxia is used more by the American Speech Language-Hearing Association, and other professionals prefer to use the term verbal dyspraxia. However, one of the main differences between these conditions is related to their severity. Thus, apraxia is the most severe because it refers to the complete inability to do something, while dyspraxia refers to the partial inability to perform actions.

The nature of the disorder

The nature of the disorder is developmental by affecting individuals’ ability to process sounds, syllables, and words. As mentioned before, this neurological condition is not connected to muscle weakness or paralysis, it is just the brain’s inability to move different body parts that are needed for speech. It may occur as a result of a neurological impairment associated with complex neurobehavioral disorders. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 describes verbal dyspraxia as a disorder in which “other areas of motor coordination may be impaired as in developmental coordination disorder”. Therefore, the impairment of speech when neuromuscular deficits are not present is highlighted.

Impact on speech

According to the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health framework, some of the impacts on speech may be represented by impairments in body structure and function, limitations in activities and participation due to poor functional communication, difficulty in interpersonal communication with family members and friends, and learning difficulties. Moreover, the impact on speech can also affect environmental and personal factors such as poor communication abilities and communication impairments which affect the quality of life of the individuals.

The severity of the condition

Severity is usually referred to as mild, moderate, or severe. The level of severity of the condition is determined by the child’s response to tactile stimulation, and visual and auditory stimulation. It is important to keep in mind that the child’s vocabulary determines the severity of the condition because the number of words or sounds a child has will change over time. Therefore, they can have a limited vocabulary which can be misunderstood as a severe level, but they may perform well in cueing in therapy, indicating a mild or moderate severity.

Can dyspraxia lead to apraxia?

As has already been mentioned, these two conditions are very closely related, in that apraxia is a form of dyspraxia. However, dyspraxia is an umbrella term to describe muscle planning developmental abilities, while apraxia is most commonly used to describe muscle planning needed for speech. They can affect gross and fine motor skills, motor planning, the way movement is organised, speech and language, and the ability to perform your daily activities in a normal way. These conditions can be acquired, for example, due to strokes or head injuries, or they can be associated with failures or delays of normal neurological functions. Therefore, dyspraxia and apraxia can influence the ability of individuals to perform daily tasks, influencing individuals to become apathetic or uninterested. These conditions may be often associated with anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorders, learning difficulties, and language impairments.

This article presented the definitions of dyspraxia and apraxia, discussed the differences between these two conditions, and explained the nature of the disorder, the impact it has on speech, how to understand the level of severity, and the relationship between these two.

Blog Author

Oana Gherasim