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  • Dr. Lisa Marnell, OTD, MBA

Support the Autistic Sensory Seeker with Dyspraxia



I often see children’s actions labeled as “sensory seeking” when in fact they are truly reflecting difficulties processing and discriminating proprioceptive input and reflect challenges with motor planning.


I will explain!


What is Dyspraxia Anyway?


So, children are innately driven to move. A child who is developing without motor challenges may learn how to bounce and throw a basketball into a hoop. Then they may be able to engage in “shooting baskets” for an hour or more in the driveway. This way this child gets a good “workout” and satisfies that innate drive for movement.


But imagine another child who has difficulty discriminating where their body is in space and how to intentionally and carefully move their body to achieve an outcome. They may try and try to throw a basketball at a target but could struggle with how to position their hands on the ball, how high to raise the ball above their head, how gently or how hard to throw the ball etc.


So, this second child wants to move as much as the first child, yet the body awareness (which is called proprioception) and the motor planning just can’t support organized movement yet.


How Can I Address Dyspraxia in Autism?


1- Adapt Activities to Work on Skills:


So, what to do? This is where OT does come into play. In OT a child would lead a session in gross motor play, and the therapist would adapt the challenges so that the child has very simple motor tasks to master. It is a step by step process as the motor demands are graded for a child.


An example could be when a child shows interest in climbing on a climbing wall but cannot sequence where to put his feet (because of his challenges in proprioception, AKA body awareness). So an OT may collaborate with a child to play a game where they ONLY focus on climbing the start of the climbing wall, putting both feet on the first two foot holds. The game could be anything, depending on what the child likes.


“You’re Superman and the people on the first floor of the building need to be rescued!”


“The water from the flood is coming. We need to get to dry land.”


Being very playful and following a child’s interests are key so these scaffolded motor movements are meaningful and motivating to a child.


2- Address Body Awareness Through Activities:


Next in OT, there are many, many play-based ways to improve a child’s body awareness. Simple games like Freeze Dance, Simon Says, Red Light Green Light. Stop and start activities are wonderful as they work on basic body control as well as stability and core strength.


3- Incorporate Heavy Work Input:


Then in OT, and ideally every day for some time in a child’s home all week long, you would want to encourage heavy work activities so the child’s brain begins to better learn where the body is in space. Try climbing through a tunnel filled with cushions, carrying a heavy book high then low through cones, crawling forward then crawling backward ten feet, taking big jumps then little jumps together.


Take a moment and think now . . . What simple ways could you encourage a child to become more aware of their body at home or in the classroom?


Share one game, activity, or tip in the comments!


More from Dr. Lisa Marnell and Kids Master Skills . . .


If you want to learn more ways to support your autistic students, watch my FREE MasterClass that offers you proactive supports for sensory sensitive children and teens.


Watch it HERE: https://www.kidsmasterskills.com/


As always, feel welcome to touch base with me by e-mail at KidsMasterSkills@gmail.com


I would love to hear about your successes, your struggles, and any questions or comments you have! Let me know if this post was helpful.


Join my Autism Facebook group for Occupational Therapists and learn more about strengths-based and neurodiversity-affirming practice!

Join HERE: https://www.facebook.com/groups/kidsmasterskills


Are you following Kids Master Skills on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or YouTube?


Finally, for a variety of skill-building resources, check out my store on Teachers Pay Teachers at https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Kids-Master-Skills



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