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December 4, 2019

Planning and Sequencing: Strategies to Help Children With Praxis Issues

How to help children build the planning and sequencing skills necessary to learn daily tasks

Some children struggle with planning and sequencing (praxis), which is necessary in order to perform motor tasks. Therapy focused on building sequencing skills allows these children to learn tasks and function at a higher level.

Here is a quick primer on how praxis works and how specialized therapy can help.

What is praxis?

Planning and sequencing events in a task (also called praxis) is the process that allows our muscles to carry out movements. Basically, the brain must plan what to do and then figure out how to do it so the muscles can carry out the desired action.

Whether it’s picking up blocks, throwing a ball, or skipping down the sidewalk, planning and sequencing are required.

In children with poor motor planning abilities, a kind of miscommunication happens between the sensory and motor systems. It’s a condition called dyspraxia or the inability to plan movement.

What’s involved in sequencing?

Motor planning is a multi-step process that helps the brain order the muscles to carry out the movement. There are four steps involved in motor planning:

  1. Imagine the task (ideation)
  2. Plan the steps to perform the task (motor planning)
  3. Carry out the task (execution)
  4. Collect feedback and make corrections (adaptation)

This sequence of events must happen every time you want to perform a task, whether it’s running and jumping or things like getting dressed and eating.

Why does sequencing matter?

While planning and sequencing might seem simple, in fact, it is a very complex process. Think of the steps required to throw a ball:

  1. You must be aware of where your body is in relation to the space around you (body awareness).
  2. You need cognitive ability to understand how your actions should be carried out in the environment (your brain tells you to avoid that tree on the right).
  3. You need bilateral coordination (using both hands at the same time).
  4. Finally, you need problem-solving skills to make corrections (so you throw the ball better next time).

For most people, this process happens automatically without conscious thought. This is not the case for children for dyspraxia. They often struggle to learn and master new tasks, resulting in developmental delays.

How can therapy improve planning and sequencing?

Therapy that includes developing planning and sequencing skills helps children learn to perform motor tasks. It requires a multi-tiered approach.

  • Breaking tasks into small steps
  • Breaking down instructions into parts
  • Repeating steps to learn new tasks
  • Physically guiding the child through tasks
  • Ensuring the body receives and interprets messages correctly (sensory processing)
  • Talking the child through each task (cognitive planning strategies)
  • Engaging all seven senses
  • Building muscle strength
  • Repeating instructions out loud
  • Using First/Then sentences to establish the order of steps needed to complete tasks

14 signs of poor motor planning skills

It’s important to recognize the signs of poor motor planning (dyspraxia) as early as possible. Here are some symptoms to look out for:

  • Slow to learn new motor skills
  • Lack of coordination
  • Cannot perform the same skills as children of the same age (catching, kicking, jumping, etc.)
  • Unable to follow multi-step instructions
  • Behind in developmental milestones (crawling, walking, running, etc.)
  • Stiff, awkward, or clumsy movements
  • Avoids all physical activities
  • Has trouble packing a bag for school (books, papers, folders, lunch, pencils, etc.)
  • Has trouble starting or completing tasks
  • Has trouble writing his/her thoughts on paper
  • Unable to sequence steps in a series of movements (i.e. steps needed to throw a ball)
  • Has trouble performing movements safely
  • Struggles to complete tasks compared to children his/her age
  • Frequently falls, trips, or bumps into things

Displaying these issues could indicate a problem. If you notice any of the signs, ask your pediatrician for a referral to a specialist or therapist.

Hope for the future

If your child struggles with dyspraxia, don’t despair. Occupational therapy can be employed to help children process and learn complex tasks. By focusing on breaking up tasks into manageable steps and teaching children how to learn new skills, they can make positive developmental strides. Early intervention is key, so don’t delay if you think there may be a problem.

Lumiere Children’s Therapy is a full-service, multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice located in Chicago that serves the developmental needs of children from birth to 18 years of age. Learn more about how our team of clinicians works to improve the lives of children and their families.

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