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Understanding how motor planning affects social skills 

Children with motor planning difficulties use their strengths to overcome their weaknesses in ideation, motor planning and adaptation. They request familiar things (foods included). They become the directors of their world – telling other kids how to play the games, telling teachers how they want to solve the math problem or form their letters, telling parents in which order to complete the bedtime routine. They excuse themselves from novel experiences – responding, “I don’t know” when asked what they would like to do, saying “no thanks” when offered to play a new game, or on the more common side of things walking or running away when something new occurs in play or social interactions particularly when it is unexpected. These cues tell us that the social situation they are in is hard for them and there is likely a motor planning weakness to blame. If these subtle cues for regaining security are missed (which they often are in our busy world) then the feeling of threat increases and they may enter fight mode. This is when physical responses are seen – hitting, pushing, spitting. Since the more subtle signs of an underlying motor planning challenge have been missed, this response is seen as bad behavior and often treated as such.

By understanding the underlying sensory motor weakness and validating the emotional response experienced because of this weakness, we can enter a state of mutual problem solving. When we enter shared problem solving with our sensory kids with dyspraxia we are working on the ideation, planning and sequencing capacities that are weak. We are forming positive social habits that lead them into engagement with others. We are reframing their emotional response of “I can’t” to “I can” and building resilience and persistence. We are improving social skills and emotional regulation.

The next time you feel like your child is being “bossy” and “inflexible” or if she is demonstrating challenging social behaviors, think about the possibility of motor planning weaknesses being the cause. Name their experience, validate their emotions and get into a conversation about how to solve the real problem at hand.

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