Praxis & Motor Planning

Praxis & Motor Planning – What’s that?

Praxis? Motor Planning? You may have come across these terms but what does it all really mean? Praxis includes ideation, execution, and motor planning. It is defined as the ability to ideate and translate an idea into action that is unfamiliar or novel (Ayres, 1989). Motor planning is the ability to sequence and organize motor movements in a coordinated manner to complete unfamiliar motor tasks. The ability to motor plan is critical to complete everyday tasks, including dressing, brushing your teeth, cooking, and even writing thoughts to paper.

Dr. A. Jean Ayres pioneered Ayres Sensory Integration® and described sensory integration as “the organization of sensation for use” (Ayres, 1979). Efficient sensory integration contributes to the development of adequate motor functions, and praxis is an integral part of motor functions (Schaaf & Mailloux, 2015). According to ASI theory, difficulty perceiving information from our environment can impact our ability to efficiently engage with objects and learn new motor tasks. Several sensory systems are involved in developing adequate praxis and motor planning. For example, our sense of touch is necessary to recognize shapes and objects. Our proprioceptive sense is important for positioning our bodies in relation to other objects within the environment, and to adequately grade muscle movements when interacting with objects. Thus, challenges with praxis and motor planning can impact one’s ability to efficiently interact within their environment. Ultimately, this can impact the ability to learn new skills, or result in uncoordinated movements when engaging in motor activities. Consider all the motor planning involved for a toddler to grasp and play with a new toy, or to navigate around an obstacle within their path! If a child has limited play skills, challenges with praxis and motor planning could be contributing to their development.

Helping your child develop adequate praxis and motor planning skills can be fun and feasible with everyday activities. Some suggestions include:

  • Animal walks: Give your child a verbal command and see if they can form a plan and execute it to “walk” like that animal

  • Play “Simon Says” and imitate unfamiliar postures

  • Set up an obstacle course incorporating crawling, climbing, and navigating around obstacles

  • Play at the park! Unstructured, gross motor play is a great way to help your child learn and develop motor skills

  • Cooking: So many components involved with prepping, sequencing, and executing steps to bake or cook a meal– Not to mention, having a tangible item when the task is complete!

  • Allow your child the opportunity to “try” a motor task first. This helps them learn new motor skills. When we immediately “jump in” to complete a task, or simply do it for them instead, we are eliminating their opportunity to learn and build new motor connections. You can always offer to help and provide the support needed, but at least let them try it for themselves first! Think about it… if you always put on their shoes, how can they learn the motor movements involved to put on their own shoes?

Have questions regarding your child’s motor planning abilities? Consult with a licensed occupational therapist to learn more!

Written by:  Maria Cerase, MS, OTR/L


Ayres, A.J. (1979). Sensory integration and the child. Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services.

Ayres, A.J. (1989). The Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests. Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services.

Schaaf, R. & Mailloux, Z. (2015). Promoting participation for children with autism: A clinician’s guide for implementing Ayres Sensory Integration®. American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc.