What is dyspraxia?
Dyspraxia is often referred to as ‘clumsy child syndrome’, but in practice it is more complex than that. It is a developmental difficulty that can overlap with other conditions such as dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and social and communication difficulties including Asperger’s syndrome.
Many children have a combination of co-ordination difficulties and other learning difficulties as well. Each child is unique – there is no classic child with dyspraxia.
The umbrella term DCD (developmental co-ordination difficulty) is often preferred by medical experts and is in common usage in some other countries (bear this in mind if you are searching the web); dyspraxia specifically means a motor-planning difficulty. Motor planning? Consider it as thinking about how to make a jam sandwich and the plan you need in order to do so; if you don’t have a plan, you may know what the result should look like, but you don’t know the steps to get there. Only a few children have this specific difficulty. However, dyspraxia is more generally used in the UK to describe the broader range of co-ordination difficulties.
How to spot the dyspraxic child
Early signs of co-ordination difficulties may include being late to sit and walk, and not crawling. Some babies with dyspraxia reach all their milestones, but still have some difficulties.
May be a bit floppy (low-toned).
Finds it hard to stay sitting up straight at the table or desk.
Slouches when they eat (this usually provokes an argument in many families, being told to ‘sit up’ – it may be hard to sit up and eat at the same time).
May be bendy or very flexible and so not so good at controlling the range of movement some of their joints can make (joint hyper-mobility syndrome). This often runs in families
Finds completing more than one task at a time difficult, especially at speed.
Has great difficulty in learning skills such as throwing and catching a ball, hopping and jumping, or riding a bike.
May have a delay in language development or have ‘sloppy’ sounding speech.
At school, handwriting becomes one of the major difficulties and is the one that tends to stay with the child. May find concentrating and staying on task difficult and may be fidgety, wanting to move around and fiddle with things around them.
However, children with dyspraxia are often of average or above-average intelligence, and can find it frustrating when they cannot achieve what they set out to do. Often they are articulate and can voice their ideas, but have difficulty transferring them to paper.
What schools can do to help
A great deal can be achieved even with few obvious resources if there is a ‘can do’ attitude and a sensible, supportive approach.
- Reduce the number of tasks and allow additional time for their completion. It is a good idea to establish a need for extra time in exams from a young age – where appropriate.
- Provide extra supervision and encouragement if required, especially in practical subjects where there are health and safety implications and results may be poor – getting children to work in teams can be a help.
- Give single instructions rather than a string – which may result in a muddle – and reinforce verbal instructions by repetition.
- Never assume the child cannot achieve – break tasks down into more manageable parts and give children a bit longer to complete the task.
- Talk through with the child what is expected of them and check they have understood – ask them to explain what the teacher has said, rather than accepting a nod for yes.
- Place the child away from distractions and where they can easily see the teacher. A sloping desk or angle board may help.
- Teach the child strategies to help them remember and assist themselves, by use of lists and diaries, so they can tick off tasks as they go.
- Ensure the child is well prepared for any changes to routine, which can be both problematic and distressing – plan for changes rather than waiting for the problems. Extra visits to a new school, a map of the school and the names and pictures of the teachers may make starting a new school less stressful.
- Allowing the child to use a computer in the classroom can help reluctant writers get down what they are capable of – handwriting can cause hands and arms to ache, so dyspraxic children often write the minimum.