Do you know any children with Dyspraxia?
Chances are you do.
Current statistics predict that each primary class has a child with the condition.
As a former deputy Head teacher I taught many children with Dyspraxia and today I am delighted to introduce Phoebe Doyle a feature writer and editor of Tremendously2 where she explains the signs and symptoms and offers some practical advice with a few top tips taken from yours truly too !
With around 10% of the population being affected by Dyspraxia by some degree, and around 2% with severe symptoms it’s a condition that is present in almost all settings. Like many related disorders, it is more common in boys by a ratio of around 4 to 1, and it often runs in families.
As it’s symptoms can be present from infancy, it can sometimes be recognised prior to a child beginning school. However as it is a condition which is widely mistook for clumsiness or immaturity it may be that the class teacher is the first to note the symptoms.
Usually, it’s said to be an impairment of the organisation of movement, but associated with this may be problems of language, perception and thought. As people with Dyspraxia find comprehending the messages from their senses difficult, problems arise in the process of forming ideas, motor planning and execution.
Anne, Mum to Luke who is now grown up explains; “Luke had problems putting words in order and using them effectively in sentences. His mind was very visual, so a stamp was a “sticker” and a watch an “arm clock”. He was always last to be picked for a team as he would often get confused about direction”.
There is no known cause for the majority with the condition. It has been previously assumed to be a result of brain injury but more recent research points to an immaturity of neurone development in the brain.
Whilst Symptoms can vary from child to child the Dyspraxia Foundation (www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk) say that in 3 to 6 year olds with Dyspraxia the following behaviours are frequently observed:
- Generally unable to sit still for long, with unusally high levels of motor activity, including feet swinging and tapping when seated and hand clapping
- High levels of excitability, with a loud/shrill voice
- May be easily distressed and prone to temper tantrums
- May constantly bump into objects and fall over
- Hands flap when running
- Difficulty with pedalling a tricycle or similar toy
- Lack of any sense of danger (jumping from heights etc)
- Continued messy eating. May prefer to eat with their fingers, and have frequent spillages
- Avoidance of constructional toys, such as jigsaws or building blocks
- Poor fine motor skills. Difficulty in holding a pencil or using scissors
- Lack of imaginative play
- Limited creative play
- Isolation within the peer group. Rejected by peers, children may prefer adult company
- Laterality (left- or right-handedness) still not established
- Persistent language difficulties
- Sensitive to sensory stimulation, including high levels of noise, tactile defensiveness, wearing new clothes
- Limited response to verbal instruction. May be slow to respond and have problems with comprehension
- Limited concentration. Tasks are often left unfinished
A Teacher’s Guide
Fundamentally teachers need to understand that having Dyspraxia does not mean a child is less intelligent. That said, it can be highly detrimental to their ability to learn. Additional support and specific strategies are therefore required in order to aid the learning experience and help the child to meet their full potential. The strategies below are mainly aimed at teachers and Teaching Assistants, frequently though, children will require a referral to a Speech and Language Therapist and sometimes occupational therapy is also required.
Some useful strategies…
- Children with Dyspraxia will often work better one to one, so provide this where possible
- Be clear and concise when giving instructions; always make sure you have their full attention before doing so
- Avoid disturbing the child when they are concentrating on a task
- Give plenty of notice regarding any changes to classroom routines
- Explicitly teach play skills such as turn-taking, model how to play imaginatively (e.g. in a home corner)
- Provide pencil grips and line guides to help with hand-writing which is often poor
- Use visual timetables so the child knows what will happen and when
Luke’s Mum Anne recalls the difficulties she had with getting a help for her son; “Luke has severe dyslexia and oral dyspraxia. He was diagnosed as having a very complex form of oral dyspraxia when he was 4 after over 2 years of me banging on a considerable number of Paediatricians and speech and language therapy doors and refusing to take any notice of their lack of interest.”
Although it is parents who commonly raise concerns, teachers need to be vigilant and discuss issues with a SENCO if worried. Teachers are usually pretty skilled when it comes to assessing what is simply a child taking a little longer to develop in specific areas, and what is something requiring attention. Indeed lots of the symptoms of Dyspraxia can be observed in many children. Trust your instincts; if you have concerns raise them.
Unfortunately in Luke’s case his teachers showed no such awareness leaving Anne in turmoil; “Our local primary school said they couldn’t help Luke because at 5 he could not speak and so we ended up paying for him to go to a local prep-school who had a teacher who specialised in supporting children with similar conditions”. After this Luke was eventually placed in a speech unit at a state school and then attended a boarding school and left having gained 6 good GCSEs. And although Luke is now happy and secure in a job, Anne says it was a real challenge at times; “It was a struggle to find the help/support he needed and sometimes I felt I was fighting the whole world!” Parents need to feel supported and hopefully with increased awareness Anne’s story shouldn’t be repeated.
Whilst it’s not possible to ‘cure’ Dyspraxia, children with the condition can be taught strategies for overcoming difficulties. In order to do this effectively a team approach is required. Early intervention is key in giving children the best possible chance of getting appropriate support and the benefits that come with this.
Often young children appear to simply ‘grow out’ of Dyspraxia, particularly if their symptoms are mild. That said, around 9 to 10 children continue to have Dyspraxia in their teens and into adulthood.
Early intervention is vital when it comes to improving school life for children with Dyspraxia so it’s vital that teachers are aware of symptoms and act when they feel a child in their care may have Dyspraxia, or indeed, if a parent raises concerns. With careful planning of support and therapy children with dyspraxia can thrive at school; socially and academically.
Help on the web…
The Dyspraxia Foundation provide a wealth of tips on strategies for parents to implement, visit their website (www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk) where each symptom is paired with an appropriate strategy.
Parenting expert Sue Atkins (www.theSueAtkins.com) has worked with children with Dyspraxia when she was teaching, she has some advice for teachers and all those working with children with the condition.
Work on hand-eye co-ordination. When I was a Deputy Head I used to do lots of activities involving hand eye and body coordination with children who had Dyspraxia. Catching and throwing, kicking, crawling through obstacle courses, climbing, standing and balancing on upside down benches and walking on them too while holding objects.
Teach them to totally understand time.
Because Dyspraxic children don’t always perceive things properly, time is not a constant for them and one minute can actually “be” a lot shorter than another. They have to know the length of a minute and an hour. So time things, count in seconds, watch a second hand go round the clock and keep doing these until the child can predict when a minute, 5 mins, and hour etc finishes. It builds their confidence.
Keep a diary of what the child needs and has to do every day at school and prepare the day before.
Teachers and parents should check that the child has correctly entered all the daily details in their diary as dyspraxic children are not always totally aware of what has been going on and this isn’t their fault so give them a helping hand to organise themselves more efficiently and as they get older let them plan more for themselves.
Time how long tasks take and always leave more time than this to do a task.
Dyspraxic children often panic because they don’t believe they can complete something on time. So it’s important to give them plenty of time so that they can feel at ease and experience success.
Try to keep routines and order constant from day to day.
When you have perception problems the world becomes scary if it keeps changing. Dyspraxic children take some time to learn the routines and learn that they work. If this changes then they get scared that time will run out or things will get forgotten.
Help them establish friends, prevent bullying and cope socially through role-play.
Because of their perception problems these children often miss some information, and find it hard to understand emotional reactions and body language. This makes it hard for them to “read” people and situations well.