What is Dyspraxia?
Dyspraxia – also known as developmental coordination disorder – is a neurological condition which primarily affects a person’s ability to use their muscles and synchronise the movement of their body.
It can interfere with someone’s fine motor skills – that is, their ability to perform ‘small’, precise operations such as writing, threading a needle or doing up buttons. Equally, it can affect gross motor skills which involve large muscles – impacting activities such as running, catching a ball or learning to drive. It is also likely to affect a person’s perception of where their body is in relation to the space around them.
Speech may also be affected – known as ‘verbal dyspraxia’ or ‘apraxia’ – though this sometimes exists as a condition by itself. This is where a person has difficulty moving their tongue or lips to make the sounds of words.
Dyspraxia occurs in people of all levels of intellectual ability but often goes hand-in-hand with other conditions such as dyslexia or autism. There can also be an overlap of symptoms with other neurological disorders – for example, the poor organisational skills and difficulty following instructions, which often present in people with autism or ADHD, sometimes appear in a person with dyspraxia, too.
Other ‘non-muscular’ difficulties associated with the condition include social and emotional challenges, problems with working memory and sensory processing issues.
Identifying the condition
Dyspraxic people are all unique and each person will have their own, individual profile of difficulties which can range from mild to severe. However, it can be difficult to diagnose the condition when children are under the age of seven, experts say, as all young children acquire physical skills at different rates and find some activities easier than others.
Even so, there are some early signs which may indicate that a child has dyspraxia. Being slow to reach infant milestones such as rolling over, sitting up and learning to walk can be red flags as can clumsiness, finding it difficult to dress or feed themselves or walk up and down stairs. By the time a child starts school, difficulties with handwriting, copying from the blackboard, concentrating, or taking part in PE lessons may be the most obvious signs of the condition.
Parents who are concerned that their child might be dyspraxic are usually advised to seek a formal assessment from an
occupational therapist or physiotherapist.
Discovering a child has dyspraxia can feel overwhelming for families. After all, it’s a lifelong condition which may impact a young person’s ability to manage schoolwork, cope with ordinary, daily tasks or find employment when they grow up. Fortunately, the outlook is good as there are a number of ways to help dyspraxic people cope and improve their physical skills, coordination and focus.
As with everyone, regular exercise is important for developing large-muscle strength, endurance and mental wellbeing. Some people with dyspraxia prefer to exercise alone rather than participate in team sports so it’s important for them to take the time to find activities they enjoy.
In addition, they can get better at tricky, fine-motor tasks – tying shoelaces, for example, or using a knife and fork – simply by practising them over and over again. This repetition, experts say, allows the brain to forge new connections and ‘cements’ the learning, just as it would for anyone trying to master a new skill such as playing the piano or knitting.
Occupational therapists often advise breaking a difficult task into smaller sections to make it achievable. In this way, for example, a dyspraxic child might improve their handwriting by first strengthening the muscles in their hand, then practising holding the pencil and finally learning to trace letters on the page.
Tutors can help
For a child distracted by the noise and activity of a classroom, one-to-one time with an expert tutor can boost confidence and
help them catch up with schoolwork. An experienced tutor will take the time to find out the child’s interests
and what they’re good at as well as what they find difficult.
The Royal College of Occupational Therapists is at www.rcot.co.uk.
Contact The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists at www.rcslt.org for advice on verbal dyspraxia.
Dyspraxia/ also known as Development Coordination Disorder (DCD).
With 13 years of experience working within Education, Giselle has supported many students with Dyspraxia, also known as Development Coordination disorder (DCD). She has worked as the manager of an Alternative provision (supporting students who are unable to cope within a mainstream setting) and as a SENDCo, which has equipped her with a wealth of understanding, empathy and supportive skills to empower and help students with SEND.
Dyspraxia or DCD can affect children’s fine and gross motor co-ordination skills. It can inhibit their ability to excel at a rate in-line with their peers. In turn, it can affect class participation, confidence, self-esteem, and even academic progress.
Organisational, independent-working and multi-tasking skills can also be impacted negatively, along with workload management. These factors are linked with executive functioning skills. The demand on student’s study skills increases, as they move through the education system. The ability to simultaneously note-take, whilst listening and processing can be an incredibly challenging and tiring task, for students with dyspraxia. As working practitioners within the SEND field, it is our job to alleviate some of their stress and pressure, support areas of difficulty, and teach in a way that enables a child to make progress.
What strategies does Giselle implement to support students with DCD?
Whilst in primary school, we can implement additional interventions to support with handwriting and incorporate fun engaging activities to develop hand-eye co-ordination. There are additional strategies we can put in place in secondary through to A level. My strategies include:
- Building trusting and meaningful relationships. Having a strong rapport can enhance student engagement and progress.
- Taking a calm approach. Students with dyspraxia already feel frustrated. Creating a sense of ease fosters a safe learning environment, where they are more likely to try and improve their work output, without fear of being judged.
- Scaffolding and differentiation is paramount to enable students to access the learning/work, but also to encourage and develop independent working skills. Setting work at the correct level (according to their attainment), whilst giving them opportunity to stretch and challenge their skills, also builds their confidence.
- Routine and repetition will be key to imbed skills learned within the schema, boosting memory and increase speed within work output.
- Exploring various methods to support the transferring of thoughts onto paper is useful for students who struggle with this and handwriting. Such students will benefit from multi-sensory teaching, along with support to plan any written work.
Student IEPs and EHCP may have additional strategies individually tailored to a child’s needs. Some students may also be entitled to and benefit from examination access arrangements. I am qualified and accredited to by the BPS to assess for these.
As a SEND tutor and SENCO, I have been supporting staff to incorporate such strategies into their lessons, along with delivering them myself with 1:1 learning support and tutoring sessions. I thoroughly enjoy working with young people. Assisting with their personal and academic progress is a rewarding experience.
Krista is a qualified SEN tutor and has a SpLD accreditation (Dyscalculia, Dyslexia and ADHD).
She mentions that she has “worked with many students with a diagnosis of dyscalculia in both school and one to one settings. Often high levels of anxiety accompany a young person with dyscalculia, especially around maths and memory.
I make relieving and reducing anxiety a key component of my lessons, focussing on encouragement and confidence building. Depending on the age and interests of each student I employ techniques and activities such as rhymes, maths games, revision and flash cards, breaking down tasks into bite size chunks, making tasks visual, lots of repetition, and of course by making learning engaging and fun.”