Happy Learners - Dyspraxia

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What is dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia is a common disorder affecting fine and/or gross motor coordination in children and adults. It is more officially known as Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD).

How common is dyspraxia?

Approximately 5-10% of children suffer from the condition. It tends to affect more boys than girls with a ratio of between 2 and 4 boys to 1 girl with the condition. Within a normal class there is likely to be between 1 and 3 children with dyspraxia.

How does dyspraxia present in pre-school and early primary aged children?

Parents often notice that their child is still having difficulty with dressing. In particular: doing up buttons and tying shoe laces.

Other indications include:

struggles when picking up small objects

difficulty learning to ride a bicycle

poor coordination when catching and throwing a ball

being a messy eater

poor drawing skills and inaccurate copying

poor pencil grip and difficulty with handwriting

difficulty placing jig-saw pieces

Some children may also experience speech and language or pronunciation difficulties caused by problems coordinating the various movements of the mouth and tongue.

Some children may also have some difficulties with concepts involving spatial awareness such as their left / right orientation and positional prepositions such as in, on, over, under, next to, behind, in front of, etc

How does dyspraxia present in older children and teenagers?

Sometimes children reach secondary school age without a diagnosis of dyspraxia or without it being considered. This is often because their difficulties have been given some other explanation. These students often have poor self-esteem and commonly history of challenging behaviour and friendship difficulties.

Parents and school staff should consider dyspraxia as a possible cause when children present with some of the following :

Students may dislike games and P.E. lessons and/or have difficulty with activities that involve running, hopping, jumping, catching/kicking balls. They appear uncoordinated when using sports equipment such as bats and racquets. They may also have difficulty understanding and remembering rules of team games and demonstrate poor spatial awareness of the playing area. They may tend to get tired quicker than peers. These students may take longer to change for P.E. lessons and have particular difficulty with footwear.

Difficulties with handwriting persist into secondary school. They have a very slow handwriting speed and usually fail to complete written tasks during lessons. They may also struggle with drawing accurate diagrams. The overall presentation of work is often poor and difficult to read.

Students may have difficulty using practical classroom equipment - this can include rulers, scissors, compasses, protractor and other specialist equipment used in science, art and technology lessons.

Students may tend to fall over more and cope less well with puberty growth spurts than peers.

When sharing a desk space with others they may tend to spread things their things out their own space. For example they appear to take up more than half a shared desk designed for two. They may lack awareness of intruding on other's personal space.

These students may be labelled clumsy as they often bump into objects or people in the classroom.

What other conditions might a child with dyspraxia have?

Though many children with dyspraxia will have no other diagnosis there are also many who are likely to have other diagnoses such as:

Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)



Speech and language needs

Social and emotional needs

Verbal dyspraxia

What other behaviours may indicate dyspraxia?

As there is quite a lot of overlap with ADHD and dyslexia, children with dyspraxia often exhibit similar behaviour traits to these conditions. The following traits are often associated with ADHD or dyslexia but are often associated with dyspraxic individuals:

Fidgets and has difficulty sitting still. (See article on hyposensitivity to proprioception on sensory needs page.)

Poor concentration skills - is easily distracted.

Difficulty understanding time concepts. They may also struggle with following timetables and in secondary school may often arrive late for lessons.

Students often have poor organisation skills and will often arrive for lessons without homework, books or kit. They frequently forget where they put things.

Poor short term and working memory - often forgets instructions and struggles with more complex tasks.

Many dyspraxic children and teenagers have immature social skills. They often lack social confidence and can become socially isolated from peers. They may be very dependent on one or two close friends.

How can parents support children with dyspraxia?

Parents can support their child by choosing clothing that it easier to use. Clothes and shoes with large zips, velcro or large buttons. Clothes that are easy to work out which way they are worn, front to back. Short thick socks rather than long thin ones.

Parents can also support their child by providing lots of fun opportunities to practice and develop fine and gross motor coordination. This can include painting, large crayons, Lego and other construction activities, cooking, baking and sewing to develop fine motor skills. Encourage participation in sports, martial arts and performing arts to develop gross motor coordinations and important social skills. It can be worth asking around for clubs and organisations that are more inclusive. There are many clubs that take pride in involving children of all abilities, managing their needs and giving them equal opportunities. It is paramount that your child enjoys participating and is not made to feel not as good as others!

Parents can do a lot to help their child develop good self-esteem. Regular praise for everyday things, celebrating all achievements, use of reward charts.

Parents can also support their child to become socially confident. Helping your child make and maintain friendships is essential.

Parents should engage with professionals and patiently be an advocate for your child particularly when they change class or school.

How can schools and nurseries support children with dyspraxia?

It is important to create an accurate assessment of the child's needs. Staff should share concerns with parents and develop a clear plan of support. This should include programmes to develop fine and gross motor skills and any language or speech needs. It is likely that the child will need further assessment and the involvement of other professionals such as occupational therapists, specialist teachers and paediatricians specialising in developmental disorders. If there are speech and language concerns then the involvement of a speech and language therapist or an educations psychologist may be necessary to provide advice and strategies.

You may also be interested in the following pages:

Dyspraxia Management

Fine Motor Skills Development

Speech Sounds Developmental Milestones