Article published 10th June 2008
On first glance, children with dyspraxia may not seem different from other children around them, until they are asked, perhaps, to do a co-ordination task at speed.
Passing the ball in football might, literally, trip them up and the child may land in a heap on the pitch, and end up being the target of others’ laughter.
What can be tricky for the dyspraxic child?
Anxiety, concentration and understanding the rules may be problematic for a child with dyspraxia but controlling the ball and running may be too much. Making friends and keeping friends can also be hard and coping with others’ reactions can be as hard for you as a parent as for your child. A thick skin and a quick answer are worth adopting early on.
Differences can lead to the child being noticed by other children and being bullied or left out of games and sometimes more alone in the playground.
With thanks to Dr Amanda Kirby, doctor, lecturer and author in the field of dyspraxia for additional information
Some typical problems in school include:
- difficulties following long instructions
- finds planning and organising work a challenge
- personal organisation can be problematic
- difficulty copying text from book or whiteboard
- variable ability – better some days than others and may get tired more easily
- low self-esteem and frustration, which will sometimes result in disruptive behaviour
- difficulty in ball sports
- difficulty writing at speed or drawing neatly
- slower getting changed for games lessons.
Other people often find it hard to get their heads round what dyspraxia means in practical terms. ‘Hidden disabilities uncovered!’ is an amusing and graphic description of what it’s like to be a 12-year-old dyspraxic.
Dyspraxia varies with the age, and your child’s co-ordination may improve. As you look back, the things you worried about so much, like ball-catching, may fade into insignificance as your child becomes an adult and can choose never to play football again, but enjoy swimming instead.
A lot of the co-ordination difficulties your child experiences may also be dependent on what is expected of them. Times of transition from primary to secondary and when leaving school can be the hardest, as change can make children with dyspraxia (as well as their parents!) feel ‘wobbly’. When the need for writing fast and legibly, or of organising possessions and themselves, presents problems, this is when good communication with school may be of the greatest help, so that sloppy work or losing things ‘again and again’ is not seen as something done on purpose.
Not just a problem at school
Dyspraxia is not just an educational problem even though this is where it may manifest first. Some adults find tasks like learning to drive or getting a hot meal on the table for the family hard to do.
Gaining good organisational skills can be started early by using to-do lists and establishing a clear routine and labelling clothes and drawers.
If belongings are forever being mislaid, you may find yourself forever buying pens, pencils and protractors late on a Sunday evening. (Three pencil cases is one way of resolving this – one for the bag, one for the desk and one for home as well as name tapes on everything!)
Clumsiness and lack of co-ordination can make mealtimes with young children a nightmare. Using specialised cutlery, a bowl with a lip and a cup with a lid can all help. Also, make sure your child has feet on the floor and table at waist height, so that sitting up is not a strain.
A little smart thinking about what’s actually required in specific tasks can make all the difference. Something simple such as shoes with easy-close fastenings rather than laces means being the first dressed after PE rather than the last every time.
What parents can do to help a child with dyspraxia/DCD
Dyspraxia can’t be cured and there are no quick fixes, much as everyone would love their child not to have difficulties. However, with appropriate help and understanding your child can improve a great deal, function well and reach their potential.