This week is Dyspraxia Awareness Week. Dyspraxia is a specific learning difficulty, and shares many characteristic difficulties with other SLDs like dyslexia and dyscalculia – things like problems in organising and memorising information. Dyspraxia is a problem in learning and co-ordinating movements. It needs to be identified early so that support can be put in place before a child becomes thoroughly put off school because they find it hard, for example, to do handwriting and PE. It’s not something that can be treated – rather, strategies are taught to the child to help them manage their difficulties.
The sort of signs you can look out for in your child are:
‘clumsiness’ – falling more than their peers, or bumping into objects, or misjudging their own strength;
inability to sit still;
poor or illegible handwriting;
hands that ‘flap’ when they run;
poor ability to do things like catch a ball or kick it accurately.
Children with dyspraxia can also have speech dyspraxia, although the two conditions can appear independently of each other. Signs of speech dyspraxia being the cause of a speech delay can include that the child uses mainly vowels, mixes up sounds in single words, has difficulty remembering what they want to say, flat intonation, and lack of progress in standard speech therapy treatments.
Dyspraxia is four times as common in boys as it is in girls, and it is estimated that in any given class of 30 children, one child may well have dyspraxia. It tends to run in the family, but not always. It can be associated with ADHD, ADD and Asperger’s.
Children with dyspraxia are more than capable of learning. Even if they have speech delay, they will be able to understand what is being said to them. They do struggle with complex instructions, because so much of their working memory is taken up by processing what’s being said to them, and what they should say in reply, that they often miss parts of the instructions given. If the school is aware of this, they can make sure that instructions are given in ‘bite-size chunks’ and perhaps with visual prompts.
Speech Therapists often miss speech dyspraxia, so if your child is struggling to speak and develop language it is worth raising this as a possible cause and insist that it be investigated. Occupational Therapists and Physiotherapists can help with general dyspraxia, improving co-ordination whilst building muscle memory. Getting a child to write their letters in big script, perhaps with a paintbrush dipped in water on a wall, or with their fingers in the sand, will mean that they will learn the letter shapes even if they’re not yet able to make those shapes small enough for standard writing tasks – this will come with practice.
Be patient, don’t re-phrase questions, and praise all accomplishments, however small, because you need to counter-act your child’s feelings of failure that he may well encounter from doing tasks that he finds hard.