Dyspraxia, or developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD), affects co-ordination, spatial awareness and sensory perception. It’s part of an umbrella of conditions known as specific learning differences (SpLD), which are defined as exceptional variations in a person’s ability, as well as problems with concentration and short-term memory.
This learning condition affects motor co-ordination as well as being associated with problems with memory, planning, organisation and perception. Despite impacting between 5 and 10% of school-age children, there is still a decreased awareness of dyspraxia, and things seem to only get worse as people get older. Many children dealing with DEC have grown to adulthood have developed flawed coping mechanisms to deal with the condition. This leads them to avoidance of certain activities, creating a barrier to achievement and potential.
BUILDING SELF ESTEEM
Self esteem is one of the most devastating consequences faced by people with dyspraxia. Faced with failure in almost all the little things you do in life is a huge obstacle. When other people around you can do things or learn things faster, when your teacher is always reprimanding you, when you’ve lost faith in yourself and develop a low self esteem, it’s difficult to bear no matter how many times your parents say you are great.
Parents are often children’s greatest fans and work hard to build their child’s self esteem. This sometimes is not enough when children face so many challenges and criticisms in life, particularly away from the home. But don’t lose hope! There are ways to build a child’s (or adolescent’s) self esteem:
Be honest and realistic: A small child won’t notice if you are telling the truth but very quickly children can discern honest praise from exaggeration. This is especially detrimental to a child with dyspraxia because they are hyper aware of their difficulties. Be very careful to keep your evaluations real and grounded.
Praise your child and be SPECIFIC: While it’s important to tell your child how much you love him and to tell him he’s great, children need tangible praise so that they can see they have done well. So, instead of saying: “Thank you, you’re the greatest”, rather say things like “Thank you, you are really good at finding things for me” or “Thank you, you are really good at cleaning the table”.
Find a support system: Support groups designed just for people with dyspraxia can really help, especially for teens and tweens. Finding out that there are others just like you dealing with the same challenges can really make you feel better about yourself. For parents, finding a support group can be a really useful tool, finding out what other parents experience and how they work through their challenges.
WHERE TO GET HELP
Occupational Therapy focuses on helping people participate in their everyday tasks, and will help build the skills necessary to be successful. Therapists will assess motor, sensory and perceptual skills as well as attention and determine how they impact on a child’s ability to do his everyday tasks. Then they will determine which is the best way to facilitate a child’s ability to participate in these tasks. Occupational therapists are likely to be needed for all children with dyspraxia.
Physiotherapy focuses on “kinetics” and will assess motor performances, particularly core stability, balance, walking and so on. Physiotherapists are most likely to be needed if children appear floppy and have poor balance or walking or running skills.
Speech and Language Therapy focuses on developing language and communication skills. A speech and language therapist is necessary for children who have “verbal dyspraxia” or difficulty pronouncing words or putting words together in a sentence. Some children with dyspraxia may also have difficulty following instructions and would also benefit from the help of a speech and language therapist.
Play therapy focuses on the child’s emotional well-being and state of mind. Children with dyspraxia typically have lower self esteem and get frustrated easily. Play therapists will help children work through their emotional stress in a non-verbal way through expressive arts.
There are many different challenges faced by people with dyspraxia that it’s not possible to solve each individually here (remember to talk to your occupational therapist about specific challenges and he/she should be able to provide you with ideas for specific problems). However, here are some general principles that can help children (or adolescents) cope better.
Bite sized. The first step is always to divide tasks into smaller pieces. Doing smaller steps is usually more manageable. People with dyspraxia may have difficulty breaking the tasks up themselves and working out how to approach them, but with help from others, they will likely manage the task better if it is in smaller parts.
Learn differently. Most people can learn a task only by watching others, but people with dyspraxia often need different ways of learning. Try to use different ways of “describing” the tasks. Learn to talk the child through the task by talking about which body part to move. “Push down with this leg first, then push down with the other leg”. You can also use pictures to help. Stick figures are enough, but some children with dyspraxia learn better through diagrams. You can also use physical demonstration, but remember to do it one small part at a time.
Rinse and Repeat… and Repeat… and Repeat. Young ones with dyspraxia are likely to be more successful at learning a task or skill if they can practice. Be careful not to overwhelm them and only focus on one or two skills at a time.
Be a list maker. Children with dyspraxia have issues with organisation. From simple morning routines to remembering their homework, it can be extremely frustrating. Use lists to help the child remember all the things they need to do. These can be simple diagram schedules for young children to lists for older child. Teenagers can learn to use their phone or even a PDA (little computer) to create lists or to do tasks and programmes like Microsoft Outlook or “Remember the Milk” can also help with organisation.