Learning Differences – What Is Dyspraxia?

This is a guest post from Mary Mountstephen, author of A Practical Guide to Support Children with Dyspraxia and Neurodevelopmental Delay and A Practical Guide to Support Children with Speech and Language Difficulties .

This is the second in a three part series which will provide information about learning difficulties which are well-recognised as causing some children to under-perform and under-achieve in the classroom. The first part published last week was on Dyslexia.

Rosie’s teacher says:
‘Rosie just can’t stay on her chair and she’s got more paint on her than on the paper!’

Rosie might say:
‘Nobody wants to play with me’.

Her parent says:
‘She’s so slow, I still have to get her dressed or we’d never get here’.

What is Dyspraxia?

Dys: Difficulty
Praxia: Planning and automatic organization of movement.
Dyspraxia can be seen simply, as getting our bodies to do what we want, when we want and how we want without conscious effort. Dyspraxia is a specific developmental disorder which can also involve language, spatial and thought processes.

To put on a sweatshirt, for example, Rosie needs to be able to work out which way round it goes, how to organize getting her arms and her head and her body to cooperate to pull it on, having made sure that it is the right way round in the first place! Whilst she is trying to do this, she may knock over a paint pot, bump into another child and burst into tears with frustration.

Will Dyspraxia Get Better or Worse? Can it be Cured?

Rosie will not grow out of her dyspraxia, but early intervention can help her to overcome her difficulties. Although dyspraxia can’t be completely cured, with the help of professionals such as occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, specialist teachers and psychologists, children like Rosie can go on to thrive. There are also many simple ways you can help a child with dyspraxia: see resources section at the below.

Checklist of Early Childhood Behaviours 0-3 for Dyspraxia:

Madeleine Portwood identifies a list of behaviours associated with dyspraxia which parents start to become aware of almost from birth. These may include the following:

  • Irritable and difficult to comfort from birth
  • Feeding problems and messy eater
  • Poor sleepers
  • Delayed early development : sitting, rolling and not going through a stage of crawling
  • Sensitivity to high levels of noise or changes in light intensity
  • Problems with toilet training
  • Delayed language development
  • Easily upset
  • Weak concentration
  • Parents notice that there is something ‘different ‘
  • The child frequently trips when running
  • Has difficulty sitting at table and chair
  • Unable to hop one foot
  • Holds crayon in fist

Parents are often made to feel that they are worrying unnecessarily and their insights into their child’s struggles are dismissed as they are advised that their child will ‘catch up’ in their own time.It is only when the child transfers to an early years’ setting that that their concerns may be taken more seriously by staff who are experts in child observation. The exposure to structured and unstructured activities makes the difficulties more obvious to identify, as well as providing opportunities to observe the child interacting with others of a similar age.

Gross motor skills: Large Body Movements for children with Dyspraxia

The child may be experiencing difficulties with a combination of these skills and this may vary according to time of day and circumstance.

  • Tripping when running, awkward running style
  • Balancing
  • Jumping, hopping, skipping, climbing
  • Ball skills: throwing a ball with direction
  • Catching a 12’ ball at age 4
  • Lack of rhythm and a tendency to be physically awkward.
  • Awkward walking on stairs
  • Difficulties in P.E. and with apparatus

Fine motor skills: Small body movements for children with Dyspraxia:

  • Making marks on paper
  • Cutting with scissors
  • Making models
  • Clumsy when manipulating toys

Other Signs of Dyspraxia:

  • Poor spatial organization: Rosie may bump into other children or objects as she has difficulty judging distances accurately.
  • Sensitivity to noisy environments
  • Difficulties in getting dressed and undressed
  • Difficulties with eating skills
  • Easily distracted by everyday sensory stimulation such as interactive whiteboards, lively wall displays
  • Poor attention span
  • Poor articulation: speech may be muddled
  • Easily confused

Any delay in the development of these skills can lead to children like Rosie losing their self-confidence, developing behaviour and concentration problems and becoming the distractible child who can never sit still.
If she is criticized for patterns of behaviour which she has no control over, frustration and poor behaviour are likely to develop.

What Causes Dyspraxia?

It seems likely that Dyspraxia is a neuro-developmental disorder resulting from immaturity in the developing brain. Some studies have found a genetic or familial link. (Addy).

How likely is it that a child will have Dyspraxia?

Statistically, it is likely that there is one child in every class of 30 children. Boys are four times more likely than girls to be referred for assessment.

Associated Additional Educational Needs

Children with dyspraxia are part of a larger group which has come to be termed ‘developmental disabilities’. Children described in this way may include those with a diagnosis of:

  • Developmental Dyslexia
  • Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Autistic Spectrum Disorder
  • Specific Language Impairment

The implication of this is that children who have a diagnosis of dyspraxia may also have an overlap with one or more of the conditions above and that children with Dyspraxia are at risk of problems in learning, attention and social functioning. If you have one difficulty, you are likely to have more than one difficulty.

Resources/ Advice

Parents are advised to consult their GP, taking with them some evidence such as their responses to the checklists above to support their concerns about their child’s development.

If their child is of school age, parents or carers can ask teachers if they have concerns, taking the checklist with them. The Dyspraxia Foundation www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk has much information for parents, teachers and others.

About Mary Mountstephen MA (SEN)

Mary is an Associate Member of British Dyslexia Association. If you would like further advice or wish to contact Mary you can do so at Elvie Brown Associates, 2 Regal Way, Shepton Mallet, Somerset BA4 5AA mem@imaginationgym.ws.

Editors Note – Upcoming Course in the UK

I found Mary’s article of dyslexia an informative and excellent reference guide. If you are in the UK, you are lucky enough to have the chance to hear Mary further, when she holds a workshop in June. I have included the details below:

Improving learning, balance and coordination
Date: Friday June 4th, 10.00-4.30
Location: Glastonbury, Somerset BA6 8LD
Recommended for: parents of children with additional needs, teachers, support staff, therapists working with children aged 5-13

  • The clumsy child
  • The messy eater
  • The child who can’t learn to swim
  • The sensitive child
  • The verbally creative child who cannot express himself in writing

This one day course looks at the possible underlying causes of these difficulties and outlines a simple, practical movement programme to help children establish firmer foundations for learning. It can improve balance and coordination as well as having an impact in the classroom and in terms of social and emotional functioning.

The course is based on the work of Sally Goddard-Blythe (The Well Balanced Child) and Barbara Pheloung (Move to Learn) and is led by Mary who works with families and schools internationally as a child development specialist.

For further information: Tel 01458 837514 or mem@imaginationgym.ws.