Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The mysterious world of dyspraxia

Most of us have heard of dyslexia – the disability causing difficulties in reading, speech and spelling and affecting 5 to 10% of us.

Dyspraxia, on the other hand (not a misspelling of dyslexia) is another common learning difficulty, which has just not had the press, despite research showing up to 10% of the population may suffer from it.

Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) Rowan Kirby believes “dyspraxia is the poorer brother of dyslexia,” something she hopes will change as more people begin to understand it…

Dyspraxia is an impairment or immaturity of the organisation of movement – an immaturity in the way the brain processes information, causing messages not to be properly or fully transmitted.

The common denominator with the disability is a weakness of certain motor skills, for example, anything related to movement, whether it be through fine motor control – holding a pen, writing, brushing teeth and getting dressed; gross motor control – running around, kicking or catching a ball; or control of balance – sitting on a chair, or climbing the stairs.

Various labels have included Clumsy Child Syndrome, Minimal Brain Damage, Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD) and Motor Learning Disability.

GP Dr Amanda Kirby who provides training for occupational psychologists on dyspraxia and has a son with the condition calls it, The Hidden Handicap, as although someone with dyspraxia may look “normal”, they will have underlying problems that may affect their life.

Mild dyspraxia can be difficult to spot, particularly if it’s the parents’ first child and there are no other siblings for comparison. Only later, perhaps at school, do the differences become apparent.

Other symptoms can include difficulties with reading, concentration, coordination, short-term memory, organisation, social skills, speech and sensitivity to light, sound, taste and touch. This may be a heightened sensitivity or a lack of it, or both.

Not only are these characteristics hugely variable but often dyspraxia exists with other conditions such as dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia, speech and language impairment and autistic spectrum disorders such as Asperger’s syndrome, which can make a diagnosis confusing.

Dr Kirby says: “Parents often go from place to place only to be left asking ‘what has my child got?’ One person said dyspraxia, another dyslexia and someone else ADHD.” It may be that the child is diagnosed with the most dominant symptom at that time but as different symptoms emerge, so the diagnosis changes.

Children with mild to moderate symptoms may not be diagnosed at all, but simply written off as clumsy, lazy or stupid by their teachers and peers but, as with Dyslexia, Dyspraxia has no relevance to IQ whatsoever.

Occupational therapist, Jane Horwood, explains. “These are neurological in-built developmental difficulties and schools need to understand this. There are still people that don’t believe dyspraxia exists.

They think it’s the child not trying, or intentionally winding up their teachers.” For a worried parent, a diagnosis can be an enormous relief as they realise it’s not their fault and their child is not acting up.

A common problem with dyspraxia is poor concentration and the inability to focus for very long, especially when there are other distractions like background noise or copying from a board while concentrating on holding and using a pen, balancing on a chair and taking in what the teacher’s saying.

Phew! For most of us, multitasking like this isn’t too demanding but for a dyspraxic child it is very difficult, exhausting, stressful and physically uncomfortable.

Sarah Ailsby, nanny to a dyspraxic child and a learning support teacher says, “you want as little distraction around them as possible.

Avoid sitting them near a window and if you have to work on a blackboard give them a crib sheet, so they’re not having to lift their head to memorise something, then looking down to concentrate on writing and probably forgetting it. Ask, whether they really need to sit down. Can they not stand?”

Read the remainder of this article on the First Eleven website: Welcome to the world of dyspraxia

OR the YUDU version on Pgs 34-35 of the First Eleven's magazine

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