Gill Dixon, PGCE; MA; BHSc (Hons); RGN, and Trustee from the Dyspraxia Foundation, discusses dyspraxia/DCD and the available support in the classroom.
Dyspraxia, also known as developmental coordination disorder (DCD), is a common disorder of childhood affecting fine and/or gross motor coordination in children and adults. It is a lifelong condition and is formally recognised by international organisations including the World Health Organisation. Whilst DCD/dyspraxia is primarily a motor disorder, many individuals may also experience difficulties with memory, perception and processing along with poor planning, organisation and sequencing skills which can have a significant negative impact on everyday activities. It can also affect articulation and speech.
It is a common condition, thought to affect some 6% of the population (Lingham et al 2009), and is lifelong. It varies in degrees of severity and affects each individual differently. It often exists alongside other conditions and difficulties such as dyslexia, or ADHD for example and can be overlooked if it is not the predominant diagnosis, even though it may be the root cause of issues being exhibited. Difficulties are likely to change and vary at different life stages and it is worth considering the predominant difficulties when considering support for an individual at any particular time. For example, in a small child toilet independence may be a major problem, in a teenager social issues or handwriting speed may come to the fore and in adulthood the non-motor aspects of dyspraxia/DCD tend to present more challenges.
A diagnosis should always be a medical one (to eliminate other causes of difficulties) usually via a GP and referral to a paediatrician in the first instance. The input of other professionals (occupational therapists, physiotherapists, speech therapists, psychologists) along with the family, teachers and the person themselves may add essential information to the resulting profile.
Although the exact causes of dyspraxia are unknown, it is thought to be caused by a disruption in the way messages from the brain are transmitted to the body. This affects a person’s ability to perform movements in a smooth, coordinated way.
In the classroom situation children with the condition face a myriad of confusions and difficulties and for a busy teacher who is dealing with a class of perhaps 30 children some of whom may have other SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) needs it can become overwhelming.
If we were to consider what we should concentrate on during a persons development we would be wise, in very young (preschool) children to establish some skills that can be learned through play, concentrating on strengthening gross motor skills and developing the foundations of efficient movement.
As a child gets to primary school they may need more structured intervention with targeted gross and fine motor skills programmes and assistance to master daily activities.
By secondary school age we might be considering the use of tools and interventions (augmentative technology),extra time to complete work and in examinations and help with the organisation of work.
By adulthood a profile of strengths and weaknesses would be useful so that suitable career choices are made and reasonable adjustments are put in place to support success.
For some children who have a severe degree of the condition, establishing need and working towards an EHCP (Education health care plan) should be considered as early as possible, so that appropriate provision can be made thus avoiding potential future behavioural difficulties and disaffection.
For others, the truth of the matter is that there are a wide range of interventions, that do not cost money or resources but which can be incorporated into classrooms without too much difficulty. Along with the fantastic strategies they put in place for themselves (after all they are the experts in being THEM) these should really help to make their transition through he education system a smoother one.
I am privileged to have been part of The Dyspraxia Foundation for many years. It is the only National Charity devoted to raising awareness of the condition and offering support and advice to those affected by dyspraxia/DCD or those working with people who have the condition.
They have published an excellent range of guidelines for teachers which are free to download and explain these strategies in detail.
It is incredibly important that a child with dyspraxia/DCD is identified early and supported appropriately. To ignore their plight is to cause untold damage and will result in that child never reaching their full potential. It is our duty as teachers to ensure that the needs of those in our care are met. There will be a child with dyspraxia/DCD in your classroom. Be the teacher who made a positive difference to their school career.
Lingam R, Hunt L, Golding J et al. Prevalence of developmental coordination disorder Using the DSM-IV at 7 years of age: A UK population-based study. Pediatrics 20L09; 123: 693-700.