LIFESTYLE NEWS - Dyspraxia, also known as developmental co-ordination disorder, is a motor planning difficulty, and often affects visual perceptual memory and the processing of information.
Children with dyspraxia struggle with day-to-day functioning.
They may get their clothes inside out at age 8, struggle to co-ordinate a knife and fork when eating, have difficulty learning to ride a bike, or catch a ball.
They may be easily distracted, for example if you ask a child with dyspraxia to fetch a glass of water from the kitchen, they may start playing with the cat or inspect the water running out of the tap instead of fetching the glass of water.
Often they don’t enjoy sport because they struggle to run or swim, and find themselves in trouble for losing their belongings.
Children with dyspraxia often bump into things, seem clumsy and appear to not be listening.
Dyspraxia can manifest in so many different ways, but this is a list of challenges a child with dyspraxia may be experiencing:
- Difficulty judging heights and distances
- Poor sense of timing and direction
- Difficulty with planning and organising thoughts
- Limited concentration and poor short term memory
- Difficulty with gross and fine motor skills – limited sporting ability and poor handwriting
- Difficulty with daily activities such as dressing, brushing teeth and hair and feeding oneself
- Speech may be poor or intelligible in the early years due to poor oral motor planning
- Taking things literally – may listen, but doesn’t always understand
- Can get easily frustrated
- Can be slow to adapt to new situations
- Difficulty following instructions
How to support your dyspraxic child
- Time is of the essence
Children with dyspraxia struggle with the concept of time. Make sure you allow for enough time when doing things like getting ready for school in the mornings or preparing for outings and give prompts throughout the preparation period. For example – we are leaving in 20 minutes, we are leaving in 10 minutes, we are leaving in 5 minutes etc. This also helps them to anticipate when you are leaving, and they know what to expect.
- Following instructions
No matter how much memory training you do with your child, following instructions is an area of challenge. This is because children with dyspraxia have difficulty with short term memory, sequencing of tasks and organisational skills. To compensate for this. give one instruction at a time. Once the child has completed the single task, then give the next instruction. More than one instruction becomes overwhelming and they can easily lose track of what they were instructed to do, making way for distractions that are completely outside of the task at hand.
Motor planning and organisational skills are two of the most debilitating difficulties children with dyspraxia face. Try using the phrase ‘stop, think and go’ when they need to approach a planning task. Stop: gives them a minute before jumping into the task. Think: how will they complete the task and what help do they need to achieve the desired outcome? Finally, once you have paused and done some planning, then we progress to – go, which is to tackle the task. This strategy is also useful to use when you talk your child through a situation – give them the steps to follow. Apply this to simple daily tasks such as setting the table and other household chores. Children with dyspraxia also struggle with anticipating or remembering what comes next in their day. They are often concrete thinkers. Making a visual time-table helps them to navigate their day and their responsibilities.
- Do it for them
Yes, you read it right, sometimes you just have to take over and do something for them. But when you do this, talk them through it. You may need to get their clothes ready in the morning, you may need to help them dress and you may need to cut their food into bite size pieces so that they can eat it, instead of struggling with a knife and fork. Talking through the steps may sound silly to you, but it creates a pathway in the brain that may lead to them learning to do the task themselves. “It is sometimes difficult to eat with a knife and a fork. Let’s cut your meat into small bites so that you can use one hand and eat with a fork” or “let’s take out all the clothes you need for today: we need a shirt, shorts, undies, two sock and two shoes. Which one do you want to put on first?”
The more guidance you provide, whether it is verbal or visual, the more your child will learn to adapt to their environment and the less anxious they will be. It requires patience and understanding, but taking things slowly for both of you, may just change their world so that they can learn to navigate it with confidence.
Annelize Clark (Occupational Therapist and Remedial Teacher at Bellavista School). For more information, visit www.bellavista.org.za