This is a condition that affects the coordination of action and thought. It may also affect the body’s ability to control temperature.
The World Health Organisation (ICD 10) describes it as a Specific Developmental Disorder of motor function:
‘The main feature being a serious impairment in the development of motor coordination that is not solely explicable in terms of general intellectual retardation or of any specific congenital or acquired neurological disorder. It is usual for the motor clumsiness to be associated with some degree of impaired performance on visuo-spatial cognitive tasks’.
As yet no single cause is known and it is possible that no single cause will be found, it is probable that there are a number of reasons individuals are dyspraxic.
The impact of dyspraxia depends upon the severity. Dyspraxia may affect just one set of an individual’s muscle groups or it may affect several or all the muscle groups. For example the fine motor skills may be affected and an individual will experience difficulties with things like doing up buttons and writing.
Let us consider an example where muscles that control the jaw and tongue are affected. The impact that this could have for a child is difficulties controlling their lips, jaws, tongue and / or larynx. As babies these children will often have had difficulties feeding. It also of course means that the muscles used for controlling speech will be affected and a child with this difficulty will be late learning to speak and will need speech therapy. When they do learn to speak the quality of the speech sounds will take some time to refine into speech that is easily understood. This is because they will experience great difficulty controlling their breathing, how they make speech sounds, sequence sounds and think about sequencing sounds for words. They are also likely to dribble until they are quite old. In the early stages of learning to speak there may be problems with managing what is known as prosodic features of speech such as: control, intonation, volume and/or rate of speech.
Another difficulty for children where this muscle group is affected is that they may find it hard to control the muscles used for facial expression. This will mean that they may find it hard to show how they are feeling through facial expression.
It is often said of dyspraxic children that they will ‘fall over their own feet’ or that they are ‘clumsy’ because they are always bumping into things. Dyspraxia often causes problems with knowing where we are in relation to other things. In our inner ears we have something called vestibular receptors. These sit in an upright position. The vestibular sense helps with the co-ordination of eye movements, as well as our head and body movements. It also helps us to control both sides of our bodies. These often do not work so well when dyspraxia is present. Also within our muscles we have things that help us to be aware of the position of our bodies in relation to things around us. For example, we can do up our buttons without looking at them, we can close our eyes and touch our noses. It is the proprioceptors that enable us to do this. With dyspraxia the proprioceptive system does not work very well. This condition affects four times more boys than girls and there are estimates that up to 10% of the population may be affected to some extent. The two key areas that are affected when these systems in the body do not work or develop as they should include:
Below is a list of some of the problems that children with Developmental Coordination Difficulties (Dyspraxia) are likely to have, they usually have at least a combination of several difficulties:
It is often not until children go to school that the dyspraxia is noted. Around 50% of children with dyspraxia are not identified until after the age of 5. At school they may have the following difficulties:
Life in the secondary school is likely to be far more difficult for the dyspraxic child. The amount of organisation is immediately increased. They have to plan what kit and equipment to take in. They have to know their timetables and what classes they should be in and where those classes are in the building. They have to move around the building several times a day. At the end of each lesson they may have difficulties getting home work written down so it is legible and packing up quickly enough so they are not late to the next one.
These children are often poorly organised, they quite often look messy with shirts hanging out and their desks or drawer will almost always be untidy. They are usually poor timekeepers and always the last. Often they are not sure where they should be or what they should be doing. It is not deliberate; it is as frustrating and bewildering to them as it is to those around them. Everyone needs to be patient.
I hope that this has given you some useful information about the complexities surrounding dyspraxia. Dyspraxia does not affect intelligence but it does impact on academic skills and life in school. There are lots of things that teachers and parents can do to help.
Diagnosing dyspraxia is a medical assessment that is usually carried out by an occupational therapist. However I can advise on what to do if your child is dyspraxic and assess educational difficulties associated with dyspraxia. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org You can contact me by phone on 01531 822065 or 07890909911.