Teaching children with dyspraxia

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Dyspraxia is a learning difficulty that affects the brain’s ability to plan sequences of movement and is a condition which leads to many varied difficulties. It affects about 6% of the population, of which three times as many boys are affected as girls.

Sometimes called developmental coordination disorder, children with dyspraxia may have difficulty planning and performing tasks that require fine motor skills, such as writing, tying shoelaces or using manipulatives.

What causes dyspraxia?

No one knows. Children with dyspraxia have no clinical neurological abnormality to explain their condition. It is probably the result of certain parts of the brain not developing properly or by an interference in the way messages from the brain are transmitted to the body. Dyspraxia can’t be cured and there are no quick fixes.

Recognising dyspraxia

Although dyspraxia cannot be ‘treated’, teachers can help children cope with the effects. A child with dyspraxia at school might show some of the following behaviours:

  • Poor communication skills or unable to speak clearly
  • Trouble finding the right words to use
  • Speak in short sentences
  • Difficulty using equipment e.g. protractor
  • Difficulty with spatial awareness e.g. drawing shapes, graphs, tables
  • Reverse and mistype numbers, signs or decimal points
  • Difficulty with grammar
  • Difficulty reading
  • Read in a monotonous tone
  • Difficulty following or remembering instructions
  • Short attention span
  • Hold a pen or pencil awkwardly
  • Write slow and laboriously
  • Poor scissor skills and difficulty cutting and sticking
  • Fidget and be unable to sit still

There is no average child with dyspraxia as it can overlap with other conditions such as dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other social and communication difficulties. Some children may have a few of the features described above but not have dyspraxia.

Alison Patrick says in her book ‘The Dyspraxic Learner: Strategies for Success’ (2015),

“Dyspraxia is on a spectrum, so some learners will be more severely affected than others and dyspraxic individuals will tend to have a ‘cocktail’ of symptoms rather than a whole gamut of attributes. Each learner with dyspraxia is unique and effective strategies will vary between individuals.”

Dyspraxia is complex as some of the symptoms can be invisible and children often come up with strategies to cope and ‘seem normal’. One thing is certain, children with dyspraxia have to work so much harder than we perhaps appreciate.

It’s important to remember that children with dyspraxia also possess many strengths such as being good strategic thinkers and problem solvers. They can be creative, original thinkers and also highly motivated and hard-working.

10 practical tips for teaching children with dyspraxia

For a child with dyspraxia to see themselves as being successful they must actually experience success, so the focus must always be on what the child can do. As teachers in a neurodiverse classroom there are many sensible and supportive things we can do to minimise the impact of problems associated with dyspraxia and set the stage for success:

1. Adopt the mindset

Think of ways you can enable an individual to achieve. Set up an activity that challenges the child but where you can ensure success and prepare to give minimum assistance to aid achievement.

2. Don’t overwhelm

Aim to go one step at a time and avoid two or more instructions as this can engulf and confuse.

3. Echo

Repeating instructions benefits everyone, but particularly children with dyspraxia. Continually check that children have understood what you have said, what they need to do and how they can get there.

4. Checklist

Help children with ways to remember information by using lists so they can tick off things they do as they go.

5. Tactical engagement

Children with dyspraxia need to be fully involved, but that doesn’t mean being placed in the thick of the action. Strategically place learners away from distractions so they can focus on you.

6. Resources

Some materials such as pencil grips, crocodile rulers and writing equipment have been specifically designed to help children with dyspraxia. You might find a sloping desk will also help.

7. Applaud

Praise every effort and every accomplishment however slight. Unfortunately children with dyspraxia will be used to their fair share of failure so take every opportunity to lift their self-confidence and celebrate all successes.

8. Make it manageable

Absorbing and interpreting new information is hard-work so teach in small bursts, chunk your teaching and break tasks down into more manageable parts. Ensure that a skill is developmentally appropriate and build in plenty of time to address difficulties.

9. Personalise

When possible, try to teach on a one to one level and never remove a learner from a class for support.

10. Prepare

To avoid stress, make sure children are prepared in advance for any changes to established routines. Be realistic and consistent about your approach and expectations.

Further classroom guidelines for teachers can also be found on the Dyspraxia Foundation website.

is an Education Consultant and Author who specialises in primary maths, and blogger on Pedagogy.
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