Dyspraxia Foundation: How teachers can help children with dyspraxia succeed at school.
Dr Sally Payne, Occupational Therapist and Dyspraxia Foundation Trustee
As a teacher, enabling all children to achieve their potential at school is your goal. But the number of children with additional needs is rising and it can be difficult to know how to support students with lesser known conditions such as dyspraxia. The consequences of not recognising and supporting children with dyspraxia are, however, serious and long lasting.
Impact of dyspraxia on educational attainment
Children with dyspraxia are less likely than their peers to achieve 5 or more GCSE’s at grade A* - C. This is a real concern as falling short of this academic threshold limits a person’s employment options and may mean they are unable to continue in education. The link between qualifications and earning potential is well known, so the risk of economic disadvantage is set for people with dyspraxia from a young age.
Adults who responded to a recent Dyspraxia Foundation survey said that early recognition of their difficulties and access to support helped their learning and educational attainment. By contrast, people without a formal diagnosis felt they had underachieved academically:
“Lack of recognition meant lack of support throughout my education, which I feel meant I didn’t achieve my full potential” (survey respondent)
Dyspraxia is one of the most common developmental disorders of childhood, affecting at least one child in every class, yet teachers receive little (if any) training about dyspraxia either before or after qualification. As a result, dyspraxia remains a ‘hidden disability’ and children are missing out on the understanding and support they need to achieve academic and personal success.
There is, therefore, an urgent need to raise teachers’ awareness and understanding of this missed and misunderstood condition.
What is dyspraxia?
The core feature of dyspraxia, known to health professionals and researchers as developmental coordination disorder (DCD) is poor gross and fine motor coordination. Movement difficulties make it hard for children to master everyday tasks such as:
- getting dressed (e.g. managing buttons, pulling on socks),
- using cutlery,
- riding a bike; and
- sitting squarely on a chair.
Teachers report problems including:
- using scissors,
- doing PE; and
- packing away equipment at the end of the day.
While dyspraxia can (and often does) overlap with other neurodevelopmental disorders (such as autism and ADHD) it is a separate condition that requires specific consideration. ‘Symptoms’ of dyspraxia often come to the fore at school, but caregivers will typically (although not always) remember that their child was late to reach developmental milestones such as crawling and walking.
Not just a movement disorder
Although dyspraxia is a movement disorder, problems with planning, organisation and time management are common. In fact, teenagers and adults say these difficulties cause them more problems than their coordination difficulties, perhaps because they’ve developed strategies to manage (or avoid) physical tasks over time, while organising themselves and their equipment becomes more difficult at secondary school and as adults.
There is growing evidence of a link between poor motor coordination and problems with executive functions such as organisation, planning, decision-making and working memory. If teachers want to help children with dyspraxia reach their educational potential, they must consider these non-motor difficulties as well as their more obvious coordination problems. Developing strategies for organisation and planning will not only benefit children at school but will also provide them with useful skills for life.
When we identify and get support right for children with dyspraxia, their confidence, skills and attainments grow. On the other hand, making inaccurate judgements about a child’s true abilities, based on their written presentation and poor organisational skills can have serious consequences for their self-esteem and confidence. So what can teachers do to ensure children with dyspraxia fulfil their potential at school?
Strategies for success
Dyspraxia Foundation has produced a range of free resources addressing common physical, organisational and social challenges experienced by children with dyspraxia in early years settings, primary, secondary and post-16 education. Many of the recommendations are simple and require little time or money.
Strategies need to be tailored to children’s individual needs however, as dyspraxia affects everyone differently. Strategies, tools and approaches are more likely to be successful (and used) if children are involved in identifying them.
Children don’t have to have a formal diagnosis to benefit from these approaches. But if, despite these interventions, children aren’t making expected progress then a referral should be made to an appropriate health professional (occupational therapy, physiotherapy, paediatrician) according to local procedures. Although often picked up at school, dyspraxia/DCD is a medical condition and should only be diagnosed when a paediatrician has ruled out all other possible explanations for a child’s difficulties.
And finally, Dyspraxia Foundation has a special membership category for schools/colleges. So, if you want access to further information, webinars and resources to help you support children with dyspraxia to reach their potential, sign up today.