Remember back in school when there was always that ‘clumsy’ kid, who would easily trip over things, bump into people, was never the best at sport, and appeared awkward at times? Or maybe that kid was you? Let’s dig a little deeper and find more out about this ‘clumsy’ kid.
You may have heard Doctors, Paediatricians’, Speech Pathologists or Occupational Therapists mention the terms Dyspraxia and Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD). Perhaps your little one is working on their ‘praxis’ skills in OT. So what exactly do these terms mean?
Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects fine and/or gross motor coordination, as well as sensory processing and visual perception. Dyspraxia affects children of various ages. It often presents difficulties with planning, organising, and carrying out tasks/activities in the correct order. It can also affect speech. Generally, in Australia, we use the term Dyspraxia as both terms essentially have the same presenting characteristics and functional goals.
Being a neurodevelopmental disorder, there is no identifiable medical or neurological condition that explains the reason for a child’s motor coordination disorder such as Down Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome etc. However, it is quite common for dyspraxia to be co-morbid/co-occurring with other conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or learning difficulties.
What does this look like in a child?
Some children may experience difficulties in a variety of areas. Others may have problems only with specific activities. Here are some common characteristics:
- They may appear clumsy or awkward in movements compared to friends of similar age (e.g. running awkwardly or holding scissors awkwardly).
- Poor body awareness: bumping into things/people, invading someone’s personal space without recognising this.
- Difficulty or delayed development gross motor skills (e.g. running, catching), and fine motor skills (e.g. handwriting, doing up buttons, tying shoelaces!)
- Slow in following verbal instructions
- Forget previously learned movements
- A discrepancy of skills: may have good language & communication but messy handwriting
- Find it hard to learn new skills, as well as transfer, learned skills to different contexts, eg. At home to school
- Difficulty performing activities requiring coordinated use of both sides of the body, g. cutting with scissors, running, tennis.
- Reduced balance and postural control, eg unsteady when stepping over height or when standing while dressing.
- Taking the extra time to complete academic tasks such as maths, spelling and handwriting which requires writing to be accurate and organised on the page.
- Rushing through tasks as completing them slowly is difficult (due to reduced control/balance)
- Difficulty with organisation, eg. school bag, homework, getting changed, setting out their writing on the page appropriately.
As a consequence of finding these day-to-day tasks challenging, sometimes children will often:
- Avoids sports/physical activity and socialising with their peers on the playground as they fear they may not be included in games. Often these children end up playing with younger kids as their skills are of a similar level and they feel more confident playing with them.
- Find it difficult to perform everyday tasks such as brushing teeth, doing up buttons, getting ready for school
- Reduced self-esteem and/or anxiety when asked to participate in difficult activities
- Complains that things are ‘too hard’ or ‘I can’t do it’ when presented with motor activities
- Lack of interest/motivation in engaging in activities they find difficult or have experienced failure
- Become frustrated easily when completing tasks
So what can Occupational Therapists( OTs ) do to help?
After a formal assessment has been completed, your OT will devise goals in collaboration with you, and your child’s teachers in order for your child to achieve their functional best. They may have only a specific area of Dyspraxia to work towards, or it could be that they will require a number of skills to work on within the Dyspraxia scope.
Generally, your OT will help your child develop the underlying skills necessary to support the whole body (gross motor) and hand dexterity (fine motor) skills, such as providing activities to support:
- balance and coordination
- strength and endurance
- attention and alertness
- body awareness
- movement planning
Since Dyspraxia often coincides with other condition such as ASD and ADHD, your OT will be able to incorporate strategies such as using a multi-sensory approach to help develop their praxis skills as well as their sensory processing.
What can you do with your kiddo to help?
- Hopscotch – cost-effective and simple to create, hopscotch is very beneficial in building the gross motor skills in children. You could use bright colours and a design to appeal to the visual strengths in children with dyspraxia!
- Obstacle courses – These are soo much fun and kids love to build things. You can use playground equipment or set up one at home using cushions, trampoline etc. A great one for those planning, sequencing and gross motor skills!
- Simon says – using a variety of positions and slow movements
- Going in/under/over/between/around objects e.g. running and weaving between objects while keeping a balloon in the air.
- Getting them involved in sports such as swimming, martial arts, dancing, soccer and gymnastics are all beneficial – have your child choose one they are motivated to try!
- Clapping games or action songs
- Arts and craft – step by step approach e.g. origami, paper weaving, writing up a procedure
- Follow a step-by-step model for building toys — e.g. Lego, building blocks
- Jigsaw puzzles — try ones that they aren’t familiar with
- Pencil activities – e.g. dot to dot, tracing, copying shapes, mazes.
Remember, the more these tasks are practised and the more the fine and gross muscles are engaged and challenged, the better their overall motor output will be. Children with dyspraxia are perfectly capable of learning alongside their peers; they may just need some extra attention and support from time to time. Awareness is the first step and can make all of the difference in helping a child to reach his or her full potential at school!
If you feel your child could benefit from some extra support in with their motor coordination or sensory processing please give us call on 02 9913 3823.