Far too often, when trying to describe dyspraxia, the simplicity of the learning disorder gets lost in a cloud of scientific words and labels, in the same way as it can with dyslexia. I will try to keep everything very simple.
Dyspraxia is generally broken down into two types, Developmental Motor Dyspraxia (DMD) and Verbal Dyspraxia
There is a great deal of confusion about these, especially verbal dyspraxia.
About 6% of the population is dyspraxic and I have always had far more dyslexic students than dyspraxic ones. It tends to run in families.
I do not believe in giving a kid a label unless the diagnosing of that label tells us how to overcome the problems and teach that kid. In understanding how best to help a dyspraxic kid you have first to understand what causes it. Unlike dyslexia dyspraxia is actually thought to be caused by a sort of brain defect. It is thought that the neural pathways in the brain have not always formed correctly.
What are Neural pathways?
When a human baby is born most of the billions of brain cells it is born with are not yet wired up or joined together. This means that this baby has to learn how to do things, recognize things etc and as it does this the brain cells get joined together to form electrical pathways called “Neural Pathways”. This is how that baby remembers what it has learnt.
Neural Pathways and Developmental Motor Dyspraxia
Mostly these new learning pathways form correctly and concisely but in the case of a Developmental Motor Dyspraxic child they do not always form a complete pathway or do not always take the most direct route.
To understand this let us use the analogy of a road network in a large country. We use maps to get from one city to another or from one part of a city to another and after a while if we do the same journey a number of times we learn the best route and no longer need the map. This is what happens in the baby’s brain, as it repeats actions the brain learns how to do the action automatically.
If, however, we did not use the map correctly or use an old or poor map we may not have learnt the most direct route from one place to another and may instead be traveling further than we need to or continually get lost. Also we could easily learn a route that is not the most direct. If this were to happen then another person traveling to and from the same places could very well leave after us and arrive at the same destination before us.
This is what seems to be happening inside the brain of a Developmental Motor Dyspraxic pupil. Sometimes the most direct neural route is taken through the brain and at other times a longer route is taken. Sometimes the journey is never completed and the destination never reached. Then the neural pathway is not complete.
When this happens information taken in through the senses may get lost in the brain and not reach its destination at all. In such instances the Developmental Motor Dyspraxia pupil will not even be aware that the information has entered the brain. As well as this any information taking a long route may reach its destination out of sequence. This is why when you give a list of instructions to these children they get muddled.
Since these neural pathways work in both directions – that is to say they take you to your destination and, when ready, back again – the Developmental Motor Dyspraxic pupil sometimes finds that actions s/he wanted to do, or things s/he wanted to say get lost in these neural pathways and s/he gets muddled. This is of course very frustrating for the pupil and also very scary.
It also means that these children find it hard to “see” the whole picture. When you cannot take in the whole picture spatial understanding becomes impaired.
This is why a Developmental Motor Dyspraxic pupil will achieve poor results in the areas of spatial thinking and understanding. In the WISC test – this may show up as a poor result in the block design sub-test.
These children’s perception of the world is similar to viewing a jigsaw puzzle before it has been put together.
If a child cannot perceive the world about him/her properly he becomes clumsy and this clumsiness is most apparent in these children when they attempt to run or hop or undertake complex sporting activities. Because they cannot always estimate distances correctly they tend to fall over or bump into things.
Because they may not be properly processing all of a set of instructions they will find it hard to know what they are meant to be doing. They should never be given a list of instructions. You cannot ever be sure that one simple instruction is perceived properly, and when your dyspraxic pupil or child tells you that he/she never heard the instruction remember he/she may be telling the truth. The instruction may never have traveled all the way along the neural pathway and reached the brain.
These children benefit greatly from coordination and body awareness exercises, particularly those involving hand eye coordination. Learning how far things are away from each other and from themselves helps the brain to wire up properly. Many therapists actually get the children to crawl through obstacle courses. This is particularly important if the child never crawled when a baby.
Many occupational therapists consider that these children need to be taught to coordinate their hands, eyes and balance through play activities before they are taught academic skills.
Reading and writing
These children find it hard to use a pen or pencil and to form every letter perfectly and some even have problems “seeing” the edge of the page. They usually benefit greatly from learning how to use a keyboard.
Many of the teaching skills needed to best help dyslexic children also help dyspraxic children. However some find phonics very hard and these have to be gone over a lot. They have to be taught to pace their reading so that they do not miss out words or lines. I have found that they have, initially, to be slowed down when reading.
How to recognize Developmental Motor Dyspraxia
Does he or she:
- Find learning to swim or ride a bike difficult?
- Have difficulty with coordination in sporting activities and games?
- Look clumsy when running?
- Seem scared or fearful of climbing or standing on high places while being virtually fearless as a toddler?
- Get stressed and even angry when routine is broken?
- Get scared at night and want a light on?
- Want everything to be kept in exactly the same place all the time?
- Tend to become obsessive about routine and hate sudden change of routine?
- Tend to follow rituals in his/her behavior?
- Get so angry at school or with him/herself that s/he throws objects about or breaks them?
- Throw tantrums when stressed?
- Suffer from phobias?
- Have problems making friends?
- Have problems understanding sarcasm and sometimes jokes?
- Have problems understanding time and finds it hard to judge how long a thing is or takes?
- Have problems with judging distance and speed and therefore scared of crossing a road if a car is in sight anywhere?
- Have a poor sense of direction?
- Have poor body awareness?
- Find some clothing uncomfortable to wear?
- Dislike or extreme sensitivity to being touched?
- Tend to be very caring and try to “buy” friendship?
- Find it difficult to write letters or numbers?
- Have good ideas and verbal expression even if (s)he has problems with speech?
- Have significant problems with most aspects of maths and numbers?
- Tend to miss out words when reading or read words in the incorrect order?
- Have problems learning to read but becomes good once (s)he understands basic phonics?
- Have difficulty in understanding the content of what (s)he has read?
- Have difficulty in following instructions?
- Tend to write only in the center of pages as if frightened by the edges?
- Have great difficulty in drawing a map or plan and find it hard to follow maps or plans?
- Find drawing in perspective very difficult?
- Have either very poor or excellent organization skills?
- Tend to be creative but have problems drawing?
- Tend to draw things by drawing around the outside edge and then filling in the completed shape with color, pattern or detail?
- Get deja-vu a lot or have the feeling that things have happened before or that (s)he knew an event was going to happen?
If you can answer “yes” to at least half of the above and your child or pupil tests as positive or borderline positive in the Tick Box Tests for dyslexia (found on our web site – Dyslexia-testing.com.au) then you should get further assessment to establish whether or not your child has DMD.
This article is taken from Dawn’s book “Dyspraxia – A guide for parents and teachers”, which is available as a downloadable pdf, from this web site.