Dyspraxia: parents' questions answered

Handwriting practice
Dyspraxia, or Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD), causes problems with language, perception and thought – most specifically issues with co-ordination. Around one in seven children has this learning difficulty and if your child is affected it can be hard to know how to help for the best. Here we answer some of the most common questions parents ask.
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How can I get a dyspraxia diagnosis for my child?

Getting early intervention and the right support for dyspraxia is important to help your child learn coping strategies and achieve their potential – both at school and in everyday living. ‘First talk to your child’s teacher and see if they have any concerns, then ask if the school has a referral pathway for dyspraxia or DCD,’ says Dr Amanda Kirby, the UK’s leading authority on dyspraxia, author of Dyspraxia: Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (£12.99, Souvenir Press) and herself a mum of a dyspraxic child. ‘If there isn’t a referral pathway in place, you’ll need to see your GP and discuss a referral to a paediatrician.’

After a referral comes the assessment process. You’ll answer questions about your child including when they first sat up or crawled, plus they’ll be tested on gross motor skills (like running, walking and balance) and fine motor skills (like writing and doing up buttons).

What help is my dyspraxic child entitled to in school?

Dyspraxia affects your child’s ability to learn, so they may need extra help at school. ‘While there’s no specific help outlined, under the Equality Act 2010 every school in the UK has a legal requirement to support children with a disability,’ says Amanda. Depending on your child’s specific needs, their school can do things like provide extra supervision, give longer to learn tasks, and provide equipment to help (the umbrella organisation Movement Matters offers guidance on options open to primary schools).

How can I help with my child’s handwriting?

Writing can often be a problem with children with dyspraxia. ‘There are different parts to writing and not all of those are motor related’, says Amanda. ‘Some children have handwriting difficulties because they don’t know how to make the letter shapes rather than having poor control.’ What can help is practising drawing the letter shapes correctly with your child. ‘Make it more fun by drawing them in sand, or in foam in the bath’, she suggests. ‘Also experiment with pencil grips as some children find that certain grips give more stability and make writing more comfortable.’

Posture when writing is important, too. It’s best is to sit up straight with feet flat on the floor or resting on a stool or box. Some experts also recommend a writing slope, a portable slope that can help them write at the best angle. Long-term, learning to touch-type is a useful skill to learn, particularly if your child finds it hard to write quickly or for long periods.

Any practical tips to help my dyspraxic child at home?

Lack of co-ordination can make even the simplest everyday tasks tricky for dyspraxics. The website Box of Ideas, part of the Dyscovery Centre at which Amanda is medical director, contains tips and tricks for helping with independent living skills including:

Dyspraxia tips: eating

  • A suction pad or damp flannel under their plate so it doesn’t slip.
  • A deep bowl or a plate with a rim will minimise spillages.
  • A cup with two handles (easier to grip than a single-handled cup) and one that’s weighted or slightly heavier (less likely to knock over).

Dyspraxia tips: dressing

  • Encourage your child to get dressed sitting down as it makes them more stable.
  • Show your child how to lay out tomorrow’s clothes in the order they’ll put them on. For example, pants first, then socks, then T-shirt, etc. Try to turn this into a nightly routine.
  • Avoid fastenings, as they make it harder for your child to dress themselves. Velcro and poppers are easier than laces on shoes.
  • Choose trousers with a pleat at the front and tops with a logo or pattern so it’s easier to tell which way round they go.

Dyspraxia tips: routine

Following a daily routine can help children with dyspraxia, and a good way to present this is as a visual timetable. Being able to refer back to it themselves when they need to is a way to boost their self-confidence. For example, break down a task like brushing teeth into different steps, taking a photo or drawing a picture for each step. Stick the pictures onto pieces of card and laminate both sides, and then attach to a notice board with Velcro fastenings. The idea is that when your child completes each task, they can put them in a ‘done’ folder so they see what they’ve achieved – and what still needs to be done that day.

Books about dyspraxia for children

  

Dyspraxia: support for parents

Specialist support for parents of children with dyspraxia is available from the Dyspraxia Foundation. Their helpline offers help and advice to adults, parents, carers and families on and about dyspraxia and is available Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm; call 01462 454986.