How to Help Children With Dyspraxia Thrive in Your Classroom

There are various learning disabilities affecting children in schools nowadays. Some of them are commonly known, like ADHD, dyslexia, or autism disorder, but there are also lesser-known disorders that affect students across the country, like dysgraphia or dyspraxia. 

What is dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia stands out from other learning difficulties because it’s a developmental coordination disorder, and one that affects a person throughout their entire life. This condition means that a child’s brain is unable to coordinate effectively with the body muscles to create physical movements, resulting in coordination issues. The cause of dyspraxia remains unknown, but what we know is that it tends to be genetic and is more commonly diagnosed in boys. There is research that suggests dyslexia and dyspraxia often present together in children and teens. 

There are four known types of dyspraxia:

  • Oromotor dyspraxia causes trouble enunciating words
  • Ideational dyspraxia causes issues with performing a sequence of coordinated movements
  • Ideomotor dyspraxia causes trouble with performing single-step tasks
  • Constructional dyspraxia triggers problems with spatial relationships. 

Dyspraxia tends to appear during someone’s childhood years, with most children getting their diagnosis between the ages of 7 and 10. There are, of course, many cases that go undiagnosed, or dyspraxia might be mistaken for another condition. In mild cases, a child is simply thought to be ‘clumsy’ or not able to focus on the tasks at hand. Dyspraxia is also more commonly diagnosed in boys, but that might be because girls do a better job at hiding symptoms or keeping them under control. 

Dyspraxia can have a significant impact on a child’s quality of life, and on the quality of their education, as well. Children suffering from dyspraxia are sometimes bullied or laughed at in the classroom, because they might appear clumsy and uncoordinated. This disorder can affect a child’s memory, thought and perception, and articulation and speech, making it harder for them to blend in, speak up in class, or make friends at school. 

How to recognize the symptoms of dyspraxia in the classroom

The condition does not affect intelligence, but it can affect a child’s self-confidence and their mental health, causing them to withdraw and isolate from their peers and underperform academically. That’s why it’s so important for parents and teachers alike to recognize the symptoms of dyspraxia and take steps towards helping children thrive, both at home and in school. 

Symptoms of dyspraxia vary according to age and severity of the condition, but there are certain tell-tale signs to keep an eye out for. 

Dyspraxia at school

Young pre-school-age children might have problems running, kicking or catching a ball, walking up and down stairs, or holding objects properly. School-age children might have issues writing or reading, remembering and following instructions, copying information from a whiteboard, or dictation. They might also have issues gripping pencils or pens, and might also have a hard time staying focused, which often leads educators and parents to suspect the child might be struggling with ADHD

If dyspraxia isn’t diagnosed and addressed during the early years, it can worsen and can become difficult to handle during one’s teenage years. A teen suffering from dyspraxia might try to hide their frustration by lashing out at teachers and peers, skipping or disrupting classes, and might exhibit other destructive behaviors. They might also often get lost on their way to class, forget a teacher’s name, have difficulty writing, speaking, reading, and playing sports. This might cause them to be laughed at or bullied at school, which in turn can make things worse and start to affect their mental health in a negative way. 

Dyspraxia at home

Dyspraxia might also manifest itself at home, so parents need to keep an eye out for any signs and symptoms, so they can address the issue and help their child control it. Children with dyspraxia might have trouble learning to ride a bike, swimming, playing sports or video games, while teens might struggle when learning to drive a car for the first time. 

Struggling with dyspraxia at home and at school can significantly affect a child or teen’s daily life, and that can continue into adulthood, causing them trouble finding and keeping a job or building relationships. So, it’s critical that the symptoms of dyspraxia are recognized early; this will help the child or teen discover that there is a reason why they’re ‘different,’ and it will help them better control their disorder and not let it affect their lives. 

How teachers can help children with dyspraxia in the classroom

There are different ways in which teachers can help and support children with dyspraxia in their classroom. The main goal is to help these students thrive, learn, and get along with their peers and their teachers, without letting this disorder impact their personal or their academic development. Here is how teachers can help these students overcome their challenges in dealing with dyspraxia. 

  • Carefully devise your classroom seating plan – do your best to accommodate children with dyspraxia so that they’re close to the whiteboard and to you, to help them focus on the lessons and so that you can also keep a closer eye. Provide space between them and doors, windows, or display boards, because these can easily distract students with dyspraxia. 
  • Provide plenty of breaks – children with dyspraxia have a hard time staying focused for long periods of time, and they can also easily be overcome with frustration. Allow students to take a break whenever they need it, to relax and refocus. Even a short walk around the room or a breath of fresh air can help them concentrate better.
  • Integrate alternatives to writing and reading – students struggling with dyspraxia can have a hard time reading and writing, so make sure to integrate alternatives to help them thrive and continue their education. Use audiobooks, visual aids, or touch-typing, which helps facilitate writing and composition without the stress of producing the written text. 
  • Be clear and concise about your intentions – it’s crucial that you are clear and concise in your communication with your students, and especially those with dyspraxia, who can have trouble processing information. Feel free to use written notes to dictate tasks, but keep your instructions short and clear, perhaps in the form of checklists. Go over these instructions several times with the student, to make sure that they understand what is required. 
  • Keep an eye out for bullying – as we’ve already mentioned, children suffering from dyspraxia often get laughed at in class, or even bullied, because other children might find them weird or different. Keep an eye out for such behaviors to nip them in the bud, and do your best to inform and educate both students and parents on the importance of inclusivity and acceptance. 
  • Make the best of technology – as students with dyspraxia often have trouble writing and performing tasks on paper, allow them to bring a laptop or tablet in the classroom. There are various apps that enable children with learning difficulties to take notes, record lessons, read, and process information, so do some research to find apps that make it easier for your students to thrive.
  • Keep in touch with the parents to track progress – keep in touch every now and then with parents of students suffering from dyspraxia, to track progress and get updates on how they’re doing at home. At the same time, parents can keep track of how their child is doing in school, and how they can help.

Is your child or student struggling with dyspraxia or other learning difficulties? Want to learn strategies on how to help them thrive, at home and in school? Reach out to Da Vinci Collaborative with any questions you might have. 

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