Ask the expert: What should we tell our son about his dyspraxia?
Q Our seven-year-old son has recently been diagnosed with dyspraxia – this came as no surprise as he has always struggled with co-ordination and his social skills are poor. What I would like to know is how we should tell him about his condition or should we just wait until he’s older?
Up to this point he has been quite happy but recently he has become more aware that he is not quite like other children and we’ve also had a couple of recent incidents where other children of his own age have laughed at him because he couldn’t hit a hurling ball or his writing had been untidy.
We’ve tried to explain to him that everyone’s DNA is different and that different people are good at different things – for example, he’s fascinated with nature and has a fantastic knowledge of this subject. Should we just bite the bullet and tell him outright what dyspraxia is and explain the effects it has on him ?
A When and how to talk to children about their specific special needs is a complicated issue for parents. This is especially the case with conditions such as dyspraxia when the diagnosis comes late and/or when the differences between the child and other children are more subtle and may not be immediately obvious.
A clear diagnosis for a child’s condition can bring many benefits in that it can provide a helpful, non-judgmental understanding of the child’s difficulties and in that it can help you access appropriate supports and resources.
Unfortunately, diagnoses can also bring problems in that there can be a stigma attached and they can cause a child (and others) to view himself in a more limited way.
The central issue is what the diagnosis means to the child and those close to them. In communicating a diagnosis to a child and others you want to do it in a way that emphasises the positive benefits of this name – clear understanding, access to good support – and in a way that discounts the negatives, in other words, it does not limit potential.
Telling your child step by step
At age seven, your child is probably ready to hear about dyspraxia. Like you, he is sure to wonder why he finds some tasks much harder than other children his own age and to hear these difficulties explained in terms of dyspraxia will probably be helpful to him. It sounds like you have already started the process by explaining how each person has “different DNA” and different abilities.
He will also be aware that he met someone for an assessment and will have some inkling what this is about.
When you think he is ready, sit down with him and tell him more information. A good starting point might be to refer to the assessment: “Remember you went to see N and she did some exercises with you . . . well, she thinks you have a condition called dyspraxia.”
Explain what this means in terms he understands like, “you know how you find it hard to tie your shoelaces and ride a bicycle – well, this is what dyspraxia means”, and make sure to focus on the positive benefits of naming the problem: “The good news is that there is a lot of special help you can get to learn most things.”