When the body won't listen to the brain


Parenting: Understanding dyspraxia Your child might not be clumsy, she could have a condition know asdyspraxia, which may affect as many as one in 10 of us, writes Louise Holden

For years children with dyspraxia were described as having Clumsy Child Syndrome, but more recently the condition has found its place among the range of disorders, such as dyslexia, Asperger's Syndrome and ADHD, that can hamper learning.

Dyspraxia is sometimes described as dyslexia of movement, as sufferers have difficulty with motor-skill control. Dyspraxia, as a term, is still little-known. Also labelled Developmental Co-ordination Disorder, it has gained some profile in recent years, thanks to the honesty of high-profile sufferers, such as the photographer David Bailey, and the singer Sting, who has a child with the condition. The Dyspraxia Association of Ireland claims that between one in 10 and one in 15 Irish people are sufferers.

Siobhan Gallagher, who helped to set up the association, has a child with dyspraxia. She started to notice something was different when her child was approaching three. Siobhan's daughter was having great difficulty mastering the milestones of her age group, such as potty training, feeding and dressing herself.

"I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know what. When she started school at four, the problems became very apparent. She couldn't handle a pencil, she couldn't play games or dance like the other children. In terms of movement, it was like she was on another planet. She used to get very frustrated at her body's refusal to do what she wanted it to, with the result that she was prone to tantrums and bad behaviour way beyond the 'terrible twos'," says Gallagher.

Gallagher brought her to see a neurologist, who immediately diagnosed dyspraxia. Since that day, Gallagher has joined legions of parents trying to secure services for their dyspraxic children. The Dyspraxia Association helpline is constantly busy, she says, with 200 new callers logged since Christmas. Most of those callers are parents, but some are teachers looking for advice on how to support dyspraxic children in the classroom.

The causes of dypraxia are not known, but the symptoms are easy to spot if you know what to look for.

Dyspraxia is defined as difficulty with thinking out, planning and carrying out sensory and motor tasks. Therefore it is not a simple case of a child having difficulty tying her shoelaces, she will also have problems carrying out tasks that involve thought sequencing and forward planning, such as packing a schoolbag or preparing a sandwich.

In school, dyspraxia presents in a number of ways. Poor handwriting, immature artwork, poor co-ordination in sports and inability to follow instructions are common. There are social consequences too. Rather like Autistic Spectrum Disorder, dyspraxia produces literal thinkers who have problems understanding the nuances of everyday social exchange. Jokes, metaphors and body language are often bewildering to the dyspraxic person.

Depending on the severity of the condition, many dyspraxic people can lead full and independent lives. Early therapeutic intervention is very important, however, as dyspraxic children will not instinctually grasp certain skills and need intense tuition. In a classroom setting, the dyspraxic child can benefit from simple interventions such as smaller, simpler assignments and written instructions. If a teacher is aware of the symptoms of dyspraxia, he or she is better placed to nurture the dyspraxic child, who is often of average intelligence or higher.

This Saturday, hundreds of parents and teachers will come together in Maynooth, Co Kildare, to discuss the implications of dyspraxia in the school system and to find ways to support their children at home. Speakers at the event include consultant clinical psychologists Dr Tony Humphreys, Don Mahon, an inspector with the Department of Education and Science and former special needs school principal and Mary O'Connor, a neuro-developmental therapist.

For further information contact the Dyspraxia Association at (01) 295 7125 or www.dyspraxiaireland.com.