KYRAN FITZGERALD: New book offers a practical guide to assist families experiencing dyspraxia

A guide offers help in school, writes Helen O’Callaghan

She spent her first days in secondary school carrying her books around in a haversack on her back, as well as in two plastic carrier bags. She couldn’t open her locker, finding the keys too tricky.

She is one of many teens who shared stories with occupational therapist Dr Dorothy Armstrong about how dyspraxia impacted on them during their primary to secondary school transition.

Dr Armstrong has written a practical guide to assist families experiencing dyspraxia — a form of development co-ordination disorder (DCD) — with this transition. Entitled The Next Adventure, the booklet gives constructive advice, as well as useful checklists for families, teachers and schools.

Dyspraxia/DCD is characterised by difficulty with thinking out, planning, and carrying out sensory/motor tasks. It’s estimated to affect up to 8% of the population, but often goes undiagnosed due to varied symptoms.

Teens who confided their challenging experiences to Dr Armstrong described being unable to thread a needle or use a vegetable peeler in home economics; and an inability to tie laces quickly or get changed fast for PE.

One child described knowing “what to do and how to do it” in woodwork class, but being unable physically to do it. Another recalled his first-year Christmas test, about “having it all in his head” but just not being able to get it down on paper: “My slow writing wrecked nearly every subject. I was only able to finish three tests out of 12.”

New book offers a practical guide to assist families experiencing dyspraxia

Practically all kids with dyspraxia/DCD have problems with co-ordinating, organising, and planning — “I’d have done my homework but forgotten to bring it in”.

Remembering and organising required books for their next classes was hard. Many had difficulty finding their way around new places.

Dyspraxia/DCD isn’t a question of intelligence. Many of these children are very clever, says Dr Armstrong. “It’s a hidden disability. They’re honestly doing their best.” She recommends telling your child in a positive way that they have dyspraxia/DCD.

“From my experience and research, those who didn’t know suffered a lot more. It really threw them and knocked their self-esteem. They were wondering what was wrong — were they stupid? Whereas when they knew what it was, they were much better at getting on with things.”

  • The Next Adventure is available from Dyspraxia/DCD Ireland (01 874 7085) or dyspraxia.ie. €7 for members, €10 non-members.

At school

  • Create clear timetable with teacher names/room numbers/ lesson times. Make three copies: for child’s locker, schoolbag and wall where they study at home.
  • Get map of internal school layout. Visit school with child before first day to familiarise layout.
  • Pack locker with child ahead of school start — allow him/her practise using key and lock.
  • Ensure child has contact details for a few classmates.

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