Is your child just clumsy, or do they suffer from dyspraxia? Lisa Salmon reports on the underdiagnosed motor coordination problem
Children who are uncoordinated, disorganised and struggle with handwriting are often simply written-off as clumsy.
But they may be among the 5 per cent of the population suffering from dyspraxia, a condition that affects fine and/or gross motor coordination and is thought to be hugely underdiagnosed, particularly in girls.
Once “cruelly and incorrectly” referred to as ‘clumsy child’ syndrome, dyspraxia, which is also known as developmental coordination disorder (DCD), can run in families. There are thought to be one to two children affected in every class of 30, and many well-known names have/had the condition, including Einstein, the actor Daniel Radcliffe, and model Cara Delevingne.
The condition can cause difficulties with memory, perception and processing, along with poor planning, organisation and sequencing skills which can have a significant negative impact on everyday activities. It can also affect speech.
Children may have problems with self-care and dressing, writing, typing, riding a bike and playing, as well as other educational and recreational activities.
“Children’s dyspraxia is often picked up at school because their handwriting is so poor,” explains Eleanor Howes, general manager of the Dyspraxia Foundation.
“While it’s mainly a coordination difficulty that can cause problems with children doing things like riding bikes, tying shoelaces and playing ball sports, organising thoughts, spatial awareness and perception of time can also be difficult.”
Research recently commissioned by the Dyspraxia Foundation found more than half (53%) of female respondents said their primary school teachers were unaware of their difficulties, compared to just 39 per centof the males questioned. This gender gap also affects dyspraxic secondary school pupils, with 47 per centof teenage girls reporting the same situation, compared to 32 per centof males.
Dyspraxia Foundation experts believe the findings may reflect teachers’ perceptions of dyspraxia as primarily a male disorder, often leaving dyspraxic girls overlooked in the classroom. But while research suggests the ratio of males:females with severe motor co-ordination difficulties is 2:1, clearly many girls do have the problem. But it’s thought they may be better at masking their difficulties by putting in extra effort and recruiting the assistance of friends to help them cope.
Paediatric occupational therapist Sally Payne, a trustee of the Dyspraxia Foundation, says: “In many ways, it’s testament to the resilience, coping mechanisms and emotional intelligence of females that they are seemingly able to disguise some of the difficulties that might be more obvious in boys.
“But sadly, as they get older, issues such as developing social skills, applying make up, choosing clothes and coping with personal hygiene and periods may become harder to cope with and will inevitably make situations such as starting college, leaving home or finding a job difficult and exhausting.
“Through our helpline and social media, we’ve heard of many cases where anxiety, self-doubt and a severe lack of confidence can soon set in. However, this could so easily be avoided by early diagnosis and intervention.”
Although dyspraxia may occur in isolation, it frequently coexists with other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, language disorders and social, emotional and behavioural impairments.
While the actual cause of dyspraxia is still unknown, research suggests that it’s due to an immaturity of neurone development in the brain, rather than to brain damage.
The average age for diagnosis is seven to eight years, although research suggests many sufferers aren’t diagnosed until they’re much older.
Early diagnosis is important, stresses Howes, who says parents may pick up on key indicators such as a child being slow to crawl or walk, or having difficulties with handwriting at school.
“If it’s picked up early, children with dyspraxia can benefit from occupational therapy and physiotherapy, and speech therapy if they need it, as some children have difficulty forming words,” says Howes.
“There are things that can be done to help, but there’s no cure.”
Recognising a dyspraxic child in pre-school
• Late in reaching milestones e.g. rolling over, sitting, standing, walking, and speaking
• May not be able to run, hop, jump, or catch or kick a ball although their peers can
• Difficulty in keeping friends or judging how to behave in company
• Little understanding of concepts such as ‘in’, ‘on’, ‘in front of’, etc
• Difficulty walking up and down stairs
• Poor at dressing
• Slow, hesitant actions
• Unable to learn instinctively but must be taught skills
• Falls over frequently
• Poor pencil grip
• Can’t do jigsaws or shape-sorting games
• Unusually immature artwork
• Often anxious and easily distracted
• Same difficulties as pre-school dyspraxic children, with little or no improvement
• Avoids PE and games
• Does badly in class but significantly better on a one-to-one basis
• Reacts to all stimuli without discrimination. Poor attention span
• May have trouble with maths and writing structured stories
• Difficulty copying from the blackboard
• Writes laboriously and immaturely
• Unable to remember and/or follow instructions
• Poorly organised
• For more information and advice, call the Dyspraxia Foundation helpline on 01462 454986, or visit www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk