Developmental dyspraxia also referred to as developmental coordination disorder (DCD), is a life-long neurological condition that is more common in males than in females, with a diagnosis ratio of approximately four males to every female. It is safe to assume that in every class of 30 children there is likely to be at least one child with a degree of dyspraxia and possibly up to five.
In one study a Finnish town screened all their 5 year olds for motor difficulties. Out of 1,138 children, 115 were found to have delayed motor development. Of the 115, 81 were retested when they were 15 years old. 37 continued to have substantial movement difficulties, but all of the sample group of 81 children continued to show motor impairment to some extent. Cantell, Smyth and Ahonen (1994)
The ICD 10 World Health Organisation describes dyspraxia as a specific developmental disorder of motor function: The main feature of this disorder is a serious impairment in the development of motor coordination that is not solely explicable in terms of general intellectual retardation or of any specific congenital or acquired neurological disorder. It is usual for the motor clumsiness to be associated with some degree of impaired performance on visual spatial cognitive tasks.
Dr Shelia Henderson (2002) describes dyspraxia as an immaturity of the brain resulting in messages not being properly transmitted to the body. There is no known single cause although it is thought to be an immaturity of neurone developments in the brain, rather than brain damage.
Developmental dyspraxia may affect the development of a number of areas and muscle groups in the body and because there is no cure for dyspraxia difficulties are chronic. However, with support from professionals such as teachers, parents, speech and language therapists and occupational therapists’ individuals can improve their muscle tone and motor control, they can also develop coping strategies that enable them to function quite well at school and then later in the workplace.
Developmental verbal dyspraxia causes slow language development because of difficulties with controlling the speech apparatus. Speech apparatus include the lips, jaws, tongue larynx, muscles used for controlling facial expression, and muscles used for controlling speech. There may be difficulties with feeding as well as: difficulties making speech sounds and sequencing sounds within a word and with forming words into sentences.
Fine motor skills
Difficulties with co-ordination and control of muscles responsible for fine motor tasks most significantly in school, lead to problems with handwriting. Problems may be evident in areas such as: drawing and painting, tying shoelaces, buttoning clothes and construction toys.
Acquiring good hand writing skills can be a particular difficulty because of problems with the following: learning basic movement patterns, the acquisition of graphemes – e.g. the letters of the alphabet as well as numbers, establishing the correct pencil grip, hand aching while writing, developing a desired writing speed.
Fine-motor problems can also cause difficulty with a wide variety of other tasks such as:
- using a knife and fork
- fastening buttons and shoelaces
- brushing teeth
- applying cosmetics
- opening jars and packets
- locking and unlocking doors
- and learning to drive.
Whole body movement, coordination, and body image
Issues with gross motor coordination mean that major developmental targets including walking, running, climbing and jumping can be affected. The difficulties vary from child to child and can include the following problems: skipping, dancing, riding a bike, poor timing, poor balance (sometimes even falling over in mid-step). This disorder can cause an individual to be clumsy to the point of knocking things over and bumping into people accidentally. Some people with dyspraxia have difficulty in determining left from right.
Individuals with dyspraxia may also have trouble determining the distance between them and other objects.
Apart from the physical impairments, problems with memory are often co-morbid, especially short-term memory difficulties. The problems manifest in school as:
- Managing sequences such as following instructions in a science experiment or in a cookery lesson.
- Meeting deadlines and organising time
- Following a timetable
- Finding their way round school and remembering what room a lesson will be in
- Forgetting where things have been put or left
Dyspraxia may only affect one or two groups of muscles or it may affect all of them. The acquisition of a range of skills may be impaired depending upon the severity of the dyspraxia.
With the right support, encouragement and help dyspraxic children can do well in school
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