Dyspraxia – Let’s explore how to help

A common question that arises within sensory OT is how to help children with dyspraxia.  Dyspraxia is a term used to describe the difficulty children and adults have when they struggle to plan and organise their movements.  It is sometimes used interchangeably with the term Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD).  This is because dyspraxia itself isn’t a formally recognised medical diagnosis, whereas DCD is.  In this post we will explore

  • A quick review of what dyspraxia is

  • Eight strategies you can use to help support individuals with dyspraxia

Defining dyspraxia

The term dyspraxia is frequently used to describe anyone that is a little clumsy.  However, dyspraxia is more than just a little clumsiness.  Sensory integration therapists would also expect an individual with dyspraxia to have difficulties with ideation or planning as well as doing.

As we have already explained in our post “What is Dyspraxia?” there are three parts to dyspraxia.

If you’re not familiar with these we explore these in further depth in here.  It is important that you understand these components first.  We also explore the symptoms of dyspraxia further here if you’re not familiar with them.  In this post we will discuss how you can help individuals with dyspraxia.

Strategy 1 – Patience is key when helping those with dyspraxia!

These children and adults can struggle to think of ideas and to organise themselves.  This is just how their brain is wired.  Becoming frustrated or annoyed yourself, doesn’t help their brain to be more organised.  So, they need your patience.  Individuals with dyspraxia typically need more support at the start, but once they have learnt the activity they are successful.  So, build in this time.  With the extra support for planning they really can fly.

Tip 2 – With dyspraxia you must remember planning

Planning is very important to remember when you are helping a child or adult with dyspraxia. Make sure where possible you give physical demonstrations of what you’re doing rather than just saying what you want done. When children and adults have dyspraxia often they can’t figure out how to do things so if you show them this is a big help.

Parents and teachers can be very good at setting activities up to ensure that their children are successful.  Sometimes, this means that they innately do the planning for their children.  This is understandable as they don’t want the child to fail.  And, sometimes they are short of time themselves.

When there is time and the child is calm, it is important to have the expectation that the child does start to plan.  Sometimes, it can help if the adult talks through their steps out aloud.  This helps the child to understand that the adult is thinking about many things.  Also, playing ‘what if’ games can be a nice way to come up with an idea, especially if these can be done through play.

Strategy 3 – Make sure you support ideation

Ideation is often the forgotten part of dyspraxia.  When children have difficulties they often struggle to get started.  They are often the ones that follow rather than lead.  This is because following is much easier for them than coming up with the idea.  So, for these individuals it is important that they are given extra opportunities, and more encouragement, to think about ideas.

Sometimes you need to really look out for children who struggle with ideation as they are great followers.  So, they can easily be missed as they watch others and copy.  However, they will struggle when put into situations where they need to think of the idea.  This could be for creative writing, art or even self-occupying their time.

Number 4 – Time and practise helps dyspraxia

Individuals with dyspraxia will need more help and time when learning new tasks.  They will likely benefit from visual demonstrations alongside verbal instructions.  They will also benefit from extra opportunities to practise when learning a new skill or task.

Allow even more time when helping the individual to learn a new motor skills. This is where children and adults with dyspraxia will have the most challenge. If you allow more time, it takes the pressure off both you and them.

Number 5 – Remember generalisation

Next it is important to understand that children with dyspraxia often can’t generalise skills. Generalisation is the ability to transfer skills learnt from one activity to the next one.  For example, transferring the ability to put on a heavy winter coat with large buttons across to putting on a light autumn coat with a zip. For some children, this may be like learning the skill of putting on a coat all over again.

This can be very frustrating as it may look like they are being ‘difficult,’ or ‘challenging’ when they aren’t starting activities or just don’t seem to get it.  But actually they may just not be able to figure out what to do.  As explained said earlier on our Dyspraxia Myths Explained page, even if a child can draw a car, they might not be able to figure out how to draw a bus as it’s different.  For them it is like starting completely from scratch.

It is important to not make the assumption that because they have learnt ‘Skill A’ they will automatically move the knowledge to ‘Skill B’.  Even a tiny change to an activity might take them back to the beginning of their learning. You may need to teach them again, from the start.

The inability to generalise is often forgotten and this can lead to frustration for those around individuals with dyspraxia.  You must remember that skills are not necessarily transferred between activities and what appears ‘obvious’ might not be.

Suggestion 6 – Poor planning can sometimes be mistaken for inattention

Sometimes children who can’t plan look like they are inattentive.  This is especially true if they have good ideas.  So, they might have the Lego box and want to build a car, a house and a tree.  However, they can’t figure out how to create their idea.  So, they move over the K’Nex.  Then they want to build a car and a gear.  Again, they can’t make the plan.  So, they move on to play dough.  Here, they might push the dough out, and roll it up again, but then become bored when they can’t figure out how to use the cutters.

These children need support with planning so they can complete a task.  Use their idea, and show them the plan.  Help them to be successful.  Ask them questions on what might come next and how they think they can achieve their idea.  Help them to stay engaged with the task by helping them with their planning.

Strategy 7 – Difficulty with planning can also increase anxiety levels

Imagine a movement you are asked to fix a broken car.  How does this make you feel?  Unless you are a mechanic, you will likely feel quite anxious.  You most likely do not know where to start?  You might not even know how to open up the bonnet, let alone what you should be looking for once it’s open.  This is because it is an unfamiliar and unknown task.

Individuals with dyspraxia have this feeling all the time.  Even for tasks that are similar to what they have done before, they may not know where to start.  If they have not had multiple opportunities to practise, they may not remember the steps.  This can increase anxiety.  So, they may need reassurance and, as mentioned in tip two, extra help with the planning and extra time.

Finally – Asking for help is a key strategy in dyspraxia

The final piece of advice is to teach them to ask for help.  Usually children and adults with dyspraxia don’t actually know how to figure out what to do. So, just having the adult or manager repeat back the instruction will typically not help them know what to do.

Teach questions like, ‘Can you show me?’ or ‘How should I do that?’ or ‘I’m not sure I understand what to do’.  This gives them a strategy they can use when they are stuck with their planning.  So, rather than avoiding the activity, getting worried or escalating their behaviour, they will have a functional strategy to use.  Those helping the dyspraxic individual must also go back to Tip 1 at this point at exercise patience.

Where to next?

If you would like to learn more about the signs of dyspraxia we recommend our post – Is my child dyspraxic?

If you would like to learn more about the senses and sensory processing we recommend our online training – Sensory Processing with GriffinOT.

Photo Credits

Boy 1 – Photo by Chris Benson on Unsplash

Clocks – Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Mother helping child – Ketut Subiyanto

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