What can be done
One can look at how to help children/people with dyspraxia from 3 perspectives, all of which are important and the best approach is to use a combination of all three.
Self esteem is, arguably, the most devastating consequence faced by people with dyspraxia, and it is easy to understand why: when you face failure in almost all the little things you do in life, when other people around you can do things or learn things quicker, when your teacher is never satisfied with your work, it’s really hard to believe in yourself and develop a positive self esteem, no matter how many times your parents say you are great. Typically, parents are children’s greatest fans and supporters and most parents work hard to build their child’s self esteem. Unfortunately, this sometimes is not enough when children face so many challenges and criticisms in life, particularly away from the home. However, it is not hopeless! Here are several strategies you can use to build a child’s (or adolescent’s) self esteem: Be honest and realistic: While a toddler won’t notice if you tell him he’s the best jumper in the world, you can’t get away with that for long. Children are quick to discern when praise is given honestly and if others are perhaps better than them at something they have been told they are the best at. This is the worst thing that can happen, because it leads to children having a lack of faith in their parent’s evaluations, so be very careful to keep your evaluations real and grounded. Find concrete things to praise your child on: While it’s important to tell your child how much you love him and to tell him he’s great, children need concrete things that they can see they have done well. So, instead of saying: “Thank you, you’re great”, rather say things like “Thank you, you are really good at finding things for me” or Thank you, you are really good at clearing the table”. Join support groups: Support groups designed just for people with dyspraxia can really help, particularly for teenagers. Finding out that there are other people in the same boat as you and with the same challenges can really make you feel better about yourself. For parents, finding a support group can be really useful too, finding out what other parents experience and how they work through their challenges.
Note that this section starts with the word “mainstream”, and that’s a very important word. There are lots of different groups out there who claim to be able to “cure” dyspraxia and caution must be taken to ensure that parent’s are not taken in by the hype. As much as we wish, there is no cure for dyspraxia, but there are many ways to improve skills and reduce the impact of the condition. Mainstream approaches are well researched (and not only internally by the people who provide the services) and, although possibly more expensive, these professionals have spent years (typically four or more) studying the human body, development and disability. Here are the primary professionals who would be helpful to a child with dyspraxia:
An occupational therapist focuses on helping people participate in their everyday tasks, and will help build the skills necessary to do this where-ever possible. Occupational therapists will assess motor, sensory and perceptual skills as well as attention and determine how they impact on a child’s ability to do his everyday tasks and will then determine which is the best way to facilitate a child’s ability to participate in these tasks. Occupational therapists are likely to be needed for all children with dyspraxia.
A physiotherapist focuses on “kinetics” and will assess motor performances, particularly core stability, balance, walking and so on. Physiotherapists are most likely to be needed if children appear floppy and have poor balance or walking or running skills.
Speech and Language Therapist:
Speech and Language Therapists focus on developing language and communication skills. A speech and language therapist is necessary for children who have “verbal dyspraxia” or difficulty pronouncing words or putting words together in a sentence. Some children with dyspraxia may also have difficulty following instructions and would also benefit from the help of a speech and language therapist.
Play therapists focus on the emotional well-being of a child. It is well known that children with dyspraxia have lower self esteem and get frustrated easily (which is understandable). Play therapists will help children work through their emotional stress in a non-verbal way through expressive arts.
Where to get help:
It can sometimes be difficult to access these services, especially if you are looking for professionals who specialize in dyspraxia. The new Disability Act 2005 goes a long towards helping by requiring that all people with a disability be assessed in order to determine their needs and to develop a statement of what services the HSE will be able to provide for each person. This new legislation is a great start at improving services for people with special needs. Contact your local health centre to find out how to apply for this process. Unfortunately, the HSE does not have the resources to offer enough services for everyone and this may depend on which area you live in and the age of your child. Also, you may have to wait on a waiting list for services (remember, younger children have a more flexible nervous system and are more likely to improve their skills easier and to a greater degree than older children, so it is important that you not wait if you can find another way to access services).
Many parents choose to go privately for services, and, although this has financial implications, you are less likely to have to wait for services and are more likely to get the services for as long as your child needs it, rather than for as long as they are available.
ATLAS Training has specialised in sensory processing disorders such as dyspraxia since 2003 and offers a range of services, including occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and psychology. An initial appointment for parents to discuss their child’s difficulties and to determine what services are best for their child costs only €50, and is well worth your time. Make an appointment now, or phone (01) 89 00 11 9.
There are many different challenges faced by people with dyspraxia that it’s not possible to solve each individually here (remember to talk to your occupational therapist about specific challenges and he/she should be able to provide you with ideas for specific problems). However, here are some general principles that can help children (or adolescents) cope better.
Break tasks up
The first step is always to break tasks up. Doing smaller steps is usually more manageable. People with dyspraxia may have difficulty breaking the tasks up themselves and working out how to approach them, but with help from others, they will likely manage the task better if it is in smaller parts.
Use different ways of learning
Typically, many people can learn a task only by watching others do them, but people with dyspraxia often need different ways of learning. Try to break the task up into components and use different ways of “describing” the tasks. For example, talk the child through the task by talking about which body part to move. “Push down with this leg first, then push down with the other leg” (try not to use left or rights unless you know the child has a good understanding of these concepts as they can only confuse the child more). You can also use pictures to help the child. These don’t have to be fancy drawings, and sometimes stick figures are enough, but some children with dyspraxia learn better through diagrams. You can also use physical demonstration, but remember to do it one small part at a time.
Children with dyspraxia are most likely to pick up a skill if they are given lots of time to practice. Of course, there are not enough hours in the day to practice all the tasks a child needs to learn, so it's important to only focus on one or two skills at a time.
Children with dyspraxia have difficulty getting or keeping organized, from following simple morning routines to remembering which books to bring home from school. Use lists to help the child remember all the things they need to do. These can be simple diagram schedules for young children to lists for older child. Teenagers can learn to use their phone or even a PDA (little computer) to create lists or to do tasks and programmes like Microsoft Outlook or "Remember the Milk" can also help with lists and tasks.