Dyslexia Series: Dyspraxia


Catching a ball, hopping, maneuvering around a table—all basic movements that we do without thinking. You wouldn’t assume that clumsiness is a brain condition, and in most cases it certainly isn’t. But for children with dyspraxia, physical movements that come easy to everyone else require a level of control and extra energy that we can’t understand. Catching a ball isn’t just putting out a hand—for them, it comes packed with thousands of brain transmissions that their bodies fight through in a split-second.

Dyspraxia (sometimes called developmental coordination disorder) is a chronic neurological condition that can be either acquired or developmental and may exist alongside other disorders (for example, ADHD or dyslexia). For children with dyspraxia, the difficulties emerge from the brain’s inhibited ability to transmit neurological messages to the rest of the body, resulting in impaired gross and fine motor skills and a lack of coordination. They struggle with motor planning and cannot perform movements to the degree of fluidity and control most others can.

Implications of Dyspraxia in the Classroom

Children with dyspraxia perform at different ability levels day to day and may seem to have lost abilities one day that they had seemingly mastered the day before. These students will appear quite awkward or clumsy and may get stressed, depressed, or anxious easily and suffer from a sense of low self-esteem. They may avoid interaction with peers and exhibit fight or flight responses to difficult tasks or confrontation. And because of the extra energy expended trying to control body movements, sometimes their difficulties result in physical fatigue and even panic attacks in some cases.

In addition to physical impairments, however, dyspraxia is also associated with a less than average working memory, which usually creates problems with remembering instructions, time management, losing or forgetting homework or materials, and carrying out tasks which require recalling several steps in sequence (for example, long division). Despite poor short-term memory skills, many students with dyspraxia have excellent long-term memories, and to increase the abilities of the former, students often benefit from working in a structured environment and repeating the same routines during the day.

Students with dysgraphia often struggle with

  • Distinguishing left and right and developing a sense of direction

  • Physical awkwardness or clumsiness

  • Time management

  • Balance and coordination (for example, constantly tripping over their feet)

  • Poor posture

  • Participating in sports or riding a bicycle

  • Spatial awareness

  • Remembering sequences

  • Picking up and controlling small objects due to low muscle tone

  • Developing a dominant hand (they are often ambidextrous)

  • Exaggerated “accessory movements” (like flapping their arms while running)

  • Handwriting and learning basic patterns

  • Fine motor control (for example, fastening buttons, tying shoes, brushing teeth, opening jars, etc.)

Effective Strategies

Keep objects in the classroom in the same place so the physical environment remains predictable and consistent.

Provide instructions one at a time or in visual or auditory forms. Be consistent in the language you use and repeat the instructions if necessary.

Avoid situations in which the student has to perform in front of the class or an audience.

Provide alternative assignments in place of handwriting activities (for example, keyboarding or oral demonstrations).

Use concrete, hands-on materials and visual cues when teaching.

Avoid putting the student on the spot.

Create routines that the student can repeat daily in order to develop time-management skills and help them commit the steps to long-term memory.

Allow and encourage continual practice of new skills. Give plenty of time!

Incorporate 10 minutes of movement or exercise a day (for instance, tossing a large, lightweight beach ball).

Avoid asking the student to repeat themselves. Instead, ask for clarification on specific parts of the sentence you missed and acknowledge the parts that were understood.

Helpful Resources

If your child is struggling with dyspraxia, here are some additional resources that may be able to help:

  • Developmental Dyspraxia: Identification and Intervention: A Manual for Parents and Professionals by Madeleine Portwood

  • How to Understand and Support Children with Dyspraxia by Lois Addy

  • Dyspraxia Foundation: www.dyspraxiausa.org

  • 100 Ideas for Supporting Pupils with Dyspraxia and DCD by Amanda Kirby and Lynne Peters

  • Learning Disabilities Online: www.ldonline.org/

Tennessee Dyslexia Centers is here for you and can help your struggling reader. We are equipped to work with all ages and have the ability to increase your child's reading skills drastically. Contact our office for a free consultation today! 615-236-6483 | tndyslexiac@gmail.com

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