Until 10-15 years ago the term dyspraxia, meaning a deficit in movement planning, was unknown in the UK. Children with motor co-ordination difficulties were thought of as clumsy and, perhaps, a bit stupid. Dyspraxia - also known as Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD) - is about 10 years behind dyslexia in public recognition and research. Yet dyspraxia is not a new condition.
In the 7th century, the Norsemen used the term "Clumse". In the 1920s there was talk of "motor morons". Modern estimates put DCD at about 5-7.5 per cent in the population; it very often overlaps with attention deficit hyperactive disorder, dyslexia or Asperger's syndrome.
Imagine having to balance all the time on a three-legged stool. Most people would find it hard to listen to a lesson and take information down as well. This is what it often feels like for the child with DCD. Children with DCD also often have problems with sequencing and rhythm, affecting them in games and with activities such as writing and mathematics. If their problems are not spotted, they will intensify.
Ten years ago, when my son was starting school, few teachers had heard of this learning difficulty. I was seen as a fussy mother rather than one who knew my son was different from his peers. I felt frustrated, not knowing how to help him. That is how in 1997 I came to set up the Dyscovery Centre in Cardiff, aimed at giving holistic support to dyspraxic children and their families.
Nowadays, concerned parents can point to recognised signs and symptoms, from early non-crawling as a baby to inability to grasp and control pens and pencils. Learning difficulties can extend to delayed speech, problems in listening to others, failure to understand rules and social codes and low self-esteem.
For dyspraxic children, help needs to be directed at the underlying difficulties. They need extra helpings of early childhood education, such as singing rhymes, catching and throwing balls and eating round a table, developing co-ordination and learning to take turns. They need more PE, gym and playtime games such as Hopscotch or French skipping. Until the large muscle movements have been mastered, difficulties with fine motor co-ordination, like hand-eye, will persist.
The chairs in the classroom may hinder learning. Pupils with DCD are more able to carry out tasks if they are posturally stable, with feet on the floor and the table at hip height. A child with low muscle tone will often be seen with their legs wrapped around the table and flopping over his work. In junior schools today, very likely the desks face in different directions with the child at an angle away from the teacher. Changing the layout so that the child faces the teacher helps. So does an angle board supporting the child to keep their arm in a better position. A seating wedge tilts the hips forward to make sure body weight is placed through their feet.
Early identification of children with DCD, helping parents work with the child and giving practical advice, is essential. Help may need to be given for many years especially at times of transition and may entail speech and language therapy, occupational therapy or physiotherapy or clinical psychology. The Dyscovery Centre in Cardiff sees families and individuals from across the UK and internationally, some with more profound learning difficulties. Its interdisciplinary team of health and educational professionals offers a one-stop shop to help and support those with dyspraxia and their families.
There is no other service in the UK providing a similar service. Referrals come from the National Health Service, local authorities, social services, foster care services, solicitors, NVQ training establishments, and education.
* For in-service training, courses, booklets, videos and equipment contact: The Dyscovery Centre, 4a Church Road, Whitchurch, Cardiff CF14 2DZ. Tel: 02920 628222. Web: www.dyscovery.co.uk E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org