There are probably one or two dyspraxic children in your class. But teachers are much less aware of dyspraxia - sometimes known as "clumsy child syndrome" - than of other developmental disorders.
A survey to be released by the Dyspraxia Foundation next week to coincide with Dyspraxia Awareness Week will show that fewer than six out of 10 teaching staff claim to be able to recognise the symptoms of it, while more than four out of five can recognise the signs of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). No wonder: the majority have received no training on dyspraxia - and it often appears with other disorders, especially Asperger's syndrome.
But there are some easy indicators. Children may not be able to run or hop or cope with stairs and may struggle with eating and dressing. They have problems with hand-eye co-ordination (writing can be a nightmare) and spatial judgment (dyspraxic children bump into things and other people). Their concentration is poor and they are easily distracted.
Once it is spotted, there are simple strategies for helping the dyspraxic child in the classroom that do not involve extra resources, assistants or therapy groups. Sally Payne, the paediatric occupational therapist who chairs the Dyspraxia Foundation, singles out three:
- Make sure the child is sitting facing the board or the teacher, not sideways on. "Dyspraxic children have to put a lot of effort into physically moving their head, which leaves them with less `space' for remembering what they were looking at," says Sally.
- Check that they can sit on the chair with their feet flat on the floor and with their arms on the tabledesk at the right height to enable them to concentrate on reading or writing. "Children often sit on the front of the chair, or tip it backwards, or kneel on it," says Sally, "and dyspraxic children are even more likely to do that than others."
- Check that dyspraxic children have understood multiple instructions or write them on a yellow sticky label to put on their desk. Better still, give instructions one at a time: "Get out your maths book" rather than "Get out your maths book and turn to page 27 and question 4 and use your green pen."
Complex tasks with components that have to be completed in the right order cause special problems to children with dyspraxia.
For more classroom guidelines and more information about the condition, and to find out more about the events taking place during Dyspraxia Awareness Week (September 27 to October 4), visit www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk
Dyspraxia affects up to 6 per cent of the population and up to 2 per cent severely. Boys are three times more likely to be affected than girls. Anecdotal research suggests there may be two children affected in every class of 30 children. It is known in the US as developmental co-ordination disorder and thought to be due to an immaturity of neurone development in the brain, which results in messages not being properly or fully transmitted.