My child isn't stupid - he has dyspraxia

Alex comes into the kitchen holding his head. This morning he tripped over the end of his blanket getting out of bed and has a huge bump on his forehead. It’s a good match for the one he got yesterday when he fell up the stairs dragging his school bag inside.

One child in every primary school class could be defined as clumsy - an under-recognised condition, which, according to Dr Stan Levy, Sydney Neurologist can seriously undermine a child’s self-esteem.

Dyspraxia – often labeled as “clumsy child syndrome” is a neurologically based disorder, a motor planning difficulty present from birth that prevents messages from being properly transmitted to the body.

People with dyspraxia tend to have poor understanding of the messages their senses convey, and difficulty in relating those messages to actions. They may also have difficulty in planning and organising thoughts.

Alex has the same routine every morning, but he never gets it “right’. He either forgets his lunchbox or homework book or pencil case. He can’t remember where he left his shoes. He’s always running late.

There are three types of Developmental Dyspraxia: Oral Dyspraxia, Verbal Dyspraxia (DVD), and Motor Dyspraxia. The three variations effect approximately 5% of the population with about 70% of those effected being boys.

Oral Dyspraxia makes it difficult to reproduce mouth movements. When asked to put their tongue up to the top of their mouth a child with oral Dyspraxia may not be able to, even though they do this unconsciously.

Children with Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia have difficulty in making sounds or making sounds into words. For example, a child with DVD might have trouble producing sounds in the beginning, middle or end of words such as 'sh'. When trying to say "shop" it might come out as “bop”, regardless of how hard they try to produce the sound/word correctly.

Motor Dyspraxia inhibits a person’s ability to plan and control movement. Children with Motor Dyspraxia appear to be clumsy, they may often trip up, have difficulty riding a bike, doing up shoelaces or buttons, using cutlery or holding a pen.

At school Alex was always overlooked, ignored or teased because he couldn’t hit a ball. He would have a good swipe at it but usually missed.

“The others kids always laughed and he then would get angry,” says mum Judy. “Push would come to shove and he would be end up in a fight. More often than not, Alex would get the blame. He was always on detention. We practised handball at home many times and role-played the outcome but to no avail.”

Dyspraxic children are usually of average or above intelligence. This can be extremely frustrating for a child. Imagine, having Dyspraxia and not being able to get your body to do what you want it to do, when you want it to do it, (i.e. talk properly or throw a ball correctly).

Dyspraxia may be called the “hidden handicap”, but for those who have it and live with it it’s very real. This disability often co exists with some symptoms of ADD and dyslexia.

Alex was also having difficulty reading. The other children picked up on his "differences". He was bullied and called "stupid". His handwriting was messy as he got tired trying to hold a pen properly.

His problems affected his social skills. He would bump into people or not move out of the way if someone was coming up behind him. He would trip up and spill things constantly.

Judy said: "By eight, Alex was coming home from school unhappy. He was losing his confidence.”

"He was diagnosed with ADHD but I didn't feel that was the main issue. Experts were saying put him on Ritalin, but I didn't believe he needed it.”

Judy took Alex to The Dore Group*, a drug-free exercise program that treats the learning difficulties associated with dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADD/ADHD and aspergers syndrome. After 13 months doing the daily exercises Alex is a changed boy.

“Alex is now a happy boy. He is excelling at tennis and his school work is much better. The best thing is that Alex is now invited out with the other kids, something that never happened before,” says Judy, “Having a child that comes home from school happy is the ultimate gift.”

Key features of Dyspraxia

Children with dyspraxia can exhibit the following characteristics:
  • Not achieving normal milestones such as sitting up, crawling or walking
  • Limited ability to concentrate
  • It can be difficult for smaller children to pick up small objects
  • Late development in language
  • Unable to complete properly jigsaws/sorting games
  • Difficulty in holding a pencil/handwriting
  • Difficulty in understanding prepositions e.g. (in/on/behind/underneath)
  • Cannot sort shapes or sort toys effectively
  • Throwing/catching games are difficult
  • Unable to follow sequential instructions
  • Difficulty in dressing or tying shoelaces or using a knife and fork
  • There are confusions between right and left
  • Inability to recognise danger
  • They may tire easily
  • They may demonstrate general inability or limited social skills
  • There is often poor posture or body awareness and therefore moving clumsily
  • Often inaccurate spatial awareness
  • They may give inappropriate verbal responses or seem immature

These are the key features of Dyspraxia but it is unlikely that all will be displayed in one individual.

* Unfortunately the Dore Group no longer operates in Australia however they still operate in the UK and US.