In the grand scheme of things, neurological problems are actually quite common in both children and adults. In fact, many students have learning difficulties, cognitive problems, or even mental disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which can make it harder for them to learn.
Dyscalculia, dysphasia, dysorthographia, dyslexia, etc., are all learning difficulties that we don’t know instinctively how to deal with as teachers. The same is true for dyspraxia. Around 14.4% of children in England have special educational needs.
So how can you help a student with dyspraxia?
In this article, we're going to have a look at what dyspraxia (or developmental coordination disorder) is, how it affects students, and how you, as a teacher, can help them to succeed!
Recognising Students with Dyspraxia
To know how to help a student with dyspraxia, you have to first recognise when a student has dyspraxia. In the UK, around 2 children in every class of 30 are thought to have dyspraxia. This means the nearly 7% suffer from it.
So what is dyspraxia exactly?
Dyspraxia is a developmental coordination disorder (DCD) that affects movement and coordination and students have difficulty with their fine motor skills and planning movements, which can make tasks such as writing, getting dressed, or tying shoelaces very difficult for a student. Additionally, this can make school very difficult as they'll have problems with manipulating objects and writing.
DCD affects gross motor skills and leads to students having poor timing, poor balance, and difficulty controlling certain movements. Of course, this can lead to some people believing that the child is just clumsy. When it comes to being diagnosed with DCD, children are usually checked for other neurological impairments like cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, or Parkinson's disease.
Dyspraxia was coined in 1961 by the British neurologist Walter Russell Brain. Other authors have referred to it by a number of different names. Collier called it “congenital maladroitness”. Development coordination disorder, as it’s also known, is thought to be partly genetic. Cognitive functions are also affected by it and it can cause speech and language impairment, which can also hinder how a child learns.
A teacher needs to provide the student with support and help them to write, assist them when they speak, as well as all their other responsibilities such as teaching them the times tables. This, as most teachers will be aware, is a lot of work and the teacher will need to stay on top of everything.
It’s important to recognise that dyspraxia isn’t an intellectual impairment and that the child only needs helps with certain tasks and gestures. From simple tasks to more complicated tasks, children with different degrees of dyspraxia will require different levels of support.
It is important to note that dyslexia is also not an intellectual impairment; you might find these tips useful in working with dyslexic students...
While the child will have special educational needs, they don't have any learning disabilities. This means that they can learn just as quickly as any other student, as long as the teaching strategies take into account that their intelligence is that of any other student, but they will probably struggle with certain physical tasks that involve perception, movement, motor planning, or sequencing sounds within a word, for example.
When dyspraxia causes speech and language impairments, it is known as developmental verbal dyspraxia and is usually managed with speech-language pathologists. This support should be provided by the teacher throughout their classes. In addition to the traditional teaching they’re providing, the teacher may also need to be a makeshift psy-motor therapist from time to time.
How to Behave with Dyspraxic Students
As a teacher, you need to know how to adapt, especially when students have special educational needs. In fact, teaching a dyspraxic student isn’t like teaching your typical class. This is because the student struggles with certain motor skills such as writing, which can negatively affect their self-confidence.
That’s why their teacher needs to also act as their coach, show them that they can do it, and that despite their impaired motor skills, they’re just as smart, if not smarter, than any other student... much as students on the autism spectrum are. After all, that’s what dyspraxia or development coordination disorder is, a disorder that affects motor skills rather than their intellect. While they may need more time to complete certain tasks, they don’t necessarily need more time to assimilate new concepts.
Academic difficulties don’t occur at random. A teacher needs to ensure that their students have all the tools they need to succeed, learn, and develop as students. If the teacher suspects a child of having dyspraxia, it’s certainly worth bringing up as they may need to be tested, which will help parents, family, friends, and teachers to better help them in their daily lives.
Helping Dyspraxic Students as a Teacher
A teacher’s role is to both educate and support their students by doing anything they can to help the student to succeed. In spite of learning difficulties, hyperactivity, or neurological disorders, every student should find classes simple and accessible. It’s essential that teachers see all students as equals.
So how can you help students with dyspraxia?
You need to help them in the same way you’d help any other student. You need to focus on giving them the tools to get the most out of their schooling and the most out of your lessons. You’ll need to regularly monitor their progress, provide their parents with updates, and regularly liaise with the appropriate members of staff at the school.
Teaching children with dyspraxia shouldn’t be seen as your cross to bear. You just need to measure their progress as you would with any other student, ensure that they’re improving, and support them when they struggle with certain topics and aspects of your subject. After all, being a teacher is all about focusing on your students’ success!
Think about how you help your students to succeed by helping them gain confidence and improving their self-esteem. You need to adapt your behaviour so that the child doesn’t think that they’re any better or worse than anyone else in their class, that they have exactly the same opportunities and abilities as their classmates, even if they can’t necessarily write as well as them, for example.
You might find that dyspraxic students need the same type of learning environment as other SEN students...
Preparing Students with Dyspraxia for the Future
Whether or not a child has dyspraxia or not, they probably don’t often think about their own futures. Of course, as a teacher, your main goal is to provide every student with the knowledge and abilities to help them succeed in whatever they decide to do with their lives in the future, regardless of whether they struggle with writing, for example.
Success hinges greatly on our own self-image and how we see ourselves. The teacher needs to make a dyspraxic student aware that, while their dyspraxia will make certain tasks more difficult for them, it’s not the end of the world and there are so many things that they’ll be more than capable of doing.
There’s nothing stopping a student with dyspraxia from improving and succeeded. The teacher needs to encourage them to play an active role in their lessons and their success. They can provide guidance and support, two of the best weapons in any teachers arsenal.
The student needs to be made aware of all the potentials avenues they can pursue in terms of what they want to do and what they’re good at. Once they start to realise what they want out of their future, it’ll make getting it seem far easier, especially when they know what they have to do in order to achieve their ambitions. Of course, this is true for any student, not just those with dyspraxia.
Projects can help students gain a better idea of the future as they’ll have to plan for future events and they’ll see their plans play out. Without treating them any differently to the other students in the class, they need to see that everyone can get ahead in life.
So there you have it! By being a dedicated teacher, communicating with your students, and making them aware of their potential and their future, you can help dyspraxic students. In short, anyone can succeed regardless of any condition that may affect them when they’re given the right tools, resources, and support.
It's also worthwhile noting that it's quite common for those with dyspraxia to also have other conditions such as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), autism spectrum disorder, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyslexia, hypotonia (low muscle tone), sensory processing disorder, specific language impairment, or visual perception deficits.
Join the conversation: what are the best methods for working with learning-disabled students?