Helping your child live with dyspraxia
After a normal pregnancy and normal delivery, Yazan started to achieve milestones at age appropriate ages. However, as he grew older I started noting that he was struggling with tasks that other children managed easily. He constantly struggled in getting himself ready and dressed in the morning, was a messy eater and did not know how to use a spoon and fork, hated writing and it was hard for him to learn how to spell.
At times he did not know how to deal with his emotions and often struggled with organization. I saw my child’s self-esteem being undermined and his confidence shaken. He started to hate going to play dates and really disliked school.
I never knew what was wrong with Yazan, and always wondered if he is just being a difficult child, until I later found out that Yazan has Dyspraxia!
So what is Dyspraxia?
It is important to understand at first that dyspraxia does not affect intelligence. It is a motor planning problem in which children have difficulty planning, organizing, or carrying out a sequence of unfamiliar actions.
It is not something that can be cured or will go away. With understanding of your child’s needs and proper intervention, you can make it easier for children to live with and manage their problems.
The difficulties a child with dyspraxia may experience
Children with dyspraxia may have difficulty with:
- Jumping, hopping, running, catching or kicking a ball. They often dislike PE.
- Coloring, drawing, writing and cutting may be tasks they avoid doing and if done, their output may always appear more childish than other children his/her age.
- Doing buttons, zippers and tying shoelaces. Even getting dressed may be difficult.
- Keeping still, they may move around a lot.
- They may appear awkward and clumsy, bumping into things and falling down a lot.
Even though dyspraxia is mainly a motor problem, it can also come with a range of other problems, for example:
- Difficulty in concentration
- Difficulty in following instructions
- Being disorganized and having difficulty in getting things done.
- They may be better in one-on-one than in a group setting
- Difficulty making friends as they may avoid taking part in games because they do not want to be bullied.
- Have behavioral problems often resulting from their own frustration
- Low self-esteem.
To help children, it is important to remember that they need to be taught how to carry out activities they find difficult. Tasks need to be broken down into much smaller parts and steps need to be practiced regularly. Sometimes, tasks are so difficult and as therapists and parents we need to find ways to adapt the task and make it easier for the child (e.g. use grippers on pencils to make them easier to grasp).
Recommendations for parents
If you are a parent of a child with dyspraxia, try to remember the following:
- Some dyspraxia symptoms are obvious, but others are hidden. So, it might be obvious that your child is having difficulty jumping or writing, but what might not be obvious is that he might your child’s brain can mix up the steps needed to complete a task. He may not remember what to do first, do the task wrong or freeze completely.
- Children may also have short-term memory problem, making it difficult to remember all what they have to do.
- When your child breaks things or does not know how to do things, it is not being done wrong on purpose. So take a deep breath and try not to be frustrated.
- One day can be great the other day might just be terrible. With dyspraxia a lot of things can affect your child’s performance, whether that is stress, fatigue or anxiety.
- It is a marathon, it is not a sprint. Nothing will be fixed right now, take it slow and steady. Do what needs to be done for today and be happy with the successes that come along the way.
- Dyspraxia does not need to be “fixed”. Each child is different, so observe your child, learn to understand them and their needs. These children are just wired differently and will only need your support and understanding to cope with their challenges.
Tips for you as parents to remember:
- Avoid telling your child: There is no such thing as “I cannot”. Learn to understand and accept when your child says “I can’t” and try to acknowledge knowing that it is hard and figure out a way to make it easier for them.
- Stay away from saying “oh no, not again”. Try preventing accidents from happening rather than getting frustrated they happened.
- Avoid saying “Let your sister or brother do that for you”. Do not just assume your child needs help, instead let them know that it is okay that they do. Some tasks might take longer or might be trickier, but not allowing your child to do it might make them feel useless. So try having the child start a bit earlier to provide them with extra time to be successful.
- Avoid false praise, kids are smart and know when they cannot do things as well as other children. Praise only for the positive things that you can be honest about, so your child won’t lose trust in you.
- Try not to compare your child to other children, and do not push your child to “fit” into a certain group just because it is right. If the child is happier playing with younger children then let it be. Let your child’s preferences be your guide to finding them the right activity to do or the proper social group they would like to engage with.
Remember that without intervention, children may reach adolescence not being able to do simple things. However, with intervention and support these children can improve and grow up to be confident adults. Living with a child with dyspraxia is a journey, take a deep breath, try to understand your child’s needs and enjoy their day-to-day successes.