Students with dyspraxia need additional support from their teachers. Source: Shutterstock

Dyspraxia – not to be confused with the learning difficulties dysgraphia or dyslexia – is when a person has a developmental disorder of the brain that causes coordination and movement issues.

Often mistaken for clumsiness, many students suffer from this condition and are often misdiagnosed. It is estimated that dyspraxia affects 10 to 20 percent of the world population.

Teachers can play an important role in identifying and supporting students with this disorder so it doesn’t negatively impact their mental health and learning experiences.

According to Madeleine Portwood, educational psychologiest and author of ‘Developmental Dyspraxia’:

“Dyspraxia results when messages are not transmitted properly in parts of the brain.” She told The Guardian about half of children with dyspraxia have trouble co-ordinating lips, tongue and soft palate to make the right sounds. They also have problems with co-ordination and being organised.

This can lead to issues such as short attention spans, trouble following instructions, hyper-sensitivity to noise, temper tantrums, sleep problems, illegible handwriting, not getting enough exercise and so forth, though Portwood cautions against using any checklist in trying to diagnose the condition.

But if they know what to look for, teachers in small classroom settings can help identify early signs of dyspraxia. These include chronic slouching (students with dyspraxia have poor core strength), proneness to falling down, inability to carry out simple tasks (such as packing a backpack), difficulty in participating in games such as throwing a ball and being very disorganised with their personal items.

Just like dyslexia and dysgraphia, dyspraxia does not mean a child is any less intelligent. They just have difficulties with mental processing due to their condition.

Here’s how teachers can make life a bit easier for students who suffer from dyspraxia.

Personalised attention

If classroom resources allow you to give a particular child with dyspraxia more attention, then it could be just the thing to ease their difficulties.

According to MedicalNewsToday, students with dyspraxia learn well on a one-on-one basis, but not so much in a traditional class setting.

Students with this condition need more individualised attention so teachers can also get to know the child’s difficulties and figure out how to adapt teaching strategies to help them.

Personalised attention also allows teachers to go through instructions step by step in a slower manner, as students with dyspraxia struggle to follow instructions which makes learning difficult for them.

Give them extra time

Teachers should also give students with dyspraxia extra time to complete their exams and more flexible deadlines on their assignments and homework.

Doing so reduces their stress levels as they will not feel pressured to keep up with their peers as it takes them more time to complete tasks and understand the material.

Help them with tasks that require fine motor skills

Children with dyspraxia struggle with tasks that are easy for other children such as holding a paintbrush or using scissors to cut paper.

Assist them with these tasks so they don’t struggle or feel embarrassed. It’s also recommended to introduce the student to a particular activity before the lesson, or let their parents know so they can practise with them at home beforehand.

Offer them handwriting alternatives

Since handwriting is a difficult and frustrating task for students with dyspraxia, they can become easily demotivated when the bulk of their work requires them to write.

According to Read and Spell, teachers can take several steps to make it easier, such as letting them use laptops, assigning note-taking friends or provide the materials to them.

They can also provide more fill-in-the-blank or matching exercises instead of requiring them to write lengthy paragraphs or long sentences to test their comprehension.

As writing legibly by hand is difficult for these children, touch-typing can also help them greatly. Touch-typing is the ability to type using all fingers without looking at the keyboard. It can take a while for young students to master this, but it will facilitate their writing and composition skills, once the physical aspect of writing is removed.

Speak to their parents

Sometimes, a teacher’s role is simply to be a child’s advocate. There are many cases where parents are not aware of their child’s condition. They may believe their child is just developing more slowly than their peers or have coordination issues.

If you suspect that a child has dyspraxia and their parents have not informed you or the school about it, it’s best to speak to them or refer them to a child psychologist.

Often, hearing it from their own child’s teacher is just the push they need to get their child the professional help they need.

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