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How to Help Students Affected by Dyspraxia or Sensory Integration Problems

written by: Anne Vize • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 8/2/2012

Constant tripping over? Bumping into objects that other people manage to walk around? Struggling with basic gross motor skills and fundamental movements like hopping, skipping and catching a ball? If this sounds like a student you know, have you considered dyspraxia or sensory integration problems?

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    So What Is Dyspraxia?

    Dyspraxia is a condition which can be acquired or developmental. Children with dyspraxia often have difficulty organizing their bodies to perform the tasks they want their bodies to do. They find motor planning challenging, and struggle to perform fluid, smooth movements with finesse and control. They may find their motor skills fall behind those of their peers, and can often appear clumsy and awkward.

    Developmental dyspraxia sometimes exists alongside other conditions such as ADHD, or it can occur in isolation. Children with dyspraxia may perform at different ability levels from day to day, and so may be able to perform a task readily one day but seem to have 'lost' that ability the next. Providing assistance in the classroom and in outdoor settings can make a significant difference to learning outcomes and self esteem.

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    Helping Other Students Understand Dyspraxia

    It is often helpful to both provide support to the child with dyspraxia (or indeed other related difficulties such as sensory integration problems, visual processing problems or motor planning difficulties), and to explain to the other students what dyspraxia means. One useful strategy here is to provide simple, concise information that is appropriate for the audience.

    Things That go Bump in the Day is a book written by occupational therapist Jenny Reed and published by Co-ordinates Publications. It is available online at Co-ordinates Therapy Services.

    This picture story book tells the tale of Tom who is forever bumping into things and getting bruised and battered. His teacher does not really understand Tom's difficulties, and is often telling him he could do better and that she can't understand why his work is so messy. His mother organizes a visit to an occupational therapist, who talks to him about strategies that can help him when his 'senses weren't being sensible'.

    Suitable for a primary (elementary) audience, this carefully illustrated story is ideal for helping children understand their own difficulties and also for making other children aware that everyone learns in different ways and sometimes they just need a little extra support to manage activities well.

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    Helping Teachers and Parents Understand

    It can also be useful to provide general and more specific information for parents and teachers on the subject of dyspraxia and movement difficulties. Useful sources include local dyspraxia associations or support groups, a community health service with occupational therapy support, or information that is placed in school newsletters to provide general information about movement skills and motor planning. A helpful book recently published by Teaching Solutions in Australia is Meeting Special Needs - Dyspraxia and Movement Disorders. This title provides concise, up to date information about dyspraxia and is aimed at early childhood through to junior primary teachers and support staff.

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    Helping Students in the Classroom

    In addition to research and sharing information with others, there are some specific strategies you can employ in and outside the classroom to assist the student with dyspraxia. These include:

    • reducing the information load by providing instructions one at a time or as visual and / or auditory instructions
    • avoiding situations where the student has to perform in front of an audience if they don't want to
    • keeping objects in the classroom in the same place so it remains a predictable physical environment
    • providing alternatives for handwriting tasks (such as keyboarding)
    • involving therapy support services and seeking advice when needed
    • ensuring the play area is safe for a child with dyspraxia
    • making yard duty staff aware of movement difficulties the child may have

    All these strategies - along with some useful resources - should make supporting children with dyspraxia, in the classroom and in outside play areas, a little easier.