Dyspraxia comes under the umbrella of developmental coordination disorder and is believed to affect six to ten percent of all children. It causes difficulties with coordination and organisation, as well as issues with social skills and inference. Dyspraxia can make secondary school an extremely stressful place to be and this can be highly frustrating to both the student and parents/teachers. We need to help students deal with these barriers to learning by putting in place supportive strategies that allow them to cope.
Many children with dyspraxia suffer from temporal organisational difficulties. These children do not have an inbuilt awareness of time, which creates real problems when it comes to managing deadlines of any kind. Using calendar apps or Alexa can be a first step in managing this, since they provide a physical reminder of when tasks are due. If a project is long-term, for example coursework, then it may be beneficial to break it down into a series of mini deadlines and put these into the calendar. If the parent or teacher also makes a note of these deadlines, then it means someone can also hold the student accountable. When students are dealing with shorter deadlines, such as working in class or completing an assessment, it is important that they can see a countdown timer, which will help him/her be aware of time passing and how long they have left to complete something.
The most difficult part of a task for dyspraxic students is getting started and this is where they may need the most support. They may require tasks to be repeated to them clearly and will also need to alter their mindset in order to get started. Telling themselves “I am only” can be useful for breaking down feelings of overwhelm at the beginning. For example, “I am only going to write my introduction” or “I am only going to do questions 1-3”. This may seem unambitious but for these students it is actually a way of tricking their brains and reversing the pattern of self-sabotage. Articulating what they are going to do and asking somebody to hold them accountable can also be a big help, for example getting them to text an adult before they start their homework and asking them to check in after half an hour. The more focused and specific their objectives for the half an hour, the better.
It is also important that tasks are made as accessible as possible to these students in terms of how to present them. Handwriting is a real issue for students with dyspraxia, with 83% struggling to write fast and 79% struggling to write neatly. These students need to be allowed to type up their work wherever possible, as otherwise their ability to fulfil their potential will be severely limited. If your child does not already have an access arrangement in place, then talk to the school’s SENCO, who will be able to facilitate this. They will most likely need to be assessed by a trained professional, unless there is also a medical diagnosis of dyspraxia from the GP.
Thinking about learning styles can also be a useful means of supporting dyspraxic students. Whilst learning styles have gone out of fashion in recent years in education, I do still believe there is a place for the idea. For example, I know that I do not learn well with an auditory style of learning, as my brain begins to wonder. I need visual and kinesthetic stimulation in order to learn effectively. Dyspraxic students may have less conventional learning styles, for example other senses such as smell and texture may prompt them to learn. Spelling in particular is an area that can definitely be taught using multisensory methods, for example by writing letters/words in sand/water/shaving foam. A little thinking outside of the box can make a big difference.
Planning is another area where dyspraxic students can sometimes feel mystified and get highly overwhelmed. It needs to be broken down and they may need a concrete example to help them. Methods such as grids and mind maps are very useful to help them break an essay into chunks and visualise the structure of the piece. Dyspraxic students are not always able to make links and connections on their own, so a clear guide can make a big difference to them. They constantly need work recapping and to be explicitly shown how it all comes together.
For reading tasks, inference is likely to be an issue. Many students will struggle if the answer is not immediately obvious and they find it difficult to read between the lines. Unpicking the text by highlighting words can help draw out what they otherwise would not be able to see. For example, if you are trying to get your child to judge the tone of a piece of writing, highlighting all the adjectives can visually demonstrate how a character is feeling. Also, taking key quotations out of the text and getting your child to analyse them separately, one at a time can also stop your child feeling so overwhelmed when they look at a piece of writing.
Dyspraxia is a condition that can leave students feeling extremely unmotivated, and they can sometimes fall into a state of ‘learned helplessness’. This is where they decide to bury their head in the sand and avoid all work. There are strategies that can help these children get through school, but they do ultimately need to ensure that they take responsibility as well for helping themselves find ways to cope. Like all SPLDs, it is a condition that can be managed with the right support, as long as the child engages with the help. Once they find the strategies that work and are able to ensure these are put in place with your support, then they will find that they can begin to unlock their potential and show what they can do.
Are you looking for support for your child with secondary English? Bright Sky Tutoring offers one to one and small group lessons. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.