Students with Dyspraxia Benefit from These 10 Rules

Teaching a child with dyspraxia can be a frustrating experience due to the wide range of symptoms they may present. However, while dyspraxia is a neurological condition that commonly causes movement and coordination issues, it does not affect intelligence. Children with dyspraxia are perfectly capable of learning alongside their peers, they may just need some extra attention and support from time to time. Awareness is the first step and can make all of the difference in helping a child to reach his or her full potential at school.

While not as well known as other learning difficulties, dyspraxia in children is relatively common, with 6-10% of the population affected to some degree. A child with dyspraxia may experience a number of different problems at school, including finding difficulty in handwriting work, experiencing problems with moving a mouse, navigating a keyboard or manipulating a touch-screen, and struggling to perform some of the movements required for physical education, music, and art classes. Beyond performing tasks that require fine and gross motor skills, there may also be challenges with the planning and organizational aspects of schoolwork.

Nonetheless, parents and teachers can help students with learning difficulties by recognizing the root cause of a child’s performance issues and providing appropriate support, to make it easier for the dyspraxic child to be and feel successful in the classroom. Sometimes a solution as simple as touch-typing vs. handwriting or making an audio recording instead of written notes can make all the difference in encouraging a child who is struggling. There’s no reason why a child with dyspraxia should not develop strong literacy skills from an early age if he or she has the right accommodations.

DyspraxiaA child can be highly intelligent and creative but still present with classroom learning issues that hinder his or her ability to keep up with peers. Identifying learning difficulties is often the first hurdle because when it goes undiagnosed, dyspraxia can wreak havoc on a child’s self-esteem and emotional well-being. In the past, teachers were more likely to mistake symptoms of dyspraxia for acting out and label children as lazy and disruptive. Worse still, they might not have challenged the child academically. Yet as no two individuals with dyspraxia have the same set of symptoms or are affected to the same degree, it can still be hard for some students with dyspraxia to get the right diagnosis. This is particularly the case for those who are excessively fidgety, have trouble sitting up straight at their desks and/or tend to lose their homework and confuse deadlines and task specifications.

Because dyspraxia often impacts writing, reading and spelling abilities, a child with dyspraxia may require more time to process new tasks. They might also experience more success when they over-learn material through repetition and a graded step-by-step approach. Just being aware of a student’s individuals learning needs can make a difference. Teachers who are sensitive to dyspraxia are less apt to criticize and reprimand classic dyspraxic behavior and more able to support a child by adapting classroom activities and teaching study strategies. Help students with organization and planning by giving structured assignments with clear directions and remember to provide plenty of feedback and praise when it’s due, to keep motivation high. Here are some more tips to try:

1. Pay attention to writing utensils and paper. Students with dyspraxia may find it easier to write using wide-stemmed pencils and pens, or by applying rubber grips to their writing utensils. Be aware that ballpoint pens can sometimes release an excessive amount of ink depending on how they are manipulated, so stick with felt-tip pens and keep plenty of erasers handy. You can also help a child with writing by providing graph paper to guide them in letter placement and spacing. Colorful, lined paper for students who tend to write using larger letters is also a plus.

2. Consider alternatives to activities requiring handwriting. Writing things out by hand can be very frustrating for the dyspraxic (and dyslexic) child and can cause them to struggle to keep up and follow your lesson. Set children up with note-taking buddies, allow them to use computers or provide electronic copies of material in advance to reduce note-taking strain. You may also want to provide fill in the blank or matching exercises that test comprehension without requiring lengthy written responses.

3. Teach dyspraxic children touch-typing. While handwriting is often a struggle, touch-typing is much easier for dyspraxic children and can help facilitate writing and composition skills by removing the physical tax associated with producing text. The earlier students learn, the sooner they can begin to type homework assignments and even use a computer in class to take electronic notes.

4. Adjust seating plans. It’s often beneficial to place students with dyspraxia at the front of the room so they have an easier view of the board. They may also find it easier to concentrate when distanced from doors, windows, bulletins and other classroom distractions. This is an important consideration for teaching students with visual impairments as well.

5. Provide breaks in the schedule. It can make a huge difference in concentration abilities if a child with dyspraxia is given an opportunity to pause, get up from their desk, stretch and move around before continuing on with a lesson. This is also a useful technique for other students who are displaying inappropriate classroom behavior or showing signs of emotional distress and frustration with an assignment or task.

6. Give plenty of extra time. Processing time is not the same for every student and dyspraxic children can greatly benefit from having more time to understand task requirements and complete assigned work. Time in lessons is key but so is giving extended and flexible deadlines for homework and even providing high school-level students with extra time to travel from class to class.

7. Emphasize directions in step-by-step form. Going over task directions and requirements several times is crucial. Try to write your task instructions in short sentences and use check-lists for assignments with multiple parts. You may also want to demonstrate a task and read directions out loud, in addition to providing a printed version. This is helpful for all students as it clarifies the task and ensures everyone is on the same page.

8. Provide written, visual and recorded support. Bullet points and other formatting call attention to important aspects of an assignment that may otherwise go unnoticed. It’s also beneficial to use images and break long chunks of text up. When reading is a challenge, it can be helpful for a child with dyspraxia to have recorded materials and books to listen to. This reduces the amount of written text required for processing and can save mental resources for responding and reacting to source material instead.

9. Keep a list of classroom rules and role-play expected behavior. Formulate a list of class rules and have all of your students contribute to it. Try using role-play to act out situations that encourage the social skills a student needs to be part of the classroom community.

10. Help with tasks that require fine motor skills. If your lesson includes using scissors, folding paper, or any other task that might cause a dyspraxic child to struggle, provide plenty of assistance and try to introduce the student to the activity beforehand, so he or she has a chance to practice and get familiar with the physical manipulations required.

Does your child have a learning disability? Boston Tutoring Services can help. Please click here to see what services we offer.

Allison Green
Boston Tutoring Services

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