Physical ability continues to be researched as having a correlation with academic ability. The great outdoors is a playground for learning, developing our physical abilities and our academic skills, but what if your child is unable to climb a tree, skip, run, catch/toss a ball?
In almost every classroom there will be a child who has difficulty with co-ordination, balance and movement; this is known as Dyspraxia or DCD (Developmental Co-ordination Disorder).
Dyspraxia is now thought to affect around 1 in 3 children in a classroom of 30. That is an average of between 7 and 10% of the population (Dyspraxia Foundation).
Kate Browning knew her son was struggling a little at school but it was only when he was referred to an occupational therapist (OT) that she realised there was a real challenge ahead.
Jack’s concentration was often poor, he was having difficulty catching balls, using scissors and his handwriting was terrible. Sitting still, and involuntary muscle spasms were also affecting Jack’s daily life, not to mention tripping over and sometimes falling off his chair. Jack is a very intelligent boy and his strengths are in imaginative storytelling, drama, maths and science but sometimes the frustration of being unable to do the same as his peers would cause temper outbursts.
Jack was eight years old and in primary 4, when the school and his parents agreed that an Occupational Therapy assessment was needed. It would be another 20 weeks before his referral appointment, which meant he would be in primary 5 before he saw anyone for help. Kate was not prepared to wait and sought out the help of a learning differences practitioner.
Jane Oliver at brightbrain-scotland.co.uk has been using movement based, physical exercise programmes to help children and adults just like Jack. The Raviv Method Bal-A-Vis-X a series of BALance/Auditory/VISion/eXercises of varied complexity, all of which are deeply rooted in rhythm. The programme utilises sand-filled bags, racquet balls and balance boards.
Kate started Jack on Jane’s programme and she says “The improvements in his motor skills and concentration are incredible. He is calmer, his concentration has improved, and although his hand writing is still not great it is much better than before. It used to be babyish and big but the size and the spacing has improved.” Not only has Jack’s PE teacher noticed a real difference but when Jack eventually saw the occupational therapist, she was also impressed. After 6 months the OT has told Jack that he need no longer attend, due to the improvements he has made.
How to recognise the signs of Dyspraxia:
- Late at reaching milestones – rolling, sitting, standing, walking, speaking.
- Unable to run, hop, skip, jump, catch or kick a ball.
- Difficulty with zips/buttons/getting dressed.
- Falls over frequently
- Poor pencil grip
- Avoids PE and games at school
- Attention/memory difficulties
- Writing and copying from the board is a challenge
- Unable to remember and/or follow instructions
- Poor organisational skills
- Language skills – difficulty pronouncing words and may stutter.
These are some of the signs that may be associated with Dyspraxia, if you think your child falls into these areas, it is important to take action and discuss this with nursery/playgroup or your child’s school. Your school or Doctor can put you in touch with an occupational therapist (OT), and the OT can assess your child and provide therapy to help your child succeed.
How can you help your child?
- With dressing – buy clothes with elastic waist bands, trousers/skirts with a distinguishing pattern or pleat to easily identify the right way round. Tops with wide neck holes, baggy t-shirts and shorts that are easy and comfortable to wear.
- With eating – only fill cups half full – avoiding spills and sit down to eat and drink.
- Organisation – keep to a daily routine, use only one instruction at a time. The use of visual aids as a reminder of daily activities is really useful.
- Give clear instructions, you may need to teach your child how to start an activity over and over.
- Catch and throw balls, bean bags, use rhythm – counting or song to reinforce movement patterns.
- Encourage your child to self-challenge – did you beat your record?
- Focus on teaching your child the skills that will lead to taking part in team sports.
- Positive praise, rewards and encouragement in abundance.
Jane Oliver is a learning differences practitioner in Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders, and is the only UK Certified Bal-A-Vis-X Practitioner. Jane helps students to overcome learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and ASD and reach their true potential. Jane focuses on movement based programmes the Raviv Method and Bal-A-Vis-X, BALance/Auditory/VISion/eXercises which addresses rhythm, balance, focus, vision tracking deficiencies, midline crossings in three dimensions, and fun – in essence the building blocks of physical, academic and social learning.