DCD/Dyspraxia…More than just motor difficulties
As I mentioned in my last post, the term Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) implies that this is a condition experienced by children which results in difficulties in coordination. While this is true, it is also woefully incomplete. We do see, without a doubt, that children with DCD/dyspraxia have motor skill difficulties. Many common difficulties faced by this group of children include difficulty riding bicycles, eating with a knife and fork, doing buttons, writing neatly and quickly, pouring milk/juice, climbing or running around with friends or doing sport.
However, children/adolescents with dyspraxia tend to face other problems that do not seem to be specifically motor-based. Here are some examples:
Organisation: Planning and carrying out a task is actually a complex process. We need to decide what we want to do, what tools/materials we need to do it, and how we are going to do it (what movements are involved, how many steps, in which order and so on). While we can understand that people with dyspraxia have difficulty with carrying out the motor movements of each task, this doesn’t really explain why they don’t seem to be very good at organising themselves. Have you ever watched a teenager with dyspraxia try to cook a simple meal? Why does the kitchen look like it was hit with a bomb afterwards? Did they have to use every pot, dish and cooking spoon? Why is every surface covered in onion peels? Often, they may start the cooking and only realise halfway through that they don’t actually have any tomatoes or some other necessary ingredient. These are examples of the challenges in organisation faced by people with dyspraxia. Younger children tend to have difficulty figuring out how to tidy their bedrooms (everything lands in one box), organising their schoolbag (how did all those books get so dog-eared?) or setting the table (how many knives and forks do we need, where’s the salt?). Older children appear to have more difficulty organising themselves, although I believe this is because of the greater demands on older children. Older children are expected to remember their chores without being reminded, keep their room tidy, remember which books go to school or back home, what was for homework, where they left their pens or pencils, and of course, to manage their pocket money without losing it or spending it all on the first day. Never mind looking after their mobile phone and house-keys! It all seems a bit too much!
Managing time: Ever noticed that the teenager with dyspraxia is always the last one out the door, late for class, last one finishing an exam? There appear to be two reasons for this: one, because of the motor deficits faced by children with dyspraxia, they take longer to do tasks that appear simple to others, and secondly, because they are notoriously disorganised, they end up spending more time trying to find things or may not even be aware that it’s nearly time to go. And can you imagine trying to figure out when you have to start getting ready if you want to leave at half past…?
Mixing with peers: Although there doesn’t seem to be any reason why, several research studies have highlighted that children and adolescents don’t mix as well with their peers as might be expected. Some studies have looked at whether people with dyspraxia have difficulty reading facial expressions, and while this may be a problem, it is unlikely to be the full picture. Another theory is the link between sensory processing disorders and dyspraxia. Following this though, people with dyspraxia may find situations with a lot of sensory input (such as groups of people, or “fun” environments like fairs, nightclubs etc) overwhelming. Also, people with sensory processing often have difficulty controlling their emotional responses to situations and keeping their “alertness” levels at a “just right” level. This means that people with dyspraxia may react differently in social situations than other people. Another possibility is that, due to difficulties with typical childhood activities such as riding a bicycle or playing sport, people with dyspraxia have a history of being or choosing to be excluded from social situations which may reduce their practice at social skills.
Sleeping: While sleeping doesn’t seem to have any direct link to motor skills, a high number of people with dyspraxia have difficulty with sleeping. Often, this is difficulty falling asleep, but at times they may have difficulty sleeping through the night or may be “groggy” in the mornings and take longer than expected to get going in the mornings. This is most likely due to the link of sensory processing disorders with dyspraxia. As mentioned above, people with sensory processing disorders often have difficulties regulating their level of “alertness” and this means that they are likely to struggle getting their bodies in to the right state for sleeping or waking up.
Dealing with emotions: The world of the dyspraxic person is fraught with challenges that bring with them their own emotional upheaval. Facing failure at many tasks can seriously damage a person’s self-esteem unless they have had the opportunity of experiencing success in other areas. Also, high levels of frustration are associated with not managing tasks as expected and especially if others expect the same. The hidden nature of dyspraxia often makes this the case. Also, typical stress-buffering strategies such as social support are often less available due to their difficulties making and keeping friends.
In conclusion, although people with dyspraxia do present with motor skills, but also have a variety of other challenges that they face on a day-to-day basis. For all those working with youngsters with dyspraxia/DCD, I would highly recommend reading Victoria Biggs’ book: Caged in Chaos. It is ideal for adolescents and those working with adolescents with DCD/dyspraxia.