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Dyspraxia/DCD: putting a hidden disorder in the spotlight

Developmental coordination disorder (DCD) – or Dyspraxia – is a disorder often detected in childhood which can make seemingly simple tasks feel like hugely difficult undertakings. As such, it can have a severe impact on a young person’s progress in everyday life. It is also a little-known condition that can be met with ignorance towards their struggles.

Dyspraxia Awareness Week – which runs from October 7-13 this year – is an annual move to address that, educating the wider public so that those with Dyspraxia/DCD can get the understanding and support they need. Ahead of that, let’s take a closer look at the condition.

What is Dyspraxia/DCD?

A neurological condition that affects how a person processes information, Dyspraxia/DCD can impede gross and fine motor skills as well as speech. It may also make day-to-day organisation and planning more difficult for the individual. It is a life-long condition that is managed rather than cured and manifests in an estimated 6-10% of children. Over three times as many boys as girls are diagnosed with Dyspraxia/DCD. Although it hinders learning and social progress, it is in no way connected to a child’s intelligence and does not have to stop them from enjoying a bright future with the correct management. 

Early signs

Some symptoms present in infancy, with a child taking longer than expected to reach motor milestones such as rolling over, sitting, crawling or walking. They may even bypass the crawling stage. They may have unusual posture. Difficulty feeding themselves and playing with toys such as Lego could be an indication of Dyspraxia/DCD.

As they reach school age, tasks from tying shoelaces and buttoning clothes to using scissors and handwriting can be troublesome. Struggles with physical activities and, conversely, an inability to stay still are telltale symptoms.

Aside from motor skills, their ability to concentrate, follow instructions, copy information and organise themselves can be additional problems. They may find it hard to socialise and develop low self-esteem. Dyspraxia/DCD has been linked to conditions such as dyslexia, autism and ADHD.

Diagnosis

If you are concerned that your child is affected, see your GP. They will likely refer you to a paediatric occupational therapist, who can assess how well the child is functioning in daily activities. A paediatric professional will usually make the diagnosis, after employing the Motor ABC method of assessment. This looks at larger movements and balance, as well as finer muscle skills. A physiotherapist can get an understanding of movement issues, whilst clinical or educational psychologists can begin to aid the child with emotional or learning challenges.

Treatment

A definitive “cure” isn’t out there, though a small percentage of kids with mild cases can “grow out” of symptoms. For the majority of people with Dyspraxia/DCD, a long-term plan is required to help them through their teen years and adulthood. Various specialists may be required for tailored treatment that helps the person affected overcome their obstacles, strengthening their skills and boosting their confidence and self-esteem in the process. 

Additional help and allowances at school – for example, extended time to complete exams – can lessen the pressure on a person. As heavy parental involvement is so vital, there are support groups in place to help the strain on families. 

For more information visit dyspraxia.ie

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