If you want to help dyspraxic children, you have to support their parents
How many of us have been there; your beautiful child has reached three or four years of age. You’ve watched her grow from a newborn into the wonderful little person she is. But even though you may not have other children in the family to compare her with, you can’t shake the suspicion that something is not quite right. She fails to reach certain milestones – like her speech isn’t as developed as other children you meet and she doesn’t follow your instructions, but it’s like a lack of understanding of what you’re saying rather than just being disobedient. She is very clumsy and seems to be forever bumping into things and falling over, leading to endless bruised knees and bandages. Maybe she’s just a late starter you say (she didn’t walk until nearly 18 months) but she’ll be fine; you’re sure of it.
Time passes and still those nagging doubts persist. Maybe, as I did, you get in touch with the health visitor and voice your concerns. For me, though, that only served to get a referral to a specialist who ultimately pronounced my child too young to diagnose.
Finding a name for it
Fast-forward to the start of school, to the first parent teacher meeting and being asked the question “Does anyone in the family have dyspraxia?” You have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. Dyspraxia? You’ve never heard of it before. The SENCO has picked it up and explains what it is and how your child shows the symptoms and may well have the condition.
What follows is total devastation: the realisation that your nagging doubts were right. But never in a million years did you expect this; your child has a condition and you are completely in the dark about exactly what it is, how serious it is, how to cope with it and what the future holds. You are now the parent of a child with a specific learning need.
That was me nearly four years ago – an emotional wreck. What followed was like a rollercoaster ride and I will be forever grateful to my mum and dad for supporting me through it.
My daughter was labelled with global learning delay, something I didn’t believe she had. I then talked to four different paediatricians and all that came across to me was negativity, which was very hard to take. Eventually, the fourth one diagnosed dyspraxia. I remember breaking down with relief at her being diagnosed; it was overwhelming.
Funnily enough, from the family history questionnaire, I was verbally diagnosed with it too. Thinking about it, it made sense. I’m always bumping into things. I could never hop or skip as a child, or master ice or roller skating like my friends. I remembered all the times my teacher thought I was just messing, when it was simply that I didn’t understand.
Exam Papers were always a nightmare and even now I can’t fill in forms or read a map. As an adult, when I went to aerobic classes I had no co-ordination, going left instead of right and feeling like a complete fool.
The search for support
I didn’t go private with my daughter, as a report from an educational psychologist was £500 and I didn’t have that sort of money. Having got a diagnosis, though, at least I knew what I was dealing with and I rose to the challenge. I set about finding out as much as I could about dyspraxia. Thankfully, the school was very supportive too and put everything in place for my daughter from the start. Through the school, I met other parents with dyspraxic children. It was wonderful to realise that I wasn’t alone.
I was looking at endless sites online, trying to glean any information I could. Although there is a lot of information out there, I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for, nothing that answered my many questions. I suppose, like every other parent in the same position, I was searching to see if I could find a magic wand – an instant fix – but I quickly realised that there is no such thing. The Internet and social media just didn’t give me what I was looking for and it was hugely frustrating. So I made a decision to set up my own page on Facebook. It’s an awareness page for those who are at the beginning of their journey. More than a year later, I’m proud to say that the site is flourishing.
As for my daughter, she is now a happy, loving eight-year-old. Even through developmentally she’s about three years behind, it doesn’t affect her socially. As you’d expect, she’s not over-confident academically and she struggles across the board. She loves Spanish, though, and is one of the best pupils in the class, as it’s taught visually and there’s lots of rhyming and singing, which is perfect for her.
She had speech therapy for a while, though this stopped when she achieved the target level. I believe she should still have it, but I try to do what I can, and now find the best way to help is by playing chart music CDs as she sings along.
Her current school has played a big part in supporting her. In Reception, tasks were broken down into a very basic format for her. She has a corner seat in class, which means less noise and distraction. She has an outstanding teacher with whom I have an excellent relationship, which is so important. One thing I’ve drummed into my daughter is to tell the teacher when she doesn’t understand something, so the teacher knows she’s not messing and that she is trying.
It’s an academic school and I’m happy about that; they push her, but at her own level. Recently, each child had to write a page on a particular subject and present it to the class. The teacher encouraged my daughter to stand up and present just two sentences rather than a full page, though, which was very helpful.
My daughter is improving at school all the time, and she’s very happy there. Every day brings new challenges and change. She still bangs into things and trips over thin air. She can’t coordinate swimming or ride a bike. Both she and I hate escalators. One thing she does love, however, is her horse riding, which is a great help for her balance and coordination.
Today, I see dyspraxia as a positive thing. Every little step forward is a huge milestone; just recently she has learnt to hop and do star jumps.
In the beginning I wanted to find a cure but now I wouldn’t want a magic wand. She’s my little girl and I wouldn’t change her for the world.
Rachel Tucker established the Developmental Coordination Disorder (Dyspraxia) & Dyslexia Support group on Facebook, which provides information and support for parents.
The group’s website is:
Toby Lee runs the Complementary Education and Training Centre, Dublin:
*Main article image -Rachel and her daughter enjoy time at the beach