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Dyspraxia in Early Childhood: Signs Support, & Solutions

As parents and caregivers, we all want the best for our children’s development and well-being. While every child is unique and may have their own set of challenges, it’s important to be aware of conditions that might affect their growth and learning. One such condition is dyspraxia, a developmental* disorder that can impact a child’s motor skills, coordination, and overall daily functioning. In this article, we’ll provide you with a comprehensive overview of dyspraxia, explain how to recognise its signs, and suggest what can be done to support children who have been diagnosed with the condition.

What is Dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia is a neurological condition that affects a child’s ability to plan and coordinate movements. Children with dyspraxia may seem clumsy and may struggle with certain tasks that involve physical coordination (we’ll give some examples later in this article). It’s important to note that dyspraxia is not related to muscle weakness, intelligence or cognitive impairment. In contrast, it’s a disorder caused through the brain’s inability to send accurate signals to the body’s muscles.

Points to Note

  • The prevalence of dyspraxia is generally estimated to be around 5-6% of the UK population. However, estimates vary because symptoms manifest differently in different individuals and so may not always be recognised or diagnosed. This can therefore impact the accuracy of prevalence estimates.
  • A definitive diagnosis is not possible before the age of 4 to 5.
  • More boys than girls are affected by dyspraxia.
  • Children affected by dyspraxia may sometimes also be affected by other conditions like ADHD, autism, dyslexia, and speech issues.
  • Dyspraxia is a lifelong condition that currently has no known cure. However, there are various interventions, therapies, and strategies that can help individuals with dyspraxia manage their challenges and improve their quality of life.

Recognising the Signs

While signs of dyspraxia may start to emerge during the early years of a child’s life, official diagnosis is a complex process and may not be fully possible before the age of 4 to 5. Diagnosis also typically becomes more accurate as a child gets older, as developmental milestones become more apparent.

For parents and caregivers, recognising the signs of possible dyspraxia in young children is crucial for timely intervention and support. Bear in mind, though, that children develop at different rates, so some variations in motor skills are normal. That said, some possible signs follow below.

• Signs in Infancy

In infancy and when children are toddlers, it might be challenging to differentiate between typical developmental variations and early signs of dyspraxia. Some children may exhibit mild motor delays, such as late rolling over, crawling, or walking, without necessarily having dyspraxia — so it’s tricky! If you have concerns, it’s a good idea to monitor your child’s progress and discuss any observations with your paediatrician or health visitor. They can provide guidance and monitor your child’s development over time.

• Signs in Preschool Years

During the preschool years (around ages 3 to 5), certain signs of dyspraxia may become more noticeable. Children with dyspraxia might struggle with activities that require fine motor skills, such as holding a pencil, using scissors, zipping jackets, or buttoning clothes. They may also have challenges with gross motor skills like jumping, hopping, and running. Some may regularly bump into things, have frequent falls and have poor balance. At this stage, if you observe persistent difficulties that seem beyond typical developmental variations, consider consulting an occupational therapist or a developmental specialist for a comprehensive assessment.

• Signs in School-Age Children

As children enter school and face more structured activities that involve motor coordination, the challenges associated with dyspraxia may become even more apparent. Difficulties with handwriting, tying shoelaces, participating in sports, ball games, and other motor-based tasks may lead to increased concerns. If these challenges continue and impact your child’s daily functioning, seeking a professional evaluation becomes even more important. Occupational therapists, paediatric neurologists, and developmental paediatricians are skilled in assessing and diagnosing conditions like dyspraxia.

• Other Potential Signs of Dyspraxia

There are also a few additional possible signs to look out for, although not all children affected by dyspraxia will exhibit them:

  • Possible delayed speech and language development;
  • A possible lack of spatial awareness including difficulty understanding personal space and boundaries;
  • Possible difficulty following directions (left/right/etc.);
  • Occasionally, a heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli, like touch, texture, or noise.

As we said before, however, having any of the above symptoms does not necessarily mean the child has dyspraxia, but it is a possibility.

Supporting Children with Dyspraxia

Early intervention and tailored support can make a significant difference in the lives of children with dyspraxia. The following are some strategies that parents and caregivers can implement to help children with dyspraxia thrive.

Professional Assessment — If you suspect your child might have dyspraxia, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a paediatrician or occupational therapist. A thorough evaluation can provide a clear diagnosis and guide appropriate interventions.

Motor Skill Development — Occupational therapy can be highly beneficial for improving motor skills and coordination. Occupational therapists use specialised activities and exercises to target specific areas of difficulty.

Physical Activities — Engage your child in activities that promote movement and coordination. Choose activities that can help improve motor skills in an enjoyable and engaging way.

Speech and Language Therapy — For children with dyspraxia who also have speech and language difficulties, speech therapy can help improve such skills.

Sensory Integration Therapy — Some children with dyspraxia also experience sensory sensitivities. Sensory integration therapy aims to help individuals process sensory information more effectively, which can have a positive impact on their overall functioning.

Structured Routines — Establishing structured daily routines can provide a sense of predictability and help children with dyspraxia manage their tasks more effectively.

Supportive Learning Environments — Collaboration with teachers and childcare providers will create a supportive learning environment that accommodates the child’s needs. This might include modified activities, extra time for tasks, assistive technology, modified tools, and providing visual cues.

Communication and Patience — Open communication with the child and patience are key. Encourage your child to express their feelings and frustrations, and provide reassurance and understanding in return.

Self-Advocacy and Coping Strategies — As individuals with dyspraxia grow older, they can develop their own self-awareness and advocacy skills. Learning coping strategies, time management techniques, and self-advocacy can help them navigate challenges and achieve their goals.

Summing Up

Dyspraxia is a complex condition that can present challenges, but with early recognition and appropriate support, children with dyspraxia can lead fulfilling and successful lives. By seeking professional guidance, implementing targeted interventions, and creating a supportive environment, parents and caregivers can play a vital role in helping children navigate the world with confidence and resilience.

Leaps & Bounds Nursery, Edgbaston, Birmingham

Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery is in Edgbaston, near Birmingham, Ladywood, Bearwood, Harborne & Smethwick, B16Leaps & Bounds Nursery is rated as a Good Provider of childcare by Ofsted.At Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery in Edgbaston, we will offer all possible support for children who are potentially affected by dyspraxia. This includes watching out for the signs and putting in place tailored support programmes wherever appropriate. With the right support and resources in place, dyspraxic children can overcome challenges and achieve their full potential.

Leaps & Bounds is officially a Good Provider of childcare and early years education — and that’s according to Ofsted, who are totally independent. We are perfect if you are looking for a good nursery or preschool in Edgbaston, or near Birmingham, also being convenient to those looking for high-quality childcare for under-fives near Ladywood, Bearwood, Harborne and Smethwick. We support all Government-funded childcare schemes for eligible families too. So, if you would like to give your baby, toddler or under-five child a wonderful start in life, consider Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery for their childcare and early years education. We’ll bring out the very best in them to ensure they’re school-ready and primed to thrive by the time they leave us to start school. Book a tour, register your child for a nursery place or get in touch with any queries below — we’ll be delighted to help.

* This article relates to the developmental version of dyspraxia, not the type caused through physical trauma or brain injury. Medical professionals may also refer to developmental dyspraxia as Developmental Coordination Disorder (‘DCD’) or Specific Developmental Disorder of Motor Function (‘SDDMF’). In this, for simplicity and brevity, we refer to the condition simply as dyspraxia.