30 January 2001
Many dyspraxic children could be managed by parents and teachers leaving therapists to concentrate on complex cases, according to a new study.
Research funded by leading medical charity Action Research has found that carers could be trained to administer alternative intervention approaches to those currently provided by occupational and physiotherapists.
During a recent project involving regular intervention sessions from teachers and parents, the majority of children identified with the developmental disorder, dyspraxia, made such significant improvements they moved out of the ‘at risk’ category.
Leading the team at Leeds University, Professor David Sugden says the 18 month study could have an important impact on healthcare and education provision. He says: ‘We were really pleased by the results because we didn’t expect them to be quite as good as they were, and they provide an optimistic scenario.’
About five per cent of the UK’s young population suffer from Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD), also called dyspraxia.
They have a marked impairment in the development of motor co-ordination activities such as handwriting, self-help, and playing games. The condition progresses through childhood and often affects performance both in academic subject, behaviour, and a child’s self esteem.
Intervention is usually carried out by specialists such as physiotherapists, but regular provision is not always possible due to limited professional resources.
Action Research, which is famous for its efforts to help overcome disease and disability for children, families and the elderly, awarded more than £44,000 towards the project, and has now extended this commitment to additional funding of more than £46,000 for further studies.
The aim of the original project was to: determine whether parents and teachers were able to provide effective intervention for children with DCD; determine whether children with DCD can be helped in any way; and determine whether there are some children for whom this approach is insufficient.
A total of 31 children with DCD aged seven to nine years were identified from the local region and every week supportive teachers and parents followed step-by-step management guidelines with each child receiving three to four sessions a week. The children were assessed regularly throughout the project - which also included research worker Dr Mary Chambers.
At the beginning of the study, 23 of the 31 children scored below the assessment’s 5th percentile - the grading scale where children are classed as suffering from DCD. But to the researchers’ delight, only four children remained in this category by the end of the project.
‘The majority of the children identified made substantial improvements during the intervention period’, says Professor Sugden, who is professor of special needs in education for the University, as well as its Pro Vice-chancellor.
He adds: ‘The major implication of the study is that by using a task orientated approach both parents and teachers with support are able to provide effective intervention for children with DCD. In addition, a very small number of children were identified whom we believe would require more specialist help.’
The team is now about to embark on a more detailed follow-up study, which has been funded by Action Research, and aims to examine the longer-term effects of intervention, and where lasting benefit has been achieved.
Professor Sugden, who recently presented papers on this work at international conferences in Vienna and London, is also building links with Leeds Health Authority to put the principles of the research into action and pursue further intervention studies.
He hopes the scheme will initially be cascaded throughout the northern region, and ultimately across the UK, and could possibly act as a model for other developmental disorders.
‘If successful, it would enable the majority of children with uncomplicated DCD to receive timely and effective intervention, and speed up the waiting lists for the minority of children who need specialist help.’
A boy aged almost nine years old started the project scoring in the bottom two per cent of the population and at the end was out of the at risk category. His mother, who wishes to remain anonymous, says: ‘My son has improved a lot thanks to the activities. His motor skills have improved, his concentration is much better, and he is more focussed on what he is doing.
‘We have all enjoyed doing the activities, with his sister even joining in too. Thank you for the opportunity you have given him.’
Action Research, which is fast approaching its 50th anniversary, is dedicated to helping overcome disease and disability for children, families and the elderly across the UK. The charity’s Touching Lives Campaign aims to raise £2m for vital medical research and more details can be found at www.action.org.uk
For further information and interviews, please contact Nicole Duckworth in the Action Research press office on 01403 327403 Fax: 01403 210541, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
ISDN facilities are available.
*DCD is an impairment or immaturity of the organisation and performance of movement skills, resulting in messages not being properly transmitted to the body.
*Cases can differ substantially in terms of severity.
*Diagnosis is usually via a commonly-used assessment tool designed to target exactly where the child is having problems. An individual profile can then be made.
*Most children will improve in some areas with appropriate help.
*Whereas dyspraxia primarily focuses on the planning and execution of movements, dyslexia concentrates more on reading and writing comprehension and is often better understood and more commonly known.
*For further information about the disorder and support groups contact the Dyspraxia Foundation helpline on (01462) 454 986.