Touching Lives - September 2004
Learning together: Dyspraxia
Sometimes called dyspraxia, DCD affects around 5-10 per cent of children in the UK. Sufferers struggle with daily tasks such as getting dressed, using a knife and fork, writing neatly or finding their way around new places. It can interfere with their progress at school and undermine their self confidence.
Intervention at an early age, including the use of carefully tailored activities undertaken at home, has been shown to help many children with developmental coordination disorder. By practising little and often, some youngsters who were previously struggling have dramatically improved in terms of motor skills.
The study, led by Professor David Sugden of the School of Education at Leeds University, has recently been awarded a follow-on grant of £75,000 by Action Medical Research, to continue the work done over the past five years. This time, Professor Sugden and his team will study a group of preschool youngsters.
Professor Sugden told Touching Lives, “This is a time when children develop fundamental movement skills that are the building blocks for the rest of their lives. We aim to identify children in nursery and preschool with coordination disorders then examine the success of ‘low level’ intervention programmes that can be used by parents and teachers. We will then go on to produce guidelines for those working with children with these disorders.
“That will include booklets for teachers, nursery professionals and parents. We hope that some of the techniques will be adopted by nursery teachers to help three and four year olds with DCD overcome their difficulties.”
The ‘low level’ interventions have been shown to make a big difference to a group of older children, who have been part of an ongoing study in Yorkshire. Professor Sugden and his colleague Dr Mary Chambers worked closely with a group of youngsters with DCD and had some encouraging results.
Professor Sugden said, “We haven’t come up with a cure — rather a set of interventions that identify the condition and then help children overcome their problems. Not every child is receptive to our techniques, though most do make some improvement.
“What seems clear is that some children are more receptive than others — some with developmental coordination disorder also have other learning and behavioural problems that can impact on their progress. The key to improvement is making the interventions part of everyday life, and practising little and often.”
Not to be confused with physiotherapy, such tasks are the basis of treatment. Parents are encouraged to use activities like cooking and dressing to get their children to practise movements that they find hard to master. ^Some children from the original study group have made remarkable progress^ and are now doing well in mainstream education.
Professor Sugden said, “I feel very privileged to have been involved in what is becoming an internationally recognised piece of research. We now have a much heightened awareness of the importance of motor skills in the early years and have shown that by intervening, both parents and teachers can make a huge difference.
“We have achieved some really positive results in our studies so far, and without help from Action Medical Research we would not have achieved a quarter of what we have done. What’s really exciting is that we now have a group from the United States interested in our work, and we have introduced what was in effect a ‘hidden disability’ to a much wider audience.”
Grateful thanks go to SEARCH for their support of this grant.