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One Step at a Time – How to ensure that children with dyspraxia feel comfortable in class

  • One Step at a Time – How to ensure that children with dyspraxia feel comfortable in class

Gill Dixon, a teacher and vice chair of The Dyspraxia Foundation, offers some advice on how children with dyspraxia can be helped to adapt to classroom structures.

1 Use a structured (multi-sensory) approach to teaching
I’ve never understood why we don’t teach all children in a multi-sensory way. Children learn best by being able to experience what it is that they’re trying to understand.

When I am asked how to be ‘multi-sensory’, I usually suggest that one observes a 10 to 18-month-old baby. When they discover something new, they don’t just look at it; they smell it, taste it, feel it, throw it, shake it and listen to the noise it makes. They use every sense to take in as much information as possible.                           

Once children reach the later years of primary and move into secondary school, much of their learning becomes visual, two-dimensional and boring. Multi-sensory needn’t be complicated – if you are teaching the blend ‘ch’, for example, try shaping the letters with rope on the ground, making them as big as possible. Ask the children to then ‘choo choo’ around it using the correct letter formation, then see if they can write it, perhaps using sand or modelling clay.

2 Seemingly simple tasks can be complex
Consider the perceptual differences that children with dyspraxia can have, as well as the issues they will present with balance and co ordination. You will then appreciate that carrying a dinner tray through a crowded, noisy dining area can be quite a feat. Transfer this idea to almost everything a child with dyspraxia does until it becomes automatic. Children with dyspraxia can and do learn. We need to employ patience and tolerance, laced with a fair portion of admiration while they do.

3 Seat the pupil sensitively, where he/she can see you without turning and twisting
Particularly in primary schools, the seating in modern classrooms tends to be arranged in small groups. In truth, however, children with dyspraxia would fare better in a Victorian-style layout, with desks arranged in straight rows facing the front and the desks themselves being of the sloping variety so as to support their handwriting.

It’s worth moving your pupils around, so as to ascertain where they are most comfortable and able to give their best. Children with special needs have historically been placed at the front of the class near to the teacher, but this won’t be the ideal position for some.

Be flexible. Consider the space available and those positions with as few nearby distractions as possible. Modern classrooms can cause sensory overload, what with their numerous wall displays and notices. Setting up small ‘isolation booths’ within a classroom can be useful for children who are easily distracted, or who find it difficult to concentrate.

4 Incorporate social skills training into the curriculum
Most children with dyspraxia will have issues around understanding and interpreting their social environment. Often they can stand too close, talk too loudly, touch inappropriately, and generally behave in ways considered unusual.

As with other areas of learning, this will improve given appropriate instruction and opportunities to practice and fine-tune their responses and behaviour in a safe environment. I believe this is one of the most important areas of education, and certainly the most important aspect of behaviour when it comes to fostering the sense of belonging we all require for the good of our self esteem. There are a huge array of social skills programmes available, and any responsible school will give this vital area of learning the attention it deserves.

5 Monitor the language that you use
Avoid expressions such as, ‘You managed to do it yesterday’, ‘Can’t you sit still?’ or, ‘You need to try harder’. These are not helpful or constructive, and will only serve to damage an already fragile sense of self-esteem. 

Further information on this topic can be found in Gill Dixon’s ebook, Dyspraxia – The Foundations. The Dyspraxia Foundation’s website has a range of information on the condition aimed at various age groups. The charity also produces a variety of leaflets, factsheets and guidelines that are available for download. The Dyspraxia Foundation’s helpline can be reached on 01462 454 986 (Mon-Fri 9am to 5pm).

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