Dyspraxia Awareness

18 May 2005

Publication: Coventry Evening Telegraph

As a toddler there was no inkling that Alistair Johnston-Wilder was any different from his nursery school playmates.

It was only when the little boy went to preschool that problems began to arise.

With a more formal learning environment, Alistair was being asked to sit still for much longer periods – and for a child with dyspraxia sitting still is not an easy task, particularly if asked to concentrate on something like reading or writing at the same time.

Dyspraxia is an impairment or immaturity of the organisation of movement. People with dyspraxia tend to have poor understanding of the messages their senses convey and difficulty in planning and organising thoughts.

Alistair would wriggle around and appear not to be listening so he was labelled naughty.

Mum Sue, who works for the Open University, writing material to support maths teachers, remembers: “The problem was trying to keep him sitting still for a long time.

“If a child is little and they are misbehaving I think there is something outside that is underlying the behaviour because young children want to please adults.”

Alistair’s difficulties deepened when he got to school.

He was among the youngest in his year and Sue felt he perhaps wasn’t as ready for the jump to school as some of his older classmates.

And his dyspraxia made things worse.

“The main issue was that he could not sit still to write,” said Sue. “He was also longsighted which meant he could read from the board but not close up. And his vision wasn’t co-ordinating properly so his focusing from the board to close work was slow.

“He was in trouble by half-term of the first year and I got told he was being naughty.”

Alistair was also having difficulty reading and other children were beginning to pick up on his “differences”. He was being bullied and called “stupid”.

Quite able verbally, Alistair spoke about his problems and his parents had him referred to an ocular therapist for eye exercises. He was also prescribed glasses.

Almost overnight his reading age went from six to 17.

But Alistair’s problems with writing and social skills remained. He would bump into people or not move out of the way if someone was coming up behind him.

Sue said: “By Easter of year two, when he was coming up to seven, he was not a happy boy. He was losing his confidence.

“He was being diagnosed with ADHD but we didn’t feel that was the main issue. Experts were saying put him on ritalin, but we didn’t believe Alistair needed it.

“We took him to a neurologist. He was diagnosed with dyspraxia with attention management issues as a secondary factor.

Sue and Alistair’s dad Peter began reading articles by educational psychologist Madeleine Portwood who suggested part of the problem with sufferers was that their body couldn’t pick up Omega-3 from the diet and the fish oil supplements made a difference.

This seemed to be because dyspraxia may be caused by the failure of the neurones in the brain to develop connections correctly.

Sue said: “In some people the difference is more dramatic than others. I can’t say it has been that dramatic with Alistair but we know when he has not been taking his supplements.”

Despite his diagnosis, Sue says Alistair’s school made few allowances for his condition. He was still expected to complete long writing tests and subjected to maths tests.

This sort of pressure Sue believes can only backfire with children who are having difficulties.

But some subjects proved beneficial for Alistair. Rugby and music being among them.

“He would look like he was misbehaving in the choir because he was wriggling around and going from one foot to the other, but I explained about his condition to the teacher and they made allowances,” said Sue.

Sue believes many kids with dyspraxia are either not being diagnosed correctly and/or not receiving the support they need.

“One of the reasons I’m talking about this is that kids all over the country are having the same experience as Alistair did.

“The underlying message being given to these children is that they are being naughty so they end up actually misbehaving.

“Dyspraxia is not something you have or don’t, it is a question of degrees – so your co-ordination system is either more or less damaged or delayed.”

In September 2004, the family moved to Styvehcale in Coventry after dad Peter, who trains maths teachers, got a job at the University of Warwick.

Alistair is in a city school with smaller classes and Sue is making sure she builds up a relationship with his teachers.

She said: “Alistair can’t learn if teachers are trying to focus him on writing all the time. There are other things to learn as well as writing.

“All children improve their co-ordination as they get older and he will improve but of course other children improve as well and they will out-pace him.

“Having dyspraxia is such a social disadvantage and the psychological effects can be serious and long lasting.

“But it does help if the problem can be picked up early and you are there to support them. These children can tell you what the problem is if you listen.”

How Omega-3 oils help with concentration

The Department of Health recognised the importance of Omega-3 long-chain fatty acids to health and wellbeing as long ago as 1991.

Since then the importance of these essential fatty acids has become more apparent.

Studies in animals have found that behavioural abnormalities, excessive thirst and dry scaly skin are signs of fatty acid deficiency.

More recently studies in children have found such signs were more common in those with behavioural, attention and educational problems. Now interest in Omega-3 and 6 supplements is beginning to soar.

Clinical trials have shown that an adequate intake of these ‘good fats’ help maintain all aspects of brain and visual function, notably learning ability concentration and co-ordination.

Experts believe a lack of these fatty acids can lead to learning and educational problems such as lower IQ, slower development and educational and behavioural disorders in both children and adults.

In general children need somewhere between 600mg to 1000mg of Omega-3 oils per day – the equivalent of two to three servings of oily fish such as salmon or mackerel per week.

Parents who find it hard to ensure their children get this could try a DHA-rich fish oil supplement such as Efalex.

Efalex, which was launched in 1995, is available in capsule and liquid form at Boots, Holland & Barrett, independent pharmacies and health food stores. For more information visit www.efamol.com or call 0870 6060 128.

For more information on dyspraxia contact the Dyspraxia Foundation on 01462 454986 or visit www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk or e-mail them at dyspraxia@dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk.

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