Dyspraxia: When the brain takes the ‘scenic route’

Dyspraxia: When the brain takes the ‘scenic route’

Over 80% of children with Dyspraxia/DCD missing out on crucial treatment, research finds

Sheila Wayman, IrishTimes.com

A teacher sweeps into the classroom, tells the pupils to take out a certain textbook, turn to page 25 and start writing out answers to question three and then question six, which is over the page.

It’s the kind of scenario that plays out in secondary schools every day all over the country. But the chances are that there’s one teenager in the classroom, like Oisín Whelan (13), for whom these simple but rapid-fire commands are extremely hard to follow.

As his mother Catherine explains, when his classmates are well on to step three, her son is probably still just taking the book out of his bag, wondering what page he is to open it at.

It’s not that he is stupid, nor that he is not listening, but Oisín has the hidden disability dyspraxia – or developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD) as it is medically classified – that affects gross and fine motor skills, as well planning and organisation abilities, all to a lesser or greater degree. It is down to the way the brain processes information – it “takes the scenic route”, is how one adult with the condition likes to describe it.

Once bluntly termed “clumsy child syndrome”, due to how it impairs physical co-ordination, it is in fact a life-long condition and is also likely to cause sensory processing issues. Among the estimated 6 per cent of children affected – with at least three times as many boys as girls diagnosed – early signs include by-passing the crawling stage, speech and language delays, slowness at dressing, inability to stay still, barely legible handwriting, unable to tie shoe laces and poor concentration.

One childhood incident before Oisín was diagnosed sticks out in his mother’s mind. She asked him would he mind putting the milk away. He said, “Sure, where does it go?” As she told him it was the fridge, she was wondering how on earth he didn’t realise that.

When she recounted this later to an occupational therapist after his diagnosis, he told her she had to realise he had no categories. “He doesn’t know where things live – it is like having a filing cabinet with no files to put your stuff in.” It would, he added, be up to her and her husband, Michael, to help “fill in all the gaps”.

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