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Children with dyspraxia anxious and downhearted, teachers say

Children with developmental coordination disorder (DCD) - often referred to as dyspraxia - suffer much higher levels of emotional distress than their classmates and are frequently anxious and downhearted, new research to be highlighted at the ESRC Festival of Social Science shows.

In the UK between 5-6 per cent of children are affected by DCD.

"DCD is a condition which has a significant impact on all aspects of daily life from the moment a child wakes up," explains researcher Professor Elisabeth Hill from Goldsmiths, University of London. "Difficulties with motor skills and coordination make even routine tasks such as brushing your teeth, climbing stairs and using cutlery tricky for a child with DCD."

Once in the classroom, life becomes even more challenging. "Fastening buttons after PE, sitting still, navigating other children and obstacles in the classroom, copying from a whiteboard, carrying a tray at lunchtime - all of these activities are more tiring and difficult for children with poor motor skills and coordination," co-researcher Dr Emma Sumner points out. 

"But, in addition to motor skill problems, our latest research shows that young children with DCD (aged 7-10) have poorer social skills than their peers, and can struggle emotionally as well."

Close to 60 per cent of children with DCD find it hard to make friends and are less willing to play with their classmates. "In our survey, teachers reported that these children found it much easier to get on with adults and struggled to form bonds with their peers," Dr Sumner points out. Initial findings from the survey completed by primary school teachers across England also demonstrate that two-thirds of children with DCD are more anxious, tearful, downhearted, nervous of new situations and less confident than their classmates.

The findings of the study 'The role of motor abilities in the development of typical and atypical social behaviour' funded by The Leverhulme Trust, are in keeping with their previous study which identified a link between motor skills and social skills. "Coordination and movement is absolutely fundamental to a child’s early development," Professor Hill explains.

"We found that children that stood and walked independently sooner were rated as having better communication and daily living skills at ages 7-10. In fact, as soon as a child can raise their head independently and look around, or stand and attract adult attention, then they have far more opportunities to interact with the world and gain social skills. Children with DCD are generally slower to achieve these important early motor milestones or miss them completely - indeed 23 per cent of our sample never crawled at all. This delay may underpin many of their later social difficulties."

Some teachers, researchers suggest, may not be aware that for children with DCD poor motor skills may go hand in hand with poor social skills. 

To raise awareness, the researchers will showcase the latest research in this area and its educational implications at an event held during the ESRC Festival of Social Science. Organised by Goldsmiths Action Lab and Goldsmiths Teachers' Centre, the event aims to bring together educators, academics and the DCD community, to learn more about the difficulties faced in the classroom by those with the condition, and the practical solutions for support.

The event, on 11 November at Goldsmiths, will highlight a key research implication for teachers; that children who present with social difficulties may have underlying motor skill/coordination problems. If a child doesn’t want to play with others at playtimes, or is always forgetting their PE kit, then this unwillingness to participate may arise from a problem with motor skills that is affecting their confidence and sociability. 

Early identification of DCD by teachers is important because support from occupational therapists, manual dexterity exercises and a range of other focused interventions can help develop functional, transferable skills to be applied within the classroom and subsequently improve long-term outcomes.

At home however parents can also offer support to their children, "parental support could be targeted at identifying what is important to the child to achieve, breaking down the task into manageable chunks, and supporting skill development through short but regular practice sessions," Professor Hill added.

Further information

  • Professor Elisabeth Hill, Goldsmiths, University of London
    Email: e.hill@gold.ac.uk
    Telephone: 020 7919 7088
  • Dr Emma Sumner, Goldsmiths, University of London
    Email: e.sumner@gold.ac.uk
    Telephone: 020 7078 5468

Notes for editors

  1. Event: Developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD) in the classroom
    Organiser: Dr Laura Crane
    Date and time: 11 November 2016, 13.15-16.15
    Audience: Educators, academics and the DCD community
  2. This event will bring together educators, academics and the developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD) community, to learn about the difficulties faced in the classroom by those with the condition, and to provide practical solutions for support in this environment. It will comprise talks and interactive sessions, as well as a poster display (all showcasing the latest research in the area and its educational implications). The event is designed to build and maintain a network of stakeholders, as well as an interactive forum and online resource centre, which can be accessed after the event.
  3. Elisabeth Hill is Professor of Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Dr Emma Sumner is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Goldsmiths, University of London. Professor Hill’s PhD focused on motor difficulties in children with developmental coordination disorder and specific language impairment (Cambridge University). Her current research focuses on the cognitive and behavioural features of a range of neurodevelopmental disorders as well as their impact on daily life, academic achievement, employment outcomes and mental health. She is also leading a project exploring the diagnostic experiences of those with autism spectrum disorder or developmental coordination disorder.
  4. The 14th annual Festival of Social Science takes place from 5-12 November 2016 with more than 250 free events nationwide. Run by the Economic and Social Research Council, the Festival provides an opportunity for anyone to meet with some of the country’s leading social scientists and discover, discuss and debate the role that research plays in everyday life. With a whole range of creative and engaging events there’s something for everyone including businesses, charities, schools and government agencies. A full programme is available online. You can also join the discussion on Twitter using #esrcfestival.
  5. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funds research into the big social and economic questions facing us today. We also develop and train the UK’s future social scientists. Our research informs public policies and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. Most importantly, it makes a real difference to all our lives. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government.
  6. The Leverhulme Trust was established by the Will of William Hesketh Lever, the founder of Lever Brothers. Since 1925 the Trust has provided grants and scholarships for research and education; today it is one of the largest all-subject providers of research funding in the UK, distributing approximately £80 million a year. Follow on Twitter @LeverhulmeTrust

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