Why Is Dyspraxia So Emotionally Draining For Your Child?
Takeaway: Dyspraxia makes every little task much harder. And this can leave your child feeling upset, frustrated, and demoralised about seeming so ‘limited.’ But you can help by showing her how to work around her difficulties and develop a growth mindset.
Dyspraxia affects a child’s coordination – both physical and mental.
‘Dyspraxia’ (or developmental coordination disorder) is the term we use to describe a particular kind of difference in the way some children’s brains work. And this difference leads to coordination issues – either physical coordination issues (e.g., catching a ball, climbing stairs, using utensils), speech issues (e.g., coordinating the lips and tongue to speak), or thinking issues (specifically to do with planning and organising). These issues occur because brains with dyspraxia transmit messages differently – particularly when sending messages from one side of the brain to the other. (Learn more about dyspraxia.)
Dyspraxia makes it harder for children to create and refine ‘mental blueprints’ to coordinate their movements.
Our brains use mental blueprints to automate everyday movements. For example, let’s look at the simple task of writing something down. Here, you’ll have to take in sensory input from your eyes (e.g., the angle of the pen on the page) and body (e.g., the feel of the pen in your hand), process it, and then decide how to react (e.g., how much harder should you contract your hand muscles?). We do hundreds of these sorts of actions every day, so consciously thinking through each step would be a waste of time. But a mental blueprint groups these movements and puts them on autopilot – like a computer shortcut-key combination. That’s why the more we do something – e.g., driving a car – the easier it becomes. We’re creating a mental blueprint to make the actions effortless through trial and error. Unfortunately, dyspraxia gets in the way of making these blueprints, which is why your child struggles with coordination and movement.
This ‘blueprint sabotage’ means that your child has to face a string of inconveniences throughout the day.
Compared to her friends, your child will likely take longer to get dressed (especially tying her shoelaces or doing up buttons), find it harder to take notes in class, and struggle more to learn new games on the playground. She’ll also likely have to mentally talk herself through anything that requires coordination – even something as simple as packing her bag. (Remember, without a mental blueprint, each activity becomes a conscious effort.) She might even create her own techniques – e.g., a rhyme or mnemonic – to help her remember a task’s sub-steps. And often, she’ll have to find other ways of doing everyday things – e.g., using a keyboard instead of trying (and failing) to improve her handwriting.
But more than the challenges, it’s the emotional struggle that can be the most damaging.
Dyspraxia takes over your child’s life so completely that it will likely affect her mentally and emotionally. Consciously thinking through so many small tasks will leave her stressed. Not being able to play with her friends will make her feel isolated. Publicly struggling with activities (e.g., eating slightly messily at a restaurant) will be embarrassing. And falling behind in class – because she finds it harder to organise her thoughts – can be very demoralising.
That’s why many children with dyspraxia are often anxious and worn out.
All these strong emotions can overwhelm your child, making her very anxious. And she might deal with this anxiety by clinging to you more, avoiding particular activities and responsibilities, or having frequent meltdowns. More challenging still, some children with dyspraxia also have ADHD – making it even harder to focus on tasks and control emotions. Understandably, all of this usually chips away at a child’s self-image, making her feel incapable – even though she’s intelligent and filled with so much potential. (To get a taste of what all this is like, recall how you felt after your last long, tiring, and stressful day. Children with dyspraxia feel like this almost all the time!)
So, as parents, what can we do? Well, let’s start with the practical solutions.
It’s not like your child’s challenges are there because she’s not trying hard enough. So, rather than ploughing through problem areas, she needs to practise working around them. For example, to help with her mental organisation, you can make sure to give clear, stepwise instructions – perhaps demonstrating what she needs to do, when possible. You can also repeat instructions or information, if required, or help her record them to refer to later. (Visual aids like bulleted and/or colour-coded lists, mind maps, and flowcharts work well here.) For her writing difficulties, have her try using broad-barrelled pens (for a better grip) and felt-tips (for smoother ink release). Or she can minimise writing altogether by switching to a dyspraxia-friendly keyboard and asking for printouts of class notes. Crucially, you’ll want to give her extra time to finish tasks and help out when she’s struggling. Of course, the trick is to know when to push her and when to ease up.
To help your child emotionally, you’ll want to reinforce a growth mindset.
Dyspraxia doesn’t ‘go away,’ so your child will struggle with simple activities even after years of practice. But that doesn’t have to be a problem if she learns to celebrate and build on her successes. So, getting dressed might be mentally exhausting, but it’s what sets her up for a fun day. Similarly, having a meltdown might seem like a failure, but at least she tried to face that new, scary challenge. With this sort of mental training, she’ll develop a growth mindset which will make her more resilient. You have an important role in all this, though. You’ll need to stay patient by reminding yourself that she’s trying her best and not purposely messing up or ignoring instructions. Many parents find that using the phrase, “There’s no rush. Take your time,” gives them and their child a chance to reset emotionally and try again.
Children don’t outgrow dyspraxia, but if they’re diagnosed early, there’s a lot we can do to help.
Your support at home makes a big difference, but your child will likely also need the help of a specialist. For example, an occupational therapist can give her exercises to improve coordination, a speech therapist can help her speak more clearly, and a child psychologist can teach her to regulate emotions better. At The Ed Psych Practice, we offer face-to-face and online assessments, consultation, advice, and problem-solving strategies for parents, nurseries, schools, and universities in London. We have psychologists, paediatricians, and therapists who can help assess your child and offer guidance and support. To consult with us or set up an appointment:
- Phone: +44 (0) 78 3344 7356
- E-mail: Office@TheEdPsych.com
Want to see how else you can help your child? You might enjoy some of our other posts.
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