Education Quandary

'My 11-year-old daughter has just been diagnosed as dyspraxic but her teachers don't seem to take her problems seriously'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

Hilary's advice

Dyspraxia is an impairment in the brain's ability to plan actions and carry them out, which makes it hard for a child to do things like drawing, writing, doing up buttons, and other activities requiring fine motor skill. Any action that needs coordination, such as kicking or throwing a ball, is also affected. A mildly dyspraxic child might be clumsy; a severely dyspraxic one has major problems.

But dyspraxia is also connected to dyslexia, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and Asperger's syndrome. The problem is not unusual. The Dyspraxia Foundation says that 10 per cent of the population is affected to some degree, while two per cent are affected severely, although boys are four times more likely to show symptoms than girls.

Your daughter's problems should have been spotted earlier, but special needs are often overlooked. Because of this, parents need to be vigilant and ask for help if they think there is a problem: a survey found that they were two-and-a-half times more likely to identify dyspraxia than teachers. The same survey showed that parents were often made to believe that their dyspraxic child was disorganised, lazy or stupid, or that they, as parents, were fussy, overprotective or unable to accept their child wasn't bright.

It is probably too late to worry much about primary school, but you must get your daughter's secondary teachers to take the situation seriously. Arm yourself with information, ask for a meeting with the special needs coordinator, and talk through your daughter's needs. Try to remain calm and reasonable, even though the issues are loaded. Educational support should be available. If it isn't, nag for it, going to the head and the governors if need be. If you think your daughter needs more help than is on offer, find out how to get a statement of special educational needs on the Department of Education's parents' website, www.parentcentre.gov.uk.

Encouragement is the thing that most builds confidence. Offer lashings of it at home, along with structured help. The educational psychologist who diagnosed her, and any therapists who work with her, ought to be able to advise you. Mine the internet for information, keeping an open mind about the therapies on offer: you need to evaluate their costs and claims objectively. Above all, join a support group. The Dyspraxia Foundation (01462 454986; www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk) has details.

Readers' advice

My nine-year-old son is dyspraxic and dyslexic. We were fortunate to have a supportive school and to find immediate therapy. I do some of the exercises the therapist has taught me with my son at home.

I purchased some equipment that has made it fun. For £17 we bought a mini-trampoline and for £6 a Swiss exercise ball. Bouncing on the trampoline and rolling on the ball for a few minutes every day helps. Get your daughter to sit on the ball while doing homework - it's great for posture and balance. Put a straight line of masking tape on the floor and get her to walk it like a tight-rope. Go to the park and swing, or visit the local pool.
Cindy Hanegraaf, London SW6

There are various organisations offering advice for dyspraxic children. On the internet, try sites for developmental coordination disorders as they are more commonly used by professionals. The Dyspraxia Foundation and Wilson Stuart Outreach offer practical advice.
Sue Daborn, Shropshire

Where has the mother been all these years? She is right that this should have been spotted sooner, but by whom? Primary-school classes are still large. How is the teacher to spot a dyspraxic pupil when she or he probably has dyslexics, disruptive children and all kinds of other dysfunctional or medication-dependent pupils in the class?
Irmgard Green, Stoke on Trent

Next week's quandary

Are we losing sight of what schools are for? The Government tells them to teach children to be nice to each other. Professor Richard Layard, of the LSE, says they should teach children how to be happy. Is this just more mumbo-jumbo?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 14 March, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser

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