Improving Confidence and Coordination of Dyspraxic Children Through Sports

Children with Dyspraxia, also called Perceptuo-Motor Dysfunction, Motor Learning Difficulties, and Developmental Coordination Disorder, can often feel the frustration of clumsiness. Yet, it goes far beyond being a clumsy child, since the disorder is often accompanied by other learning difficulties.
Dyspraxia affects five percent of children, causing them to be “out of sync” with the world around them. It often comes with language, perception, and processing  difficulties. It can be hard for these children to plan complex movements, yet that does not mean that athletics and other kinds of physical activity are beyond them.
Look, Listen, Learn
Studies show that imitative learning is a key component for children with learning disabilities, and this kind of “monkey see, monkey do” approach is rooted in the heart of how humans learn. But, because dyspraxia is often accompanied by other learning disabilities and delayed language development, sometimes kids can end up becoming isolated from their peers.
That is why it is important to have a safe space for these children to try and learn new things. A coach or trainer can create a space where not only is the objective modelled, but it is safe to fail.
The key component, besides the emotional safety of the environment, is the modelling of the objectives in a way that breaks them down into smaller pieces of skills that can be imitated. This method allows for a greater mastery of the gross skills involved before moving on to finer motor skills.
Case in Point
I was working with a 13-year-old boy who was on the autism spectrum, meaning he had problems with social skills, communication, empathy and behavior which included ADHD and dyspraxia. I used badminton to build his confidence and improve his coordination.
Step 1: Spark their interest
Initially, I took on the role of playmate to get the child comfortable with me.
Step 2: Gross motor skills development
Teaching him how to properly grip the racket and swing it around helped develop his strength and familiarity with the game.
Step 3: Fine motor skills development
Next we worked on bouncing the “birdie” off the racket to improve hand-eye coordination.
Step 4: Excite and encourage
We then played backyard-style badminton without a net. This allowed the boy to move around and be comfortable without worrying about interference from the net.
After just five sessions of working with this young boy, he progressed from being unable to bounce the shuttlecock on the racket to playing a simple rally and serving across court!
Emotional and social health is essential for children, and even those with dyspraxia can achieve both when given the help and confidence they need. Learning to improve motor skills can have a far reaching impact on these children, especially when it comes to fitting in with their peers. Without help, most children afflicted with dyspraxia will not see improvement of their motor skills … so we must intervene as early as possible!