Tags: Classroom Teacher | Head of Year | SEN – Special Educational Needs | SEN provision | SENCO | Teaching & Learning Coordinator | Teaching and Learning

Michael Farrell considers a wide range of provision for pupils with development coordination disorder, or dyspraxia


Developmental coordination disorder (DCD) is considered a ‘marked impairment of motor coordination’, which ‘significantly interferes with academic achievement or activities of daily living’ and is ‘not due to a general medical condition’ (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Where the term ‘dyspraxia’ is used, definitions tend to focus on the organisation, planning and organisation of movement (Dixon and Addy, 2004). Characteristics of the motor performance of children with DCD include: slower movement time; relying more on visual information than on than proprioceptive information; and inconsistency in some aspects of motor performance in relation to other skilled movement. The child tends to fail to anticipate and use perceptual information and benefit from cues; and fails to use rehearsal strategies.

Overall curriculum level is broadly similar to that of all children but with particular emphasis in areas where motor coordination is central. These include handwriting, physical education, art, geometry and aspects of social and personal skills development; subjects where it is necessary to use tools such as technology; and laboratory work. Components within subjects that require motor coordination may also be emphasised for example handwriting in English studies. Finely grained assessment for motor development helps ensure progress is monitored.

The pupil may need guidance to adopt a good writing posture (eg Benbow, 2002). Pencil pressure may be too light or too heavy because of proprioceptive difficulties so physical tasks can be used to temporarily boost limb awareness, with beneficial effects lasting typically for about 40 minutes. Where a pupil has difficulty with eye-hand coordination, finding it hard to place the pencil on a particular point, the teacher can encourage increasingly refined movements of the hand and fingers, then of placing a pencil point (Dixon and Addy, 2004). To help form constancy, multi-sensory approaches can develop the child’s experience and understanding of shapes and sizes. The child can work on more recognisable pre-writing patterns to help develop the necessary rhythm and fluency. Letters can be taught with joins/integral exit strokes to aid learning of cursive script.

Physical education
The pupil may see a physiotherapist outside school time but there is scope for innovative work when the teacher of physical education and a physiotherapist work together planning and implementing physical education lessons to include pupils with DCD. Black and Haskins (1996) suggest ways activities can be structure to enable all pupils to participate in physical education lessons: parallel activity, inclusive adapted activity, and discrete adapted activity. For example, in a parallel activity, for ball skills, pupils play a game together but in their own way using different strategies to reach the same learning goal. To develop the skill to send and receive a ball, pairs of pupils having acquired this skill can pass the ball while moving and from several metres apart while a pupil with DCD might pass while stationary and be closer to a partner. Floor markings to indicate the paths the pupils are expected to follow help with orientation and direction.

Personal and social development
Some social skills can be taught using established behavioural techniques such as positive reinforcement of behaviours approaching what is desired or using social learning methods such as modelling. One approach is having the adult model appropriate behaviour (such as standing an optimum distance from someone one does not know well when speaking) followed by the pupil engaging in role-play to practice the skill.

False buttons above Velcro fasteners on clothing, and trousers with an elasticised waist can save time dressing and undressing for the toilet. Wet wipes rather than dry toilet tissue can clean the bottom more thoroughly and easily. A small footrest by the toilet can be useful for younger pupils so that the legs are not dangling down. In secondary school, hygiene may still be problematic. In preparing a meal a wall can opener and cutlery with thick rubber handles are possible adaptations.

Therapy, organisation and resources
Since DCD affects activities of daily living, the occupational therapist can assist the child in their daily life activities such as organisational skills, dressing, and school activities such as handwriting. The pupil may see a physiotherapist outside school time and there are good opportunities for innovative work with the teacher of physical education and a physiotherapist or occupational therapist working together. The teacher’s physical organisation of the classroom can help the child by ensuring relatively free movement around the room without unnecessary clutter. The child may sit close to the front of the class in a seat near to the entry door to avoid bumping into other children and objects. Among resources are pencil grips and illuminating pens, extra light balls and extra large bats in physical education sessions.


  • American Psychiatric Association (2000) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR). Washington DC: APA.
  • Benbow, M (2002) ‘Hand skills and Handwriting’ in Cermak, SA and Larkin, D (2002) Developmental Coordination Disorder. Albany, New York: Delmar Thompson Learning. (pp248-279).
  • Black, K and Haskins, D (1996) ‘Including all children in TOP PLAY and BT TOP SPORT’. British Journal of Physical Education, Primary PE Focus, Winter edition 9, 11.
  • Dixon, G and Addy, L M (2004) Making Inclusion Work for Children with Dyspraxia: Practical Strategies for Teachers London, Routledge-Falmer.

Dr Michael Farrell is a special education consultant whose recent books include the Effective Teachers’ Guides

This article first appeared in SENCO Update – Mar 2008

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