Sunday, 16 February 2014

Schooldays Were Not My Best Days by , Dyslexia Toby © 2014

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School was difficult for me from a very early age… what my peers took in in seconds it took me minutes and this left me in a position where I fell way behind.  I just didn’t get the complete academic picture and I got the feeling from day one that the teachers held me in far from high regard.  I tried to tell them how it was one big struggle but they never listened.

I do have to admit though that I did find some subjects interesting and others that were taught by teachers with interest… geography, history and music… art was okay too!

I also knew there was no way out… I had to attend school, even if it meant just going through the motions most of the time.  With dyspraxia and also at that point having a distinct difference from almost all of the students in the school and not having the benefit of diagnosis, it was hard most of the time.

We were a big family, at the time there were 4 boys and 2 girls, so we had to be independent and being ready for school meant just that… no help from anyone but myself… school bag, polished shoes and gleaming white teeth and scrubbed hands, as these were checked by the teacher and, guess what, I would always forget something… pencil, rubber, ruler and that would get the teachers back up straight away.  Although dyspraxia was unheard of, we would have been known as clumsy children (clumsy child syndrome), tripping over the slightest thing or spilling water during art or lunch.

I went to the same school for the first few years and that brought about security and routine which are so very important to dyspraxics… we need to know what is happening from day to day.  Mum worked from home so we had that level of stability, but we used to walk to school and that had its own perils, especially in winter… it was downhill all the way and there was a main road to cross at the bottom.

I can remember physical education and going into the gym… I just couldn’t roll or do hand stands like the other kids… even balancing on one leg was hard and, on occasions, still is!  It made me feel different, very different.  We had swimming lessons which came about 3 years after I had been thrown in a swimming pool and nearly drowned!  Again, technique was against me… I could just about master the breast stroke, the front crawl and butterfly was never within my grasp… far too much to remember and co-ordinate.  This all led me to have very low self-esteem.

 How can we be wiser after the event?   We can help those through the things that we struggled with.

Many of the specific learning needs  would be a life time condition and dyspraxia would be no different, but there are many things we can do to improve our life and by practising certain skill sets, we see the effects of dyspraxia mellowing with age and so many of us going on to achieve great things.

 Do look out for missed milestones and work to close any gaps as soon as possible.

 I was recently talking to my father and he said if only he had realised how hard life was for me back then, he would have done so much more.  Get your child into clubs and, if funds permit, get one to one tuition for certain important things like swimming.  The rule with specific learning needs is to give four times longer to grasp instruction and demonstrations are the best way to explain, as we learn visually as most of us would be right brained.

If you have concerns, it’s worth talking to your school and GP about getting help as early as possible and this will minimise frustration and meltdowns and, of course, isolation if left until the teen years kick in.

Work with your child on reinforcing routines through play and role play… this will also create a huge bond.  Memory games are also great, as short term rather than long term memory is an area of weakness (long term is always strong)… it won’t be long before you start to see improvements and allow for small hiccups as concentration has to be at 120%. Make sure you discipline yourself to keep to the routine… your child will be depending on you and it will be well worth all the effort on both parts.

Exercise is a great thing and certainly helps with developing core muscles which in turn reduces fatigue, something us dyspraxics suffer with.

It’s important when teaching them a new skill to be verbally and visually repetitive and practice truly makes progress.

Because we tend to be slightly less mature age for age with our peers (around two or three years), social interaction and our social skill sets are generally less mature than our chronological peers. This at times lead me into the hands of bullies.  We all feel the need to belong and older children can see us as easy targets and can also use us as a tool in school (getting us to do things they wouldn’t so we get into trouble), etc. and this is something parents should be aware of, as many schools don’t see this vulnerability and we get blamed for causing disruption/trouble.  It was a problem for me throughout school and being tall for my age made things worse again.

 We can also present with lack of volume control and also spatial awareness and many feel uncomfortable with us being in their space… it is necessary to persevere with building our social circle and this can be eased by talking to parents of our friends.  A good book on this is ‘My Friend Has Dyspraxia’ by Nicola Edwards.  It is currently out of print but worth getting hold of a secondhand copy.

How can we steer others to help with our children (schools and family members)?

We tend to confuse our close family members… we can keep things together when we are in company for short periods and many would tell parents of children with dyspraxia that they are imagining it.  It’s only when they look after our children for prolonged periods that they see the problems that we face day to day.

We need to take things much slower and, as mentioned, we need far higher levels of concentration and we should refrain from trying to multi-task until we are happy that we have mastered a task.

Supervision needs to be tight around areas of possible danger and we should almost take it for granted that our maturity levels are around 2-3 years below our chronological age… so if you have a 13 year old, allow them to do tasks that a 10 year old without dyspraxia would do.

Don’t underestimate our strengths as we will succeed in the end… it just takes us a little longer. Resource them where necessary… a means to anchor their feet when sitting is a good idea, a rung across underneath the table/desk for example.   Writing slopes also help as they can view the board and their workbook… allow them to do warm up exercises with their fingers to help with hand writing, allow breaks in writing to avoid tired hands, allow water bottles in class to prevent dehydration and cramps and allow them to get up and stretch.

It’s also important to seat children with dyspraxia away from distractions, students or windows… if they appear to be distracted it’s not deliberate, it’s dyspraxia!

Always explain what you want them to do and build a comfortable relationship that allows them to tell you when they are struggling.  Make sure that their resource time is taken when they are doing lessons that they are exempt from, such as languages and not during important lessons like Maths or English.  Get the SNA to help diarise and plan homework and projects.

If you find it hard to get your head round what dyspraxia means to each and every one of us, do read ‘Caged in Chaos’ - an account by a teenage girl who battled those early years and came good.

And always remember give lots of praise, be constructive in anything that concerns you and always remember… praxis makes perfect.

N.b.All our articles are for information purposes only, we use research and the work of others within the team and in the area of specific learning needs and we always advise parents to seek professional advice on any issue that may concern them.


Monday, 3 February 2014

Troubled Sleep in Children with Specific Learning Needs by  Dyslexia Toby © 2014

A sleep disorder can be temporary or more long term/habitual.  This can be known as somnipathy, which is a medical disorder that affects our sleep patterns.

Disturbed sleep can cause the same problems if it persists and this can lead to somnipathy and it may be severe enough to interfere with a person’s normal physical, mental and emotional functioning! Meltdowns/tantrums could well be the result of lack of sleep.

There are very strong links between childhood sleep disorders and behaviour, lack of concentration and mood swings. Sleep disorders that are directly caused by behavioural factors (eg. sleep-onset association disorder) can present in some children with specific learning needs. Invariably, sleep deprivation increases the chances of  meltdowns and this can have a significant impact on families.

Some sleep disorders are serious enough and known to interfere with physical, mental and emotional routines.  In cases that are causing noticeable problems, a sleep study/test (Polysomnography Test) can be recommended by your GP/Consultant.

Insomnia can also cause problems, due to falling asleep at times when you are relaxed (symptoms need to go beyond 4 weeks before the GP will intervene) and then at the allotted time you cannot sleep due to things flooding the mind. This, however, is more apparent in adults.

What is a reasonable amount of sleep required to carry out normal routines in childhood? Children of 5–13 years require about 10 hours sleep, and those aged 14–18 years need about 8 hours. These levels are the minimum required and if involved in physical exercise, they should take more rest.
The amount of sleep a person needs will vary from individual to individual, but most people require around eight hours.

We don’t fully understand how we came to require around seven to eight hours of rest per night (just to add, catching up is a bit of a fallacy). It is thought by many professionals in this field that it is down to build, muscle size and fat stores. We tend to go into partial hibernation in the winter months and spend longer sleeping. A lot takes place in these hours of rest, children’s growth hormones become very active, as do our repair and replenishment function (skin replacement and general healing).

So, what causes our sleep to be disturbed? Not winding down is one and this can be caused by the run up to bed time…home work should be well finished by tea time, any revision after this point will lead to the mind being occupied and the chance of a good night’s rest will be compromised, making the following day more challenging.

SPD (teeth grinding) is another possibility, along with dehydration and lack of air…many children with dyspraxia tend to breathe through their mouths which dries the mouth out and can also cause snoring. This may also result in headaches (drink a good few glasses of water a day).
Sugar is another cause of hyper activity and lack of sleep. Caffeine (stimulants) should not be consumed after 17.00.

Children, like adults, need to unwind and creating a relaxed, noise free atmosphere is a must. Let them chat about their day and also encourage them to keep a reflective diary, as this will dump information into their long term memory. Try to avoid giving them information about special occasions until the day…how many children have trouble sleeping before a birthday or Christmas?!

Sleep could be, and often is, thrown out of sync due to lack of a stable routine and the body clock being altered through certain habits, such as allowing  a child to routinely fall asleep watching telly during the day (with exceptions like illness).  For example, a parent might be working night shifts and nods off and the child relaxes and does likewise (eg. on the couch with the parent). Also, getting up late in the day becomes self-perpetuating, this will lead to difficulties in getting to wind down and sleep in the evening or can even cause problems due to being in a light sleep and waking during the night. Even during school holidays the routine should still be in place, stability and regularity are one thing that are needed to correct and maintain good sleep patterns.

By around the age of two, if a child wakes in the night it should have the ability to be self-soothing and able to settle again. Separation anxiety can also lead to sleep disorders and it is always a good idea not to share your child’s bed or let them share yours. You can wean a child off this and one good way is to substitute you with a favourite teddy or doll…allow the surrogate to share the meal table, watch TV with you and even go out on family trips. A trust will build very quickly and when the child has to separate from you for socialising or sleep, it will bring a great feeling of security. This will also help with children that have recurring bad dreams…it’s no harm to record dates and details of the bad dreams or broken sleep patterns and try to identify triggers or see if a pattern emerges…watching adult TV/movies is a big factor.

All this has a knock-on effect on the ability to maintain concentration and discipline during school time…this is something the school might not pick up on as they may only notice lethargy or bad behaviour and not lack of sleep. 

Teenagers have a greater problem in this area and their lifestyle so often exacerbates poor sleep routines. Social networking means that teens can communicate with their friends well into the night and many would never see this as the cause of their lack of motivation during school times and even the weekends.

The problems tend to increase in the summer due to the bright evenings and increased noise which travels greater distances through the thinner air.

Conditions have to be right for all children to sleep… young children don’t have the ability to regulate temperature until they are around eight years of age, so room/body temperature can be a problem.

Maintain a good sleep routine, even during holidays.
Keep your children hydrated during the day and reduce sugars and caffeines.
Make sure the bedroom has plenty of air and is noise free.
Use blackout curtains and, if needs be, acquire a soothing night light.
Wind your children down…don’t let them play with gaming machines just before bed.
Avoid homework in the evening, this should all be finished by tea time.
If they are young, read a story and one that will relax them.
Don’t share their bed, sit on the edge or in a chair.
You can also use specialist relaxation CD’s.
Record disturbed sleep patterns and try to see if there is a trigger.
Don’t let them share your bed…if they can’t settle, stay in their room until they do.

If you want to reduce tantrums/meltdowns, etc. persevere and they will very soon get back into a settled sleep pattern.

Don’t be fooled by a child that has his or her eyes shut, they could be sat up the second they think the coast is clear!

Sleep is vital for restoring mental energy. We spend all day learning, thinking and creating, this all helps to deplete our energy reserves. And during our hours of sleep we process this information, for the most part in a harmless way (dreams) and sometimes the opposite…(nightmares).

You and your children’s bodies are like a well-oiled machine and rest is required by each and every one of us. We don’t know for sure exactly how much sleep we all need, but we sure know the consequences if we, or our children, have too little.

 This article was written for guidance purpose only and, as with all things that cause concern professional advice should always be sought.