Inadequate Natural Orientation (dyspraxia)
Dyspraxia is most commonly associated with an ‘auditory deficit disorder,’ but we also see it as ‘clumsy child syndrome’.
It affects between 2-4% of the population, and is generally considered a neurological deficit that delays or prevents the development of motor skills and coordination. Poor handwriting is only one of many possible symptoms:
Overall poor coordination. The person is clumsy, and may have a difficult time walking evenly, tying shoes, or performing any task that requires fine motor skills.
Lack of lateralisation (right-left sense). The person has difficulty distinguishing right from left and with crossing the midline of the body with either hand or foot.
Perceptual and speech difficulties. The person may have problems understanding what was said, or may have a speech impairment.
Researchers have noted that this condition is often accompanied by dyslexia, ADD, dysgraphia or maths problems. Simply put, it is the ‘clumsy form of dyslexia.’
Dyspraxia occurs when a person’s natural orientation is in a very unfavourable place. The habitual orientation is somewhere in front of the body and below the line of sight. This orientation will produce the classic symptoms of mixed hemispheric dominance of the brain, such as right-left confusion.
It can also create the effect of a midline barrier, where the individual cannot move a hand or foot across the midline of their body. The midline barrier also prevents the eyes from scanning across the midline, so it can be a barrier to perception. For such a person, half of the world is cut off. For them, the half of the world on the other side of the midline barrier simply does not exist. This anomaly doesn't affect only visual perception; it also severely distorts auditory perception so that the person may hear sounds as garbled, too loud or soft, or coming from the wrong place. This explains why the problem is often seen as an auditory deficit.
In students who have reached the age where motor skills would normally be developed, the symptoms of the midline barrier are easy to see. When they talk, they usually don't look directly at a person. If they do, one eye will often close or veer off in a different direction. They are almost always heavy on their feet and extremely clumsy. When they read, they hold the book off to one side, sometimes at a 90-degree angle. When they try to write, the paper is also placed off to one side. Often they angle the paper so that writing is vertical instead of going from left to right.
The handwriting problem that accompanies the midline barrier occurs primarily when the client must draw a letter that would cross the midline, but the problem goes way beyond that. When one looks straight at a block print capital letter A, one sees the symmetry of the letter. The diagonal lines are straight and meet in the centre at the top. The horizontal line is straight, and linked the two diagonal lines at their centres. A person with a midline barrier can't look straight at the letter; they would only be able to see half of it. To see the entire character, they need to shift the point of focus so the entire letter is on one side of the midline. In doing this, they lose the symmetry of the letter. The diagonal lines appear to be curved, and don't appear to meet at the centre of the character. The handwriting problem is caused by the perception problem. When attempting to draw the letters, the very best that can be done is to duplicate their perceptual distortions.
Taking an overview of this situation, one can conclude that the brain of this individual has never seen straight vertical or diagonal lines. The inability to look straight at them has caused a perceptual distortion. If the brain has never seen them, it cannot instruct the hand to draw them.
Even with years of practice, someone with dyspraxia won't be able to draw a straight vertical or diagonal line until they learn orientation. Turning the paper 90 degrees to write up and down helps a little, but still doesn't eliminate the need to draw the vertical and diagonal lines.
A dyspraxic child who is being taught penmanship has a handicap that the teacher doesn't see or understand. Because the child cannot see the symmetry of any letters, no amount of traditional instruction in writing will ever make a difference. It doesn't matter how many models of what the writing should look like are shown to the client. Their brain cannot accurately perceive the model images, so they will never get it right.
This writing problem is not limited to the inability to draw straight vertical or diagonal lines. Intersecting lines present an even bigger problem. The child will have extreme difficulty with letters that contain intersecting diagonal lines, like the letters A,M,V and W, because the lack of symmetry distorts the perception of the intersecting points.
Identifying this category of problem is easy, because one will see many of the obvious characteristics described above.
To narrow it down further, one could simply ask the client to draw the block print uppercase letters A and W, following a model. Better yet, to avoid confusion with the multiple mental image category, ask the client to fashion the letters A and W using plasticine ‘ropes’ by copying a model made on the table. If the problem is dyspraxia, there won't be any symmetry in the letters. The lines will not be straight, and the intersecting points will be incorrect.
If you or your child have any of these symptoms and you'd like to know if I can help you, please call me on 078234 71801 to discuss it further.