Research has shown that children with dyspraxia do not ‘outgrow’ the condition, and that they are at greater risk of developing significant physical, social, and mental health issues. Nearly all school activities, especially when children are young, are motor activities. For pupils with dyspraxia, motor-based school activities require tremendous effort and often lead to avoidance and a lack of success. Changes to learning environments including the classroom, playground, and gymnasium, along with adaptations to learning tools can help pupils with dyspraxia to complete their work, demonstrate their learning progress, and meet curriculum requirements at their phase. Little changes can make a big difference. It is critical for educators to M.A.T.C.H.children’s abilities with learning tasks to help them to be successful. M.A.T.C.H. stands for Modify the task, Alter expectations, Teach strategies, Change the environment and Help by understanding. The M.A.T.C.H. strategies are outlined in more detail below.

Identifying Dyspraxia in the Classroom

  • The child with dyspraxia may:
    • appear clumsy or awkward
    • bump into other pupils or classroom objects such as desk or chair legs, or spill/knock things over frequently
    • experience challenges with gross motor skills such as running, hopping, skipping, initiating a jump from a small height, climbing
    • experience difficulty with fine motor skills including changing clothes, tying shoe laces, doing up buttons or zips
    • have difficulty with printing or handwriting
    • demonstrate a discrepancy between motor abilities and other abilities (i.e. strong intellectual and language abilities but delayed motor skills)
    • have difficulty adjusting his/her movements in response to changes in the environment (for example, gradually slowing down a movement, or changing direction quickly)
    • have difficulty determining the right amount of force and direction to throw an object or ball towards a target
    • experience challenges when learning new motor skills; once learned, certain motor skills may be performed quite well while others may be performed poorly
    • avoid motor-based tasks that require physical activity
    • demonstrate low frustration tolerance, decreased self-esteem, lack of motivation
    • For more on what you might observe, click here.
    • Content adapted by Lisa Rivard (2017) with permission from: Missiuna, C., Rivard, L., & Pollock, N. (2011). Children with Developmental Coordination Disorder: At home, at school, and in the community. CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research, McMaster University.

5 Strategies to M.A.T.C.H. for Success

  • MODIFY the task: Wherever possible, change parts of a task that are challenging, so pupils can still participate in a meaningful way.
  • ALTER expectations: Emphasize activity goals rather than process. Be flexible – allow extra time or a different way of completing a task that will promote success.
  • TEACH strategies: Use instructional approaches designed specifically for children with additional learning needs that may also assist children with dyspraxia.
  • CHANGE the environment: Minimize factors such as noise, visual distractions in the learning environment that may impact learning success.
  • HELP by understanding: Understanding dyspraxia will help you problem solve when there are learning challenges, will help pupils and families feel supported and encourage pupil engagement in learning.
  • For specific examples of the M.A.T.C.H. strategies above applied by phase, click here.
  • Content adapted by Lisa Rivard (2017) with permission from: Missiuna, C., & Pollock, N. Children with Motor Difficulties: A Resource for Educators (MATCH flyers by phase), CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research, McMaster University.

Tips for the Classroom

  • Reduce the amount of writing required and allow extra time to complete written assignments – decrease the motor part of the task without changing the cognitive expectations. Having a child draw a story instead of writing it doesn’t change the motor output for the child and decreases the cognitive expectations. But having a child tell you a story, dictate a story into a tape recorder, work in a pair with one child ‘reporting’ and the other ‘scribing’, and/or having a parent scribe for the child, would all accomplish the cognitive goals while reducing the motor effort required.
  • Introduce a computer/keyboard as soon as possible and use computer software for word prediction, read back, speech recognition, and graphic organisation – children learn the repetitive motor movements required to push computer keys which stay in the same position more easily than they learn how to monitor their hands during handwriting as they move across a page. Typing can be taught to children as young as 6 or 7 years which will prepare them for the increased writing expectations as they get older.
  • Photocopy maths questions – pupils with dyspraxia often have difficulties lining up maths questions and may be very slow when copying numbers/maths questions from either a text or the board. The effort expended reduces their attention to understanding the maths concept. When maths questions are photocopied the child only has to work on writing the answer.
  • Spell aloud/dictate words, use fill-in-the-blank methods – children who are struggling to form letters correctly cannot concentrate on new spelling words. To reduce the effort, spelling aloud, dictating words, and fill-in-the-blank methods are all preferable to the child having to print a full sentence for each spelling word.
  • Pair with another pupil for classroom projects (science, social studies) that involve cutting/gluing – have the other pupil complete the motor parts of the task with the child with dyspraxia still contributing to the “thinking” or “idea generating” part of the task.
  • Avoid small manipulatives (buttons, popcorn kernels) for counting activities – these are difficult for children with dyspraxia to handle and may cause significant frustration and/or avoidance of the activities altogether.
  • Investigate and employ alternative ways to teach concepts and assess academic abilities that don’t rely heavily on motor output and competency.
  • For more tips for the classroom and classroom accommodations, click here and here.
  • Content adapted by Lisa Rivard (2017) with permission from: Pollock, N., & Missiuna, C. (2007). Succeeding at school: Accommodations for students with coordination difficulties. CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research, McMaster University.

Tips for Changing for PE Lessons

  • Provide extra time and/or assistance from an older pupil when dressing – challenges with self-care activities such as dressing mean that pupils with dyspraxia are often the last to get themselves ready when going out to the playground. This is particularly evident when children need to put on and take off winter clothing. As a result, children with dyspraxia can miss entire break times then miss further opportunities for physical play and social interaction.
  • Ensure children have a bench or safe location to sit while dressing – balance difficulties mean that children with dyspraxia may need to sit while putting on trousers so that they don’t fall and so that they don’t bump into others around them.
  • Use easy fasteners – Velcro on shoes, and using trousers and shirts without buttons (jogging bottoms/sweat shirt) will also be very beneficial for the child with dyspraxia.
  • For more tips for dressing and self-care, click here.
  • Content adapted by Lisa Rivard (2017) with permission from: Missiuna, C., Rivard, L., & Pollock, N. (2011). Children with Developmental Coordination Disorder: At home, at school, and in the community. CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research, McMaster Univeristy.

Tips for PE Lessons

  • Focus on fun, effort, participation and individual progress. While it can be challenging to apply the classroom concepts above to physical education where the measurement of motor ability is the emphasis, it is still possible to find ways to encourage pupils with dyspraxia to develop their motor skills to the next level, improve their physical fitness, develop their self-esteem, and overall ability to participate actively with their peers. Non-competitive games can be a useful way to meet these objectives.
  • Divide the class into smaller groups when practicing new motor skills – this decreases the number of obstacles for the pupil with dyspraxia to manoeuvre around, and allows grouping of children with similar abilities together so they can learn from one another.
  • Have the pupil with dyspraxia be your model when teaching a new skill to the class – this gives the child with dyspraxia first-hand experience with the skill before they need to practice on their own.
  • Use beanbags, Nerf balls, large balls when working on ball skills – to enhance safety for the child with dyspraxia who has difficulty trapping the ball when trying to catch it and who may be slower to react.
  • Encourage activities with stable environments – lifestyle sports such as track running, stationary cycling (see more examples by age here) are areas where children with dyspraxia are most likely to be successful and will promote physical activity for long-term fitness and health.
  • Ask questions to ensure understanding of the task/prompt children to think about important aspects of the task and their body position – “Is your body where it needs to be?” “What happens when you bounce the ball harder?” These will help the pupil with dyspraxia to pay attention to aspects of the task that they are missing or which are challenging for him/her.
  • Describe movements with words, use language to prompt required movements – “arms up”, “elbows straight”, “feet shoulder width apart”. Using language helps the child with dyspraxia use their strong verbal abilities and apply these to the learning of a new motor skill. Doing so also encourages their success with the task not only in the moment but in subsequent sessions and when either the task or environment are changed slightly.
  • For more tips for physical education, click here.
  • Content adapted by Lisa Rivard (2017) with permission from: Rivard, L., & Missiuna, C. (2004). Encouraging participation in physical activities for children with developmental coordination disorder. CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research, McMaster University.

Tips for Outside Play

  • Introduce pupils to outdoor playground equipment on an individual basis – doing so will increase their motivation to try the equipment independently. From an early age, children with dyspraxia tend to avoid playground equipment and therefore do not learn or have the experience of discovering how the equipment can be used. Teaching them how to use the equipment when in a relaxed environment will also be beneficial. When other children are using equipment simultaneously, this creates a more complex environment as children with dyspraxia must learn to manoeuvre around their moving peers.
  • Guide pupils with dyspraxia to also participate in activities such as running, tag, or hopscotch – these activities are more likely to promote success compared with ball games. The goal is always to promote feelings of self-worth in children with dyspraxia and to reward their effort and participation.
  • For more tips for outside play, click here. To encourage physical participation more generally, click here.
  • Content adapted by Lisa Rivard (2017) with permission from: 1) Missiuna, C., Rivard, L., & Pollock, N. (2011). Children with Developmental Coordination Disorder: At home, at school, and in the community. CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research, McMaster Univeristy. 2) Rivard, L., & Missiuna, C. (2004). Encouraging participation in physical activities for children with developmental coordination disorder. CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research, McMaster University.