My 12-year-old daughter has lots going for her – she is bright, funny, outgoing and popular with her peers and teachers. However, she has difficulty with organisation and some motor skills, and I am worried that this is affecting her self-esteem.
She has always found things such as doing up buttons and tying laces challenging – every teacher she has ever had has remarked on her being accident prone. When she was small, we put this down to the fact that she is left-handed but as she got older, she still wanted help with getting dressed, for example. Although she has mastered a number of complex skills – she plays the violin beautifully, is a fantastic artist, swims competitively and rock climbs – she struggles with simple things such as folding and sticking paper, plaiting her hair and sewing – she now refuses to attempt any craft activity and gets very stressed when she has to make things at school.
She also has trouble organising herself and her time and can appear dazed and slow to get started on everyday tasks. When she is doing some things – eating or packing her bag for instance – she doesn’t use her right hand at all. She has described to me feeling as if it takes her brain a while to crank up. And although she manages to complete homework OK, it can take her an age to get out what she needs and put it away again afterwards, and she often mislays equipment and loses things.
On top of this, she has suffered from mild vocal and motor tics over the past two years – mainly small noises from her throat, clicking her knuckles and nose twitching. These tend not to be very noticeable and she can go for months without them, but I can’t help feeling that they are connected in some way to her difficulty with organisation and motor skills.
I have spoken to the GP and her teachers, but feel that no one takes my concerns seriously. The GP said she would most likely grow out of the tics and because she does so well academically, the school thinks she just needs to “get her act together”. On the face of it, my daughter is a highly able pupil who excels in sport and music – but she genuinely struggles with tasks that most people find easy. Now at high school, she has started getting into trouble for being slow dressing for PE and late for classes, as well as failing to complete craft projects. She has always loved school, but this is making her stressed and her tics have returned. Could these things be connected and how can I help her?
When did you last visit the GP and speak to the school? High school is a far more complex environment for children and it is not fair that your daughter is being told off for being slow and not completing tasks if she cannot help it. This is just going to add to her anxiety.
I would also like you to go back to the GP – or perhaps a different GP – and get them to look at why your daughter doesn’t use her right hand. It could be as simple as she finds it slower, being left-handed, but I still think it’s worth a second look.
The other thing to think about, while still revisiting the GP, is whether she might have dyspraxia. If she has, it would be really helpful for her to be diagnosed so she can access resources and support – dyspraxia is diagnosed by a process of exclusion.
I consulted Sally Payne from the Dyspraxia Foundation (dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk), who explained that people with dyspraxia have their brains wired slightly differently and the messages don’t get through as efficiently. She said that, as we grow, our brains go through a process of “neural pruning” so that we do certain things more efficiently and are more coordinated; in people with dyspraxia that pruning doesn’t happen quite so well. People with dyspraxia do usually manage to do the things they want to, it just takes them a bit longer. It is not unusual for them to be able to do certain things really well – as you’ve seen in your daughter. And it’s no reflection of intellect.
Tics can be an expression of anxiety, “an expression of the huge effort they have to put in [to do tasks they find difficult],” says Payne.
Things to look at in the meantime: what does your daughter do well? How important are the things she struggles with and can you jettison some of them if they are causing her stress? Concentrate on the things that matter to her if she needs to work on certain things rather than have her put her energies into things that don’t matter so much. In other words: help her focus her efforts.
That said, it may not be dyspraxia, this is just one line for you to follow and this is where your GP and the school need consulting.
This article first appeared in The Guardian on 25 September 2015.