Newry and Mourne Dyspraxia Group aims to raise awareness of ‘hidden disability’

October 17, 2016

A newly reformed charity group are aiming to raise awareness of an often poorly misunderstood learning difficulty which is thought to affect as many as 8% of the population in Ireland.  The Newry and Mourne Dyspraxia / DCD Group reformed last month in the hope of giving parents and sufferers of the condition an outlet to discuss the difficulties of living with the condition and to provide advice via seminars, guest speakers and other experts.

Dyspraxia, also known as developmental coordination disorder (DCD), is a common disorder of childhood affecting fine and/or gross motor coordination in children and adults. It is a lifelong condition and is formally recognised by international organisations including the World Health Organisation. DCD is distinct from other motor disorders such as cerebral palsy and stroke and occurs across a range on intellectual abilities. While dyspraxia does not affect how intelligent a child is, it does affect a child’s ability to learn and often needs extra help at school.

Whilst DCD/dyspraxia is primarily a motor disorder, with messages from the brain to muscles in the body delayed, many individuals may also experience difficulties with memory, perception and processing along with poor planning, organisation and sequencing skills which can have a significant negative impact on everyday activities. It can also affect articulation and speech.   Due to its varied symptoms, it can often go undiagnosed and some parents face an uphill struggle in attaining diagnosis and educational interventions for their children. According to the Dyspraxia Foundation UK, an undiagnosed dyspraxic child is five times more likely than an average child to suffer from mental health problems by the age of 16.

Mayobridge couple Patrick Coulter and his wife Sonya, whose thirteen year old son was diagnosed with Dyspraxia in primary school,  have set up the Newry and Mourne Dyspraxia  Group in order to help parents and sufferers of this sometimes “hidden disability” to meet other families dealing with the same struggles and to raise awareness of the disorder.    Many children living with dyspraxia face social and emotional issues which can sometimes lead to bullying or isolation in school and the group hopes to provide advice and support for families dealing with these issues.

Having already experienced a huge turnout for an enlightening talk by best-selling Waterford novelist Karen Power  -who fought to attain a diagnosis for her now nineteen year old daughter –  the couple and the expanding committee for the local group intend to invite more guest speakers and experts to Newry in the coming months.  There also plans for fundraisers, day trips where families and children with Dyspraxia can interact and question and answer sessions with Special Education Needs Co-ordinators (SENCO) from local schools.  Patrick is also keen to lobby for legislation for children with Dyspraxia so that a designated, specific educational structure can be implemented for children with Dyspraxia in all schools in Northern Ireland.

One member of the group who attended last week’s monthly meeting,  which aptly fell during  Dyspraxia Awareness week (9th to 15th Oct), says she has already learned so much about her son’s disorder and picked up some invaluable advice, simply by talking to other parents about their experiences.

“A group like this is so badly needed in the area,” she said.  “Parents of children with Dyspraxia often feel that no-one else understands and the condition itself can be so hard to explain that many people just ‘don’t get it’.  Having somewhere to go where I can get advice and compare experiences has already made me more positive about being able to help my child and, with all the group’s plans in the pipeline, I really feel that the Newry and Mourne Dyspraxia/DCD Group is going to make a huge difference for children and families living with Dyspraxia.”

Affiliated with the voluntary body, Dyspraxia Ireland, the Newry and Mourne Dyspraxia/DCD Group, hopes to develop and grow in the coming months and invites anyone who could benefit from the group to come along to their next monthly meeting and get involved in raising awareness of this serious condition that deserves and needs more recognition.  Visit the Newry and Mourne Dyspraxia/DCD Group Facebook page for more information and for future meeting dates and venues.