One size doesn’t fit all: Amanda Kirby Presents

DAS was privileged once again to have Professor Amanda Kirby sharing comprehensive information and tips on supporting children with Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in small group teaching sessions with our DAS Educational Therapists. Professor Kirby is an expert in DCD also known as Dyspraxia and related specific learning difficulties. Certainly, her insights are invaluable for educators as well as parents.

Overlapping of Learning Difficulties

As our students come in different sizes and personalities so do their learning difficulties: It is in our realm as educational therapists to manage other symptoms other than dyslexia for the learning process to be effective. We were reminded that even symptoms that are not diagnosed are still symptoms that are portrayed within the classrooms, and because of that, it is important to address the issues rather than to evade them.

Presently, all over the world, dyslexia has the tendency to be the learning difficulty that is magnified by parents and educators mainly because it impacts upon academic work, although at times, it may not be the primary difficulty a child is experiencing.

For instance, when it comes to reading and writing notes, there are many skills that are needed before one can perform the above tasks.
Some of the skills that are required are:

  • postural control
  • decoding
  • letter formation
  • summarizing
  • background knowledge of the material to make meta-cognitive links
  • visual/motor
  • executive functioning to sequence and prioritize
  • good working memory attention
  • automacy of fine/gross motor
  • interest
  • motivation and self-regulation

The ability to read and write encompasses skills that are not only dyslexia related, but also entails other areas where the child may have difficulties in. Children may come to the DAS for dyslexia (reading/spelling) but they may have other multiple diagnoses that defines their learning difference. In fact, overlapping of learning difficulties is not a new problem, DCD, ADHD and Dyslexia often overlap and educators should not be surprised by this Educators are expected to
use and develop strategies that address these issues within their teaching practices.

Learning in a Dynamic System

Thus, it is crucial to distinguish how learning occurs. Professor Kirby shared with us that learning occurs in a dynamic system. Learning is as much about the educator and the teaching methods they employ as it is about the child. The chief factors which can affect outcomes are the environment in which activity occurs as well as the manner and presentation of the teaching.

Therefore, each of these factors can be manipulated to achieve the optimum outcomes. The importance of this system is that educators need to be alert to the difficulties that a child may have and then alter the specific environment or manner of presentation to help the child with the connection to their learning.

For example, common motor associated issues faced by students with co-ordination difficulties are that they need stability to write and they are more prone to tiredness and fatigue. Often, educators tend to underestimate these problems. Environmental aspects like the design of furniture for posture in the classrooms may easily affect them.

Additionally, children normally do not have enough time to improve fine motor skills (handwriting) within a busy classroom schedule; therefore, the manner in which support can be provided needs to be actually embedded in their everyday life/school instead. Even a five-minute per day activity can make a difference to these children. Parents can also weave in motor skills activities within the daily chores like hanging clothes out to dry with cloth pegs or transferring rice into a storage using a container to improve their fine motor skills.

Children with ADHD can be assisted by using tools like a time keeper or clock in the classroom to help them with time management. In writing, they will need lots of scaffolding and framework to drop in the information they know. Their sitting arrangement in class or study area can be adjusted in such a way that they are facing a wall within their own space so as to reduce the distractions. In some class settings, they may even be given a set of headphones with soothing music to reduce the background noise that they may be very sensitive to while doing work or studying.

The M.A.T.C.H! Approach

Professor Kirby introduced M. A. T. C. H to recognise the importance of the dynamic learning system for educators as well as parents.

  • Modify the task
  • Alter your expectations
  • Teach strategies
  • Change the environment
  • Help by understanding

To understand the child better, we need to examine the child’s needs and motivation. Deconstruct why the child has difficulties and ask the child what they would most like to improve as well as how do they feel about the different tasks they need to do in school and why. A child needs to have meaning in order for them to feel motivated. Hence, when we explore the child’s goal, we also need to look at the other things that surround the literacy so that children will be able to absorb the strategies that we are teaching them more effectively.

Lastly, we need to always remind ourselves that these children are children in the first place, and their learning difficulties come second. As Stacia Tauscher beautifully once said.

We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.


This article was first published in FACETS