Geoff Platt, PhD, has worked as a lecturer in Sport Science for ten years, most recently working as a senior lecturer and course director in Sports Coaching Science and Sports Analysis and Coaching at Kingston University, London. He has lectured on Olympic Solidarity Courses on behalf of the International Olympic Committee and is the Director of Coaching for Weightlifting in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

Geoff recently completed a PhD for which he carried out extensive research into strength exercises for children with dyspraxia. Here he discusses the study that formed the basis for his new book, Beating Dyspraxia with a Hop, Skip and a Jump.

A number of observers have identified that children with dyspraxia have weak muscles, particularly in their fingers, hands and wrists. Despite these observations, and the fact that strength has been identified as improving the symptoms of those with cerebral palsy, whilst dyspraxia has been referred to as minimal cerebral palsy, only four pieces of research into the effects of strength and strength training on dyspraxia appear to have been published.

Between 1989 and 2001, an Australian sports physiologist by the name of Annette Raynor researched strength as an issue for children with dyspraxia and published two papers on the results of her research. She showed that there was a correlation between children with dyspraxia and children with poor isometric leg strength and showed that this was linked to poor muscle activation and co-activation.

In 1997 two superintendent physiotherapists in London, Michelle Lee and Graham Smith, decided to review a number of interventions that were being used across London hospitals to assist children with dyspraxia (Lee and Smith 1998). Parents, identifying that their children were experiencing movement difficulties, were taking their children to see the family doctor who was referring the children to the local hospital. At the hospital the doctors, lacking any firm guidance, were referring the children to physiotherapists or occupational therapists for support. The occupational therapists identified tasks which were troubling the children and then set about practising them. The physiotherapists had attempted a wide range of interventions and this review was an attempt to identify what worked and what did not.

Lee and Smith found that the best results were achieved when each child’s movement skills were individually assessed and a professional judgment made about the likely causes so that an individualized strength training program could be designed.

This program was performed five times each week under parental guidance, and once under the guidance of the physiotherapist in order to provide support for the parent and child. In this way, Smith and Lee identified that they were able to achieve a 72% reduction in the symptoms of dyspraxia experienced by the children after only eight weeks. Unfortunately, the cost of the intensive employment of specialist paediatric physiotherapists over a period of almost six months was found to be prohibitive and this intervention appears to have almost completely lapsed.

These excellent results seem to have been overlooked in recent years, as doctors, psychologists, neurologists and others have explored the workings of the human brain to find the causes of dyspraxia and a suitable intervention. Strength training has always been seen as an activity for grown men, rather than for children with movement difficulties. Few scientists knew much about strength training and no further research was conducted.

I am an experienced weightlifting coach and a teacher in primary and secondary schools as well as colleges and university. For my PhD at the University of Edinburgh, I decided to seek a way to extend and replicate the results of Lee and Smith using only the resources available at a local primary school: PE teachers, sports coaches, the school field or school hall, a gymnasium bench or a tree log and a tennis or squash ball.

By approaching all the primary schools in the London Borough of Croydon in South London, I managed to secure access to over 800 children. These children represented a cross section of ability, 5% of whom has dyspraxia. I arranged to assess the children using the official test for dyspraxia, the Movement A.B.C. Test, and a variety of dynamic (isotonic) strength tests to identify whether strength (or rather a lack of it) was a factor in the incidence of dyspraxia. The results showed a strong correlation; the children with dyspraxia were the weakest in the class. I then put each child through a six week strength training programme based on running and jumping. The program was specifically designed to require almost no equipment and almost no instruction so that it could be replicated by parents or teachers without special preparation, and so that cost would not be an issue. At the end of the six week training program the children were re-tested using the same Movement A.B.C. test and the same strength tests to see whether they had developed their strength and whether any gains had been reflected in improvements in their movement skills, and again there was a strong correlation; the intervention improved the movement skills of those children with the worst movement skills.

Beating Dyspraxia with a Hop, Skip and a Jump is result of this study, the heart of which is a very simple exercise program, based on running, jumping and hopping, which can be safely undertaken by any child under the supervision of a teacher, sports coach or parent. It eliminates weakness, improves neural control of movement by improving muscle activation and ultimately reduces the symptoms of dyspraxia.

This book provides parents, sports coaches and teachers with a method to help children with dyspraxia to improve their movement skills. It will also encourage further research into an area that has provided positive results and to ensure that strength and muscle training are not overlooked for another ten years.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.

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