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The importance of a comprehensive assessment

Thank you to the families who gave consent and our secret blogger OT for this contribution.

“A little while ago, two mums approached me and both asked about assessments for their children. Both were young adults, academically highly able and struggling with their self-organisation and motor skills.

Both young people consented to an assessment and completed, through self-report, the Adult/ Adolescent Sensory History (AASH) questionnaire. They were also assessed with the Sensory Integration and Praxis Test (SIPT). The SIPT is a standardised assessment with normative data for ages 4 through 8 years, 11 months. On this particular assessment tool, sensory integration and processing skills scores plateau at around this age, though the test is still informative for people beyond this age, who should have achieved.

The young lady assessed has a diagnosis of social anxiety and has low confidence, while the young man is quite a confident character. She has a history of bumps, trips and spills, and will tell anecdotes of these with great humour; while he prefers to focus on what he does well in conversation.

I love the AASH, the reports it gives highlight each sensory system, differentiate between discrimination and modulation difficulties and addresses motor planning, sequencing and social/ emotional aspects of sensory integration and processing needs.

It uses clear, non-patronising language and activities appropriate to adults and adolescents. It shows up really clearly a person’s (or their caregiver’s as necessary) perception of their sensory integration and processing needs and how these affect their day to day life. In this instance, the young lady highlighted many sensory processing needs.

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The young man reported almost no difficulties, his only score in the primary sensory systems section was mild proprioceptive difficulties. When questioned as to the accuracy of his answers, he tended to reply “well, nobody likes that, do they?”

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Having scored the AASH checklists, I completed a SIPT with each person. The SIPT is a battery of 17 tests which assess a person’s sensory integration and processing including perceptual-motor skills through tasks with standardised administration and normative data against which to compare an individuals test results. Guess which person showed more significant difficulties in the direct assessment? 

On the SIPT assessment scores between -1 and +1 standard deviation are considered typical, above +1 are strengths and scores below -1 are of clinical significance and require support and will benefit from direct intervention.

The exception to this being Post Rotatory Nystagmus in which a low (below -1) or high score (above +1) indicates significant difficulty inhibiting response to vestibular information and often relates to a low Standing and Walking Balance score.

Here are the young lady’s SIPT results:

 

 

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Definite movement, balance and body awareness difficulties but also some areas of significant strength, particularly around her visual skills and imitation, which she uses to compensate for her body awareness difficulties.

Here’s the young man’s chart:

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Strong visual skills, compensating for significant challenges in the other areas.

This experience taught me so much. From the AASH scores, I was expecting the young lady to have much more problems in the SIPT than the young man, their conversation about their lifestyles confirmed this expectation. Still, then the assessment showed so clearly how much of that was related to confidence.

An evaluation based solely on checklists is not enough. It tells you what a person perceives to be their difficulties, guides the direction of evaluation and adds experiential evidence to the overall assessment.

A good questionnaire is evidence-based and norm-referenced, but it always needs to be triangulated with direct observation and where possible structured and standardised assessment. These tools can tell you so much about the respondent’s confidence and resilience and what they find easy or difficult in day to day life. But I have learned it is a mistake to rely upon one alone when assessing somebody’s sensory integration and processing skills and needs”.

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CPD Update: Neurodevelopmental Soft Signs: Implications for Sensory Processing and Praxis Assessment—Part One

An interesting read, this AOTA CE Article links sensory integration and processing difficulties and higher functions linked to occupation and participation. 
A table in the article links types of neurodevelopmental soft signs (NSS) in Occupational Therapy evaluation and underlying brain areas implicated in the literature, commenting that
“Integrating clinical observations of NSS with advanced brain-based research expands our understanding of the sensorimotor scaffolding that leads to higher functions of behavior organization, communication, and cognition.”
To access/buy a copy you can find out more here:
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Health and Safety Fears Getting in the Way of Child Development

Ofsted has warned that some early years education providers have “undue concerns” about letting children play outside, climb and run around. These health and safety fears are hindering children’s ability to build up muscular strength and dexterity.

Without taking risks, children’s “natural inquisitiveness” is stifled, Ofsted’s annual report said, “In the early years, a crucial part of preparing children for school is developing their muscular strength and dexterity…

Read more in this article in the Telegraph

Ofsted is the Uk government’s Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. Ofsted inspects and regulates schools, services that care for children and young people, and services providing education and skills for learners of all ages. The full report is available here 

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Photo by Lela Johnson on Pexels.com
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The Shops are Full of Simple Christmas Crafts

The Christmas season is a fantastic opportunity to get our little ones involved in some Christmas craft activities at home. For those of us short on time or ideas the shops are full of templates and packs that you can put together at home… here are some lovely craft ideas that have been sent to us by some of our families this year, paper chains, both shop bought and homemade, and a beautiful Christmas llama.

Don’t forget there is still time for you to win a copy of Love Jean by entering our Christmas time book give away. Share your Christmas themed sensory ideas with our community… by leaving a comment on one of our Christmas themed blog posts or on our facebook page … before the 15th December 2018

love jean book

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Dyspraxia or DCD, what term and recommendatons do you use in your EHCP’s and why?

pexels-photo-1040427“Developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD), also known as dyspraxia, is a condition affecting physical co-ordination that causes a child to perform less well than expected in daily activities for his or her age, and appear to move clumsily.”

NHS Choices[accessed 1 July 2018] 

Sometimes the terms we use as therapists are disputed in EHCP meetings or tribunals. The following quotes have proved useful in defending my own use of the terms in reports, especially when I link the word I use to the specific assessment tool I have used to do my assessment and clinical formulation.

Gibbs and colleagues 2007 described that “the definition of DCD is very similar to dyspraxia. A survey of health and educational professionals showed widespread uncertainty about the definitions of, and distinction between, DCD and dyspraxia. Furthermore, the rationale for using one or the other term in the literature has been unclear. Therefore, DCD and dyspraxia should be regarded as synonymous.”

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When I use the Movement ABC-2, I will tend to use the term DCD, as the tool and the research about it are clearly linked. Our local NHS paediatric services use the Movement ABC-2 for diagnostic purposes, despite its limitations.

For some referrals, therefore,  this is my tool of choice and the quickest way to ensure the child can access services because their condition is then officially recognised by teachers and the Local Authority. Thie example report is how I report the results, ensuring I clarify the limitations of the tool, and that additional data and assessment has been undertaken to inform my clinical reasoning.

DCD Proforma

But when I use the term Dyspraxia, I am usually using it to refer to a pattern of praxis difficulties recognised in the research about Ayres’ Sensory Integration. When we do this, we hypothesise that underlying sensory deficits, usually in the proprioceptive and tactile systems, interfere with active and effective participation in activities of daily life at home, school and out and about.

This pattern is typically identified by gathering a history of development and functional difficulties, Ayres’ Clinical Observations and the Sensory Integration and Praxis Test. I like the history form in Schaaf and Mailloux 2015 and the Sensory Processing Measure or for adults the Adult/Adolescent Sensory History.

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I will also use the COSA, OSA, SCOPE and MOHOST to gather information related to difficulties with participation in daily life and to set goals. These can then also act as significant subjective outcome measures. The impact of DCD/Dyspraxia on everyday life is meaningful. Caçola 2016 described how Dyspraxia/DCD is considered to be “one of the major health problems among school-aged children worldwide, with unique consequences to physical and mental health.”

Poor praxis often means a person with limited body awareness and so what to do next, making the plan and doing it becomes harder than for others. When this happens, our brain is unable to feel safe and secure, and so it is unlikely that the person can remain in a ‘calm and alert’ state.

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For those who have poor praxis, a sudden increase in arousal often happens when a  new or unfamiliar task is presented, because the previous failures to achieve success on sensory-motor tasks will trigger and raise arousal levels. This usually means the person’s body is on ‘red alert’ – reactive to the world and small confusing changes happening within their own body. This may mean they are more likely to make decisions in flight, fight or freeze mode, resulting in behaviours that challenge others. The underlying problem is the praxis deficit, not sensory reactivity in response to a perceived threat. This is why a thorough assessment is required.

Arousal and alertness, sensory modulation and praxis are interwoven with a complexity that is often missed by others and those new to learning about sensory integration theory and practice. Praxis difficulties that result in behaviours that challenge others are often labelled as sensory modulation difficulties, however, digging deeper will often reveal praxis deficits underpin the dysregulated responses and attempts to get control. This is very true of our clients who have dyspraxia co-occurring with mental health difficulties. We ignore and disregard praxis at our peril. Left unaddressed, praxis deficits continue to interfere with participation in daily life, skill development and self-esteem unabated.

Watch this young person’s story about living with dyspraxia.

 

How is a diagnosis made?

For a diagnosis of DCD to be made, your child usually needs to meet all of the following criteria, in some areas of the UK this requires a score below a cut off on the Movement ABC-2 Test.

  • motor skills are significantly below the level expected for their age and the opportunities they have had to learn and use these skills
  • the lack of motor skill is significant and persistently affects the child’s day-to-day activities and achievements at home and at school
  • the child’s symptoms first developed during an early stage of their development
  • the lack of motor skills isn’t better explained by
    • a delay in all areas of development (general learning disability)
    • other medical conditions; such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy

Usually, DCD is only diagnosed in children with a general learning disability if their physical coordination is significantly more impaired than their mental ability.

What about DCD/Dyspraxia and Autism?

In numerous studies, the links between autism and praxis skills have been reported.

In 2016 Cassidy published essential findings from a study, showing that

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  • Dyspraxia/DCD is significantly more prevalent in adults with Autism
  • Motor coordination difficulties commonly co-occur with Autism
  • Dyspraxia is associated with significantly higher autistic traits and lower empathy in those without Autism.

These results suggest that motor coordination skills are essential for effective social skills and empathy. This is clearly seen in children and young people presenting in clinics who struggle to know how to make friends, ask for the help they need and can’t understand others feelings and frustration.

What about DCD/Dyspraxia and Speech and Language Difficulties?

In 2012 Stout and Chaminade stated that “long-standing speculations and more recent hypotheses propose a variety of possible evolutionary connections between language, gesture and tool use. These arguments have received important new support from neuroscientific research on praxis, observational action understanding and vocal language demonstrating substantial functional/anatomical overlap between these behaviours.”

Listen to this Speech and Language therapist describe the links between speech and language concerns and tone, more general praxis and motor coordination difficulties.