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Medicine Women Friday, 14 August, 1998, 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK
The power to change
Amanda Kirby
Amanda Kirby: "As a doctor, you think you should have the answers"
Imagine going through life wearing boxing gloves and looking through binoculars the wrong way.

You would probably be a bit clumsy and stumble around.

It is how Amanda Kirby describes the world of children who suffer from dyspraxia - a neurological disorder that impairs the organisation of a child's movement.

Pin board
Simple tasks become difficult
Amanda's own son, Andrew, has the condition. As a GP, she knows she is powerless to cure dyspraxia, but as a mother she is compelled to do everything she can to help her son and the many other children who are simply written off at school as being clumsy and stupid.

"As a parent you always want to have your children as perfect as possible. It's frustrating in the sense that, as a doctor, you think you should have the answers," says Amanda, who is featured in the BBC's Medicine Women series.

Professional cynicism

Not everyone in the medical profession is prepared to accept dyspraxia as a diagnosis. There are some who view it as the new vogue to be used as an excuse for the behaviour of every difficult child.

Andrew has dyslexia as well as dyspraxia
But Andrew's difficulties are very real and defy any other explanation.

"I'd experienced 10 or 11 years of not really knowing what was wrong with him," says Amanda. "He didn't start crawling when he was supposed to crawl. He was late walking. He was slow talking. He was a very floppy baby. We finally went to see a paediatric neurologist who gave the diagnosis."

As well as motor problems, 12-year-old Andrew has visual difficulties. Dyslexia makes it difficult for him to read his own writing.

Frustration led to the Dyscovery Centre
New Dyscovery

Amanda's frustrations with the attitudes of others and with the services on offer led her to set up the Dyscovery Centre in Cardiff - a private centre for assessing and treating children with dyspraxia.

About eight per cent of children are thought to have the condition. They travel to the centre from all over the UK. A full assessment for treatment can cost as much as 700. But the centre provides a range of much cheaper services, down to over-the-phone consultations and information packs.

A full assessment can cost several hundred pounds
Those children who are taken for a full assessment are put through a series of tests to judge their motor and visual skills.

Therapists employed by the centre use games and exercises to help the children understand and control their bodies. Special glasses can deal with some visual problems.

Buttons and laces

Jeanette Turner was in despair before she took her son Aaron to the Dyscovery Centre. She knew there was something wrong with the 10-year-old boy when he could never do the buttons up on his clothes. But her concerns her always dismissed by doctors who believed she was just being over anxious.

Aaron is now making good progress
"I was beginning to think there was something really wrong with me," she recalls. "I thought, 'what's wrong Mum, perhaps you're not teaching him right'. Maybe there is a knack to tying laces that I don't know."

Aaron says: "Me and mum used to sit on the stairs crying. I knew there was something wrong. Before we went to the Dyscovery Centre I thought I was the only child in the world who couldn't do anything, and people told me I was dumb."

Arron is now making good progress.

Learning curve

Aanada gave up a partnership in General Practice to enable her to spend more time on the Dyscovery project.

The centre can help with special glasses
"It's enormously exciting to be able to change something. I've been given the opportunity to really have an impact on developmental co-ordination disorders and specific learning difficulties.

"You don't often get given a blank sheet of paper to change things."

"We've got a long way to go in this country in accepting that these children are not clumsy. They've got specific criteria that they fall into that are different to other children.

"We've got a learning curve to teach the medical and the educational professionals that this does exist."

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The Dyscovery Centre in Cardiff
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