Developmental coordination disorder (DCD), also known as dyspraxia, is one of the most common developmental disorders of childhood. However, poor awareness of the condition means that children’s difficulties are often dismissed as developmental immaturity, leading to delays in accessing the early support and care the child needs. We spoke with Sue McLaren who is the Research and Project Coordinator for Animal Fun who has a wide experience of working with children and families; especially children with disabilities.
1. Tell us a little about yourself?
My son was diagnosed with developmental dyspraxia and a phonological speech disorder aged 2 years. As luck would have it we were transferred to New York with my husband’s work and my son was given the opportunity to attend a Head Start pre-K school. This turned out to be the most amazing experience and a turning point in all our lives. The experience inspired me to want to work with children with special needs and their families so upon returning to live in Perth some 2 years later I began a Social Science Degree (Children and Family Studies) at Edith Cowan University.
Since then I have run a playgroup especially for children with speech and language disorders and assisted parents in advocating for their child to access services and funding, been employed as a Special Needs Assistant in Kindergartens, Pre-Primary and Primary Schools. I worked at Edith Cowan University for 5 years as the International Student Coordinator and was also the Professional Placement Coordinator. We worked extensively in Singapore in partnership with local education providers to qualify those working in Early Childhood with Degree and Masters levels of qualification. Most recently I have and on the Animal Fun Project and Research at Curtin University.
2. What’s the biggest challenge you are currently facing in your capacity as an education professional?
The biggest challenge I face is in getting the word about the importance of motor development in young children out to teachers, allied health professionals and parents. In a world where our lifestyles are becoming increasingly sedentary and the focus is on academic achievement at a younger and younger age – many of the opportunities for children to develop and practice their motor skills are disappearing – this can have major impacts on many areas of development but particularly on a child’s sense of self worth.
3. What initiatives, strategies or technologies are you putting into play to overcome that challenge?
With a very limited budget it is extremely difficult to embark on major advertising or marketing campaigns. The opportunities to share our research and findings with interested parties at national and international conferences is helping to spread the word. I hope to make greater use of social media in the future and trust that the positive experiences and outcomes reported to me by those using the Animal Fun program with great success will start to gain some traction.
4. How do you see the role of educators changing over the next 5-10 years?
I would hope that the role of educators would change to become more holistic and that educators would be looking to broaden a child’s experience of by exposing the children in their care to a broader range of skills; including problem solving, conflict resolution, communication skills, interpersonal skills, critical thinking, analysis of the arts including music, poetry, visual arts, dance and drama rather than be needing to teach to a strict curriculum to pass a test
5. Give us a sneak peak into what you’ll be presenting on at EduTECH Asia?
How does a child’s balance, ability to throw and catch,and movement abilities in general impact on other areas of development such as academic achievement, mental health and self-esteem. I will present an overview of the current worldwide research regarding the importance of motor skill development in young children for their physical and mental health going forward.
6. What about the EduTECH Asia conference are you most excited about?
It is my first time at EduTech so I am excited to be back in Singapore and to meet as many delegates as possible while learning about the unique challenges educators, children and parents are facing.
Sue McLaren is currently the Director of Animal Fun. She is also involved in the Move Grow Engage research collaboration group together with colleagues from The University of Western Australia and the University of Notre Dame Australia with the aim of informing the public and parents of children with Developmental Coordination Disorder about the latest research in this area together with relevant services which may be of benefit. McLaren is also on the organising committee for the DCD12 International Conference which brings together researchers from all over the world who are interested in the area of DCD and of issues pertaining to motor development in general.
At EduTECH Asia, McLaren will be speaking in the SEN Track on “How to establish meaningful school-to-home and home-to-school communication channels” . Do not miss this opportunity to learn from him in person.
Book you seat now before the ticket price rises.
See you there!