Family Health Magazine - CHILDHOOD
Is Your Child A Clutz?
Developmental Co-ordination Disorder may be the problem
Have you ever thought your son or daughter seems particularly awkward, sloppy or clumsy? Wonder why your child is unable to pour milk without spilling, and still needs help cutting food? Does your child look odd when running or seem overly awkward when throwing or kicking? Does learning to ride a bicycle or tie shoelaces seem impossible? Is your child slightly overweight compared to others the same age?
Wonder if your child might have DCD?
Many children with co-ordination problems:
- start talking later than most other children
- have difficulty with articulation (speaking clearly and accurately) or display other interruptions in the flow of speech
- struggle with finding and expressing words, and planning and constructing sentences
- seem delayed, clumsy, or awkward in motor behaviour
- have poor posture, or are wiggly and squirmy while sitting
- have a hard time positioning themselves on a chair or organizing themselves at a table
- have trouble co-ordinating tasks that require both hands (such as threading beads or stabilizing paper when drawing or cutting)
- have an awkward pencil grip, and very weak and inconsistent printing and writing skills
- may be slightly pudgy and less physically fit than most of their classmates
- tend to be disorganized.
Perhaps you make excuses when your child is asked to play street hockey or join in a game of tag. Watching, you have learned that sports and physical activity is always a struggle. You tried enrolling your child in little league baseball, the community soccer team, even swimming – but it made no difference.
Now, you secretly hope and patiently wait for your child to grow out of it, since you have no idea how to help. However, your observations and concern can help in identifying a specific and treatable condition.
Of course, a child may struggle with motor skills (body movement) for many reasons. Your doctor or another health care clinician can help you rule out other possibilities.
Still, if your child is bright, socially capable, and has no physical or nervous system conditions, yet still struggles with physical activity, developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD) may be the problem.
DCD is a specific condition affecting a child’s ability to do motor tasks. Gross motor skills involve big muscle movements, while fine motor skills are movements of the fingers and other small muscles. DCD affects the processing of information between brain and body, making effective movement difficult. We still don’t know what causes it.
Diagnosis of DCD usually includes:
- test results from an occupational or physical therapist, poor grades in physical education, or other similar documents from movement specialists
- notes about your concerns and your observations of your child’s motor difficulties
- a review of the reference pages in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual - DSM-IV (or DSM-IV-TR), along with specific information on DCD from books or the Internet.
You may have noticed that your child’s ability to do fine or gross motor tasks seems weak considering his or her age and intellectual ability. You may notice a difference between overall reasoning skills and motor abilities. For instance, you can see that your daughter is a clever and quick thinker. Yet she has problems with penmanship and other paper and pencil tasks, and doing up buttons. She may drop things for no apparent reason, have trouble sitting properly on a chair, and so on. One of the most noticeable features of school-aged children with DCD is their poor handwriting or printing skills.
Capable children struggling with motor skills were first identified in scientific literature in the early 1900s. Many different terms have been used to describe these youngsters. Although DCD was first officially recognized in the late 1980s, it is not currently well-known in North America. Since the mid-eighties, different researchers in many countries have studied the condition. In 1994, DCD was adopted as the official diagnosis for these clumsy children.
Research suggests that DCD is found in about six to nine per cent of the population, and is more common in boys than girls. It is a heterogeneous condition, meaning that it does not look the same in all children. Some children may struggle only with gross motor skills. Others may have trouble with balance and hand-eye co-ordination. Still more have weak fine motor control or plan motor tasks poorly.
Studies have shown that children who are not able to physically keep up with their peers can become withdrawn and anxious. Left untreated, DCD can cause depression and other mental health concerns. In addition, since children with DCD find movement challenging, they are less interested and involved in physical activity. With time, physical health and fitness can be affected.
DCD is also often associated with children who have different types of learning disabilities. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one linked condition. Sadly, DCD does not disappear with time. Teenagers can continue to struggle with motor-related problems into adulthood.
As early as two or three years of age, we can see motor skill differences between children playing together. For this reason, it is harder for a child with DCD to hide motor skill problems than other problems, such as with reading or math. However, because of the child’s observable clumsy and awkward movements, this problem can be identified much earlier than other learning disabilities.
Consider talking to a doctor if you sometimes catch yourself:
- offering hand-over-hand help to your child
- finishing tasks to speed things up or save your child from embarrassment
- helping with eating, hygiene, or dressing tasks such as cutting foods, preparing the toothbrush, combing hair, buttoning sweaters, zipping jackets, putting shoes on the proper feet and tying laces
- stabilizing papers or other objects for your child
- making snacks and preparing food items that others the same age can manage alone
- unconsciously providing more help than typically needed by children of a similar age.
If the problems listed here match your child, your family doctor may refer you to a professional who knows about DCD.
Although occupational or physical therapists can assess a child’s motor skills, they are unable to make a final diagnosis. (Problems with motor skills can signal many other disorders.) To be formally diagnosed, your child may be referred to a developmental pediatrician, psychiatrist, or psychologist experienced in the motor area.
Unfortunately, limited resources on how to assist a child with DCD are presently available to parents. Some are more helpful than others. Much of the information on DCD is written in academic research journals. However, more resources about how to help are being developed.
Since little has been known about DCD, children with the condition have often been left to cope on their own. Physical and mental health concerns can follow years of difficulty with motor skills. These children deserve rapid diagnosis and assistance. Thankfully, help is available.
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specified medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physician promptly. © Copyright 2019, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 0S1 [CH_FHc06]