How to Help A Clumsy Child

By: Cassidy McCoy PT, DPT

Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is a delay in motor skill development or a difficulty with coordinating movement that makes a child unable to perform common daily tasks. This delay is not due to an identifiable medical or neurological condition that would explain their coordination problems.

Children with DCD are frequently described as “clumsy” or “awkward”, but typically have normal or above average intellectual abilities. However, their motor coordination difficulties may impact their academic progress, social integration and emotional development.

DCD is commonly associated with other developmental conditions such as learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, speech-language delays, and emotional/behavioral problems.

Meeting Challenges
Photo by Ann Mehrman

Children with DCD generally have difficulty with activities including, but not limited to, climbing up and down stairs, tying their shoes, riding a bike, or doing buttons on their clothing.

How does a child with DCD present?

Typical Presentation:

  • Decreased balance
  • – Decreased bilateral coordination
    • Skipping
    • Jumping jacks
  • Decreased ball handling skills
  • Decreased high level balance skills
    • Hopping
    • Balance beam walking
  • Decreased postural control
  • Decreased proprioception

Other areas of concern may be handwriting, executive function, and initiating social interactions.

How to help

Because children with DCD typically have normal to above average cognitive skills, using a cognitive approach to improve their motor planning can help to ingrain motor skills to make movements more automatic. This cognitive approach helps by working on breaking down a motor skill into smaller pieces, as well as, having the child verbalizes the activity before performing, and reporting on the outcome of the attempt.

Example: GPDC

  • Goal: What am I going to do?
  • Plan: How am I going to do it?
  • Do it: Perform the skill
  • Check: How did the plan work?

Other Activities

Core strengthening is important for children with DCD. You must have a stable trunk/core to appropriately move your arms and legs. Improving core stability will improve balance, postural control, and proprioception, leading to improved coordination.

Some activities to improve core strengthening:

  • Heavy pushing: fill a laundry basket to weight it down and have you child push it across the floor. Carpet flooring will add extra resistance from friction.
  • Hannah_TClimbing: climbing up onto furniture or onto playground equipment while maintaining their abdomen off the surface and arms extended.
  • Wheelbarrow walking or planks: putting weight through extended arms will help to increase abdominal engagement and strength.
  • Standing on unstable surfaces: Standing on various surfaces such as: pillows, cushions, foam mat, or BOSU ball helps to improve postural control. They can perform a variety of activities on these surfaces including balancing with eyes closed, squatting to pick up a toy from the floor, catching/tossing a ball, or reaching up overhead for an object.

Click here to learn more about Physical Therapy programs to improve strength, balance and coordination at at Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley.

References:

  1. https://canchild.ca/en/diagnoses/developmental-coordination-disorder
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