Help for youngsters with coordination difficulties | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - October 2008

Help for youngsters with coordination difficulties

One study was carried out by scientists from the University of Leeds who have developed a set of practical guidelines for teachers, childcare professionals and parents to use in helping pre-school children with co-ordination difficulties to improve their dexterity.

Children with developmental coordination disorder (DCD) comprise around five per cent of the population and are sometimes labelled clumsy or dyspraxic. As they progress through childhood this lack of movement skill can have long term effects on academic achievement, emotional and social behaviour. Without help most children do not improve.

The team believed it was important not to label children at a very young age and wanted to look at early interventions that might help them develop basic skills in a nursery or at home, before a lack of those skills affected their future development.

The project identified 35 children aged between three and six who had difficulties with everyday skills such as getting dressed, eating and playing games. Scientists measured their ability against the Early Years Movement Skills Checklist and then designed three levels of intervention on an escalating scale. This enabled the children to have individual programmes tailored to their needs.

Over a ten-week period the children worked on activities three or four times a week for about 20 minutes each time. Results showed that the vast majority of children improved their coordination skills with only three remaining in the category indicating difficulties.

Professor David Sugden who led the research team said: “Much of the previous work in this area has focused on children aged between six and 11, however, three to six years is when children develop fundamental movement skills that are the building blocks for the rest of their lives. We found that children could be labelled as clumsy because they lacked certain basic skills, but it may be simply that they hadn’t had the opportunity to practise those skills across a range of different activities.”

In the second project, psychologists at the Institute of Education, University of London and Oxford Brookes University developed new coordination and handwriting tests to identify teenagers who need extra help at secondary school and college.

One of the most common problems of DCD is slow and illegible handwriting and many of the children affected end up doing less well in school than expected, especially at exam time. This underachievement can carry on into adulthood and often leads to low self esteem and social isolation.

Professor Sheila Henderson and Dr Anna Barnett, leading experts in movement development in children, have produced two new tests that measure general movement ability and speed of handwriting — the Movement Assessment Battery for Children -2 (M-ABC 2) and the Detailed Assessment of Speed of Handwriting (DASH).

To ensure that the test results would accurately represent the abilities of children across the UK, the team gathered and analysed data from over 1,000 teenagers attending schools in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. These ‘norms’ are the first available for children of secondary school age.

Just launched commercially, the tests should help to accurately diagnose the coordination and writing difficulties caused by DCD, dyslexia and other developmental disorders in young people. This could lead to extra help such as the use of a computer for written work or additional time for exams. They will also be useful for any student applying for a Disabled Student Allowance, before going on to further or higher education.

Professor Henderson said: “Children at secondary school need to be able to take notes, and in exam conditions need to be able to write answers quickly and legibly.

“This is impossible for some young people, who simply cannot write fast or neatly enough, but for most children all that is needed is an understanding of the problem and extra time in exams, perhaps the assistance of a reader or the use of a computer. Without those, they are at a huge disadvantage.”

This research was funded by The Freemasons’ Grand Charity.

Help us spread the word