Helping children with developmental coordination disorder stay active | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - September 2016

Helping children with developmental coordination disorder stay active

For children like identical twins Josh and Sam, everyday activities like writing, getting dressed and playing sports are a struggle. New research funded by Action aims to help.

Children with developmental coordination disorder (DCD) find anything involving movement or physical activity more difficult. They struggle with balance and coordination and can appear clumsy.

“For Josh and Sam it very much affects all aspects of their daily life”, explains their mum Cathy. “At 10 years old, they still walk and run very much like toddlers. It’s ungainly and more of a wiggle or a fast walk. They can’t hop at all.

“They also don’t have the manual dexterity to do fiddly things. Getting dressed can be a nightmare – everything has to be pull-off and on-able. They can’t twirl a small object in their fingers and their writing is shocking. Luckily they are able to use special pens or a computer at school.”

Both boys were diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition when they were six years old and initially their movement problems were seen as part of this. A later assessment discovered they also had severe DCD, also known as dyspraxia. “We realised it was a physical can’t do it, rather than not wanting to,” says Cathy.

Life can be very frustrating for the twins, who just want to be like their friends and do everything other children do. It is also much harder for them to keep fit and active.

“We try to keep them moving as much as possible and involved in activities but because of their physical difficulties they’ve both become overweight,” says Cathy.

“Sadly other children can be cruel and they can get left out of physical games, like football, which makes it even harder to keep them active and control their weight.”

Action funding of almost £200,000 is supporting a specialist team based at Oxford Brookes University, who aim to help children like Josh and Sam.

“One of the things that DCD affects most is children’s participation in sports and their level of physical activity,” says research team leader and movement expert Professor Helen Dawes.

Up to 1 in 20 UK children has developmental coordination disorder. Some will avoid physical activity altogether and this can extend into adult life, affecting their long-term health.

Professor Dawes is investigating how children with DCD learn new physical activities. This involves measuring their movement using motion sensors while they’re learning a new skill, and monitoring brain activity using brain scans before and during training.

“Our work could improve understanding of how quickly children can expect to learn new skills, which would help set realistic goals for learning,” says Professor Dawes.

“Longer term, our findings could help us develop new therapies that enable children to overcome some of their movement difficulties and live more active lives.”

This project has been jointly funded with the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy Charitable Trust.

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