How do motor impairments affect learning?

Developmental psychologist Kathryn Bates writes the third article of this series on neurodevelopmental disorders in the classrooms. She explains the facts about developmental coordination disorder. What are the signs and symptoms that teachers should be aware of?

The DCD is less well-known than other neurodevelopmental conditions, like ADHD. This disorder affects around 5-6 percent of children. This disorder has been called many things, including Clumsy Child Syndrome and Developmental Dyspraxia. Adults with motor impairments are still diagnosed as having dyspraxia.

Without appropriate support, children can fall behind both in their learning and their psychosocial and physical development.

The motor impairments of those diagnosed with DCD are what give rise to the “clumsiness.” This can include problems with fine motor skills like writing or buttoning up a shirt and difficulties with gross motor skills such as running or sitting. Children with DCD often have co-occurring issues, such as inattention/hyperactivity symptoms or social communication difficulties. DCD is neither an intellectual nor a learning disability. However, children with DCD can experience problems in their learning as well as in their psychosocial and physical development if they do not receive the appropriate support.

DCD in the Classroom

Most school activities require motor skills. Children with DCD may have difficulty lining up for lunch, writing, or throwing a football. They may also have trouble with executive skills and forget their homework or plan. Children with DCD may have motor impairments that can hinder their learning.

Emma Sumner explains how DCD can affect children’s learning. “Children with DCD are often identified as having poor coordination, but their handwriting is usually the first sign. Children with DCD have difficulty with letter formation, forming recognizable letters, and writing quickly. It can affect their ability to keep up with copying and writing tasks that make up much of the school day. Children with DCD can also experience difficulties with school activities and maintain relationships with their peers. This is because problems with motor planning and implementation can lead to executive and organizational issues.

Children with DCD may be reluctant to play sports or participate in games for fear of being ridiculed or doing something wrong.

To prevent children from falling behind, it is important to be aware of the many difficulties that may accompany a DCD diagnosis. Children with DCD may be reluctant to take part in sports and games for fear of being ridiculed or doing something wrong. This can have a negative impact on their self-esteem, relationships with other children, and quality of lifeLower athletic performance and obesity rates are also linked to difficulty in participating in sports. Motor impairments affect the lives of many young people.

DCD Awareness Can Help Young People Succeed

Teachers must have the resources to help children with their writing assignments and time to plan for extra support. For younger children, easy-to-grip pens may be beneficial. However, training in typing or access to a computer can help older children. The movement Matters UK, which advocates support for DCD children, offers many helpful suggestions on how teachers can help children in the classroom. There are many ways to support children with DCD in the school. These include using jigsaws as motor skills exercises and dividing tasks into small, regular sessions.

It’s easy to mistake symptoms of DCD, such as pushing, having difficulty lining up for lunch re, fusing team sports, etc., for bad behavior. It’s important to be aware of the different ways that problems can present themselves. Catherine Finniear, an early years team leader and receptionist, told me that parents are crucial in planning support. “They know their child better than anyone else and can offer expert advice on what to do.”

Together, parents and educators can identify issues and develop strategies that may best suit a particular child.

The practical suggestions are helpful, but to truly support young people with DCD, parents, and children need more formalized support. The UK research shows how little help is available. A study found that 43% of parents who had children diagnosed with DCD received no support whatsoever. In a survey of adolescents with DCD, 37% did not receive formal education support at school. It is important to take legal measures such as a support program led by a special education coordinator or an occupational psychologist, who can devise strategies and adjust classrooms. The difficulties that children face may snowball with time. The study explains that secondary problems, such as reduced participation in activities or less supportive friends, are common in DCD. These can lead to a downward spiral of poor academic results and less engagement at school.

One of the biggest barriers to learning is the lack of awareness that DCD can affect a child’s ability to learn. Teachers and parents can collaborate to create manageable tasks for children that will engage them in learning activities. Without formal support in educational settings for young people with DCD, they are likely to fall further behind.


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