Should We Care That Johnny Can't Catch and Susie Can't Skip? What Should We Do about It?

Article excerpt

As physical and sport educators, we care that Johnny and Susie cannot move as well as their peers. We try our best to improve their skill levels because we value participation and skillfulness in sport and physical activity. However, many times there is a deeper problem as to why Johnny or Susie cannot move as well as their peers. We recognize that some students are below average in their motor skills, but this article focuses on those who may have movement problems qualifying as Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD).

What is DCD? The criteria for a DCD diagnosis are: 1) performance in daily activities where motor coordination is substantially below that expected given the person's chronological age and intelligence; 2) this performance significantly interferes with academic achievement or activities of daily living; 3) it is not due to a general medical condition (e.g., cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy) and does not meet criteria for pervasive developmental disorder; and 4) if mental retardation is present, the motor difficulties are in excess of those usually associated with it (APA, 1994). According to the APA (1994) about 6%, or about one child in every class of 30, is estimated to meet these criterion. So what difficulties and problems do children with DCD face?


For children with DCD, their movement difficulties lead them to avoid situations where their lack of motor skill is on display. Indeed, children with DCD have a host of problems beyond their motor issues. These have been extensively documented to include: academic underachievement and low self-esteem (Piek, Barrett, Allen, Jones, & Louise, 2005); anxiety (Skinner & Piek, 2001); depression (Dewey, Kaplan, Crawford, & Wilson, 2002; Gillberg & Gillberg, 1983; Piek et al., 2007); social isolation (Dewey et al., 2002); a propensity for criminal behavior (Rasmussen & Gillberg, 2000); as well as the more predictable ones of poor physical fitness (Cairney, Hay, Wade, Faught & Flouris, 2006), low physical activity levels (Faught, Hay, Cairney & Flouris, 2005), and early signs of health-risk factors such as changes in heart structure and function (Chirico et al., 2011). Moreover, despite the early thinking that these children can grow out of their disorder or that it will not matter in adulthood, evidence is building to the contrary. Most children do not outgrow it (Losse et al., 1991), and young adults with DCD show signs of poor work habits, social isolation, and restricted participation in society stemming from their lack of motor skills in childhood (Missiuna, Moll, King, Stewart & Macdonald, 2008).

Although adults learn to compensate for their lack of motor skills, there are still some long-term consequences, not the least of which is their lower levels of physical activity and associated health-risk factors. So what can we do as a profession? Can we help children with DCD even if it is clear that our teaching and coaching of motor skills and physical activity is unlikely to give them average motor ability and the desire to participate in sport and physical activity?

We think physical educators can make a major impact by identifying and assisting these students and then educating their parents. The remainder of this article describes how physical educators can take these steps to help children with DCD.


The physical educator can help identify these children. One of the problems with this diagnosis is that many children are not identified until they are at least 8 years old, when the classroom teacher notices extremely poor writing ability. Some children have co-morbidities such as Asperger's syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or some other learning disability and may get noticed by a pediatrician as having exceptionally poor motor skills. The overriding concern is that children with DCD are typically not identified early enough, and therefore miss out on services and resources. …