School Psychology, Psychomotor Functioning, and Poor Motor Skills

By Kamps, Paulene | National Association of School Psychologists. Communique, March/April 2015 | Go to article overview

School Psychology, Psychomotor Functioning, and Poor Motor Skills


Kamps, Paulene, National Association of School Psychologists. Communique


In supporting its mission and vision statements, NASP published the Model for Comprehensive and Integrated School Psychological Services (NASP, 2010), which documented 10 domains of practice. Domain 3 (Interventions and Instructional Support to Develop Academic Skills) states: "School psychologists have knowledge ofbiological, cultural, and social influences on academic skills; human learning, cognitive, and developmental [emphasis added] processes; and evidence-based curricula and instructional strategies." Domain 4 (Interventions and Mental Health Services to Develop Social and Life Skills) states: "School psychologists have knowledge ofbiological, cultural, developmental [emphasis added], and social influences on behavior and mental health, behavioral and emotional impacts on learning and life skills, and evidence-based strategies to promote social-emotional functioning and mental health."

Although I firmly believe that school psychologists are well versed in our practice domains, I am concerned that the psychomotor domain, especially motor skill acquisition, does not receive the attention it warrants. Smooth, progressive motor development is important, indeed crucial, as infants learn to sit, crawl, walk, feed themselves, talk, and much more. However, the way motor skills influence achievement, social skills, behavior, and mental health is much less recognized in our profession. While society as a whole understands the general benefits of and positive relationships between proficient motor actions, physical fitness, and mental health, do we really understand and acknowledge the profound negative effects on individuals who struggle to develop skilled, age-appropriate motor movements? In these cases, I am not referring to people diagnosed with a neurological, medical, or pervasive developmental disorder, but rather a typical learner who struggles to develop functional motor skills. Yet such motor incoordination can be recognized and even diagnosed.

Because motor skill acquisition eventually impacts many other areas of functioning, school psychologists would benefit greatly from learning about developmental coordination disorder (DCD), a condition identified by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and listed in each version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) since 1987. The DSM-5 (APA, 2013) clearly outlines the consequences of DCD: "reduced participation in team play and sports; poor self-esteem and self-worth; emotional or behavioral problems; impaired academic achievement; poor physical fitness; and reduced physical activity and obesity" (p. 76). Surely these negative consequences relate directly to our work with children and teenagers? Students who display inefficient and poorly coordinated movements not only feel the direct and negative impact of these motor learning difficulties on their daily living tasks, but also on their academic achievements (APA, 2013). Many other psychosocial issues arise from poor motor performances-a reflection of the intense frustrations these students feel as they struggle to thrive.

Currently, DCD is not well known by parents, educators, or doctors (Wilson, Neil, Kamps, & Babcock, 2012). As a result, parents who notice motor difficulties during their child's early years experience significant difficulty trying to obtain a diagnosis (Kirby, Sugden 8c Purcell, 2014; Novak, Lingam, Coad & Emond, 2012). Furthermore, since poor motor performance is seldom scrutinized or endorsed in resources designed to support mental health professionals (Barnhill, 2014; First, 2014), school psychologists may not fully comprehend the important interconnections between motor functioning, academic achievement, social skills, behavior, emotional well-being, and other aspects of physical and mental health.

Although researchers are fully aware of difficulties experienced by children with DCD (Blank, Smits-Engelsman, Polatajko, & Wilson; 2012), Emck (2011) and Gillberg (2010) report that the importance of motor development and learning are often ne- glected in clinical and research efforts within psychology and psychiatry. …

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