Why is my child more clumsy than his friends?

Q. My 8-year-old son just told me that he does not want to go to PE class because he can’t keep up with his friends. He was born early at 30 weeks and struggled to meet gross motor milestones like sitting and walking. He is still a bit awkward with his movements and needs help to dress, bathe, and write. I’ve also recently noticed that he is clumsier than his peers, frequently falling and tripping over things. What may be going on and how can I help him?

A. I know it can be frustrating to watch your child struggle, especially when it impacts him socially. The observations you shared are important in understanding what may be going on with him. Your description of his everyday activities and special needs sound similar to the struggles of a child with Developmental Coordination Disorder.

A child with Developmental Coordination Disorder will exhibit movement and coordination skills far below those expected for his age. It’s estimated that approximately 6 percent of school-age children have this condition.

Development Coordination Disorder may cause skill deficits that can greatly impact daily living activities such as getting dressed, running, jumping and playing sports. A child’s academic performance may also be affected as he may have difficulty writing, cutting, or completing tasks.

Common signs and symptoms of Developmental Coordination Disorder include:

  • Frequently bumping into things, knocking things over, or tripping
  • Delayed motor milestones such as jumping, riding a bike, or catching a ball
  • Difficulty with sports that require many changes in body position, such as tennis
  • A noticeable gap between intellectual skills and motor skills
  • Difficulty with bilateral coordination needed for activities that require both sides of the body
  • Problems with balance needed for daily living activities, such as climbing stairs
  • Decreased interest or avoidance of activities which require a lot of effort and are very physical
  • Difficulty writing
  • Decreased socialization with peers in settings involving physical activity

If the list of Developmental Coordination Disorder signs and symptoms I provided raises additional red flags and reveals further concerns for your son, I recommend seeking help from your pediatrician. She will want to see your son and speak with you further to determine if a referral to a pediatric physical therapist is warranted.

An evaluation by a pediatric physical therapist will determine if your son is experiencing Developmental Coordination Disorder and can also prompt a plan for therapy that will teach your son strategies for increased coordination and movement. It is important to note that children your son’s age do not typically outgrow these issues making therapeutic intervention important to minimize the social and academic problems that may stem from the motor difficulties.

You are a great mom for recognizing your son’s struggles and asking for help in supporting him. Seeking advice and assistance from a professional will provide you with more clarity and empower you to address any issues he may be facing.

Allison Crumpler is a speech-language pathologist and the director of clinical compliance for Raleigh Therapy Services, Inc., a multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice in North Raleigh. (919-791-3582)

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