Emotional issues may follow motor problems in kids

NEW YORK Fri Apr 6, 2012 3:51pm EDT

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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A new study suggests the way kids with severe coordination problems see themselves may influence their emotional wellbeing later in life.

Coordination issues -- sometimes diagnosed as developmental coordination disorder (DCD) -- prevent people from accomplishing everyday tasks, such as using scissors or buttoning their shirts. The disorder can lead to frustration at school, at home and on the playground.

"Traditionally it was believed that children would outgrow any motor problems but there is now much evidence that these difficulties may continue into adolescence and beyond," wrote Daniela Rigoli, the study's lead author and a researcher at Curtin University in Western Australia, in an email.

For the new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, Rigoli and her colleagues decided to see if, and how, the link between coordination and emotional issues like anxiety and depression is influenced by the way children with DCD see themselves.

Boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 16 years old were recruited from five randomly selected secondary schools and through advertisements.

The 93 adolescents were tested for their coordination -- manual dexterity, aiming, catching and balance -- and filled out a questionnaire about their "self perceptions." The questions covered the teens' social, academic and physical abilities, and their physical appearance. The participants also answered questions on anxiety and mood.

Of the 38 girls and 55 boys, five tested positive for a "significant movement disability." Another two scored within the "at risk" category, which meant they had or potentially had some minor movement problems.

Of those with definite or possible movement disorders, one student in the at-risk category had slightly increased depressive symptoms, and two students with movement disabilities reported high levels of depressive symptoms.

According to Rigoli, the findings suggest that the way children think of themselves is what ties motor coordination to current and future emotional wellbeing.

"For example, if a child with motor difficulties also has negative beliefs about their social and academic competence, this may act as a risk factor for further emotional difficulties such as increased anxiety or depressive symptoms," she told Reuters Health.

The opposite is true for adolescents with positive thoughts, which is why Rigoli said promoting positive beliefs in the abilities of children with DCD may help avoid emotional problems.

ONE APPROACH

In Canada, almost 400,000 children have DCD, according to estimates by the CanChild program at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

"It's important to recognize that it is actually a chronic health condition," said Cheryl Missiuna, a professor at McMaster University and director of CanChild, which offers tools and training about DCD to teachers and families.

Missiuna said the program aims to teach those involved with children who have DCD so that they can adapt to the kids' needs.

For example, Missiuna said students with DCD may have trouble writing for long periods of time and should be allowed to use a typewriter.

She also said it's important to encourage children with DCD to find sports they can excel in -- usually ones with repetitive motions like swimming or bicycling -- because DCD kids tend to become overweight as they get older.

Rigoli said the new study's findings suggest that aiming and catching, as well as balance skills -- but not manual dexterity -- are linked with emotional wellbeing down the line.

She added that encouraging kids with DCD to participate in sports that focus on physical activity and enjoyment would give them a chance to practice their motor skills.

"(It) may also provide opportunity to promote positive social experiences, and in turn enhance feelings of competency and the emotional well-being of these children," she told Reuters Health.

SOURCE: bit.ly/HoUATa Pediatrics, April 1, 2012.

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