Developmental Co-ordination Disorder

A mother shares her experience of her son learning to Swim with The Mind/Body Awareness Programme…

As a parent it’s difficult to gradually realize there is “something wrong” and your child is not developing typically as expected. At age three and a half I suspected my son’s fine motor skills were significantly delayed as compared to his peers. Every other aspect of his development, his social emotional, self help and cognitive skills were strong and age appropriate. Faced with the choice of waiting and watching his fine motor skills continue to fall further behind from his peers or to find out what was happening, we chose to have Mark evaluated by an occupational therapist. After a few sessions of occupational therapy Mark was formally diagnosed with “Developmental Coordination Disorder”.

Developmental coordination disorder affects children in different ways. Mark’s gross motor skills are essentially within functional limits, but he’s not coordinated. His fine motor writing skills seem to be the most significantly affected. My son, currently at age 5, cannot sequence his shoulder, elbow, wrist placement and angle or finger grasp correctly on a pencil. He uses a special pencil grip. In addition, while Mark understands how specific letters of the alphabet are formed, he becomes frustrated when he can’t make his hand move the right way to form them. He’ll write a simple letter such as capital L and then be unable to change the motor pattern to next formulate a letter A. Mark knows and understands how the letters should look, he has trouble making his hand move the right way. He hated writing, became frustrated by it and tended to avoid it all cost.

After reading about children who have this problem I became acquainted with Stephanie’s website and wanted to try swim lessons for Mark. His occupational therapist agreed that learning to swim would be wonderful body coordination work for Mark.

As Stephanie says, swimming does involve coordination of the whole body; arms, legs, breath, body positioning and buoyancy. Stephanie’s work with my son over the past year can only be described as magical and fun for him. Her sessions with Mark have provided significant improvements in body awareness, movement and sequencing which directly positively impacted his fine motor skills. His overall coordination and most especially his fine motor coordination have improved so much.

Through her years of experience and study, Stephanie has developed her own style of teaching swimming that focuses on an individual’s strengths. Mark was relaxed, having fun and enjoying learning breathing and buoyancy first, then smoothly learning to integrate his arms and legs in an easy, graceful and coordinated manner. Her methods for teaching swimming are 100% different than what is traditionally taught.

Here in the States, from my experience and observation, swim instructors teaching young children to swim typically have children tense up their legs and arms to kick and paddle like mad. They next yell out at the child to “swim faster”, “kick faster” or “paddle faster”. The result is an uncoordinated flurry of arms and legs fighting to stay afloat in the water and the child struggling and gasping for breath.

Mark’s work with in learning to swim with Stephanie and using a special writing program called Handwriting Without Tears have significantly helped my son. While it takes approximately 70 multisensory trials for Mark to learn to write a

new letter, his writing skills now are essentially age appropriate. In addition, he’s actually swimming quite well and in a more coordinated way than his same age peers. Children with developmental coordination disorder typically have difficulty in the motor planning and execution aspects.

The American Psychiatric Association indicates that children with developmental coordination disorder have a “marked impairment in the development of coordination”. It is estimated that 6 percent of children ages 5 to 11 in the United States have developmental coordination disorder. Developmental coordination disorder is often not identified until a child has failed at learning to write in kindergarten and first grade. By the time it is typically diagnosed, a child’s peers have excelled in fine motor skills for writing and in actual written language skills.

A child’s classmates are writing paragraphs while the child with developmental coordination disorder is still struggling with individual letters, capital and lower case. The fine motor aspect of writing is central in developing skills for both their reading and written language skills development. Being able to write a word promotes a child’s ability to visually recognize it.

I am extremely grateful to Stephanie and her wonderful technique in helping children to learn to swim. Her work has provided significant benefits for Mark. Stephanie’s style and method of teaching children is remarkably different. Mark is actually swimming with increased grace, coordination and speed.

Kate Kempe-Biley

Cleveland, OH

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