Mummy Buzz


Is Clumsiness a Disorder?

Risk of stigma

Clumsy Kids to Clumsy Adults |

Many of us were clumsy kids who have grown into clumsy adults. But is clumsiness actually a disorder? 

It can be, according to Dr. John Cairney, a prof of family medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. Cairney and his colleagues run a website all about "developmental coordination disorder," which can translate from trouble with handwriting to riding a bicycle. 

For referring pediatricians, diagnosing a child with a coordination disorder is problematic. On one hand, with any label comes the risk of “pathologizing” or stigmatizing kids. On the other hand, without calling a spade a spade, children risk not getting the help they need.

In the case of the "clumsy disorder," kids benefit from occupational therapy to build life skills such as tying shoelaces and using cutlery. 

Quite often, however, it's parental anxiety driving the diagnosis. 

So what if Johnny trips over his feet at soccer? Not everyone is destined for a career in athletics. And sometimes a delay is just that, a delay. Does this awkwardness warrant a clinical diagnosis?

In cases where a child's development is compromised, then absolutely. When motor skills lag well behind what's age appropriate - when a child struggles to get dressed, eat or write - a parent or teacher is right to intervene.

Moreover, self-esteem can plummet for clumsy kids who, claims Dr. Cairney, are likely to "get bullied, called stupid or klutzy.” 

The problem is not motivational with such kids, but physiological. 

The evaluation process is vital because other medical conditions may be ruled out. Quite often, coordination challenges exist in tandem with other disorders like autism and ADHD.

So while on the face of it being clumsy isn't a big deal, it can prove limiting to children. Practice may not make for perfection, but it will make for more confident kids - provided the label doesn't define or isolate them. 

“We need to do more to support children’s global motor development,” said Dr. Cairney, “not to ensure they become athletes, but to ensure they can participate in a range of activities.” Beyond clicking and swiping, that is.

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