In the child population, motor skills are associated with socio-emotional development , academic performance and the level of physical activity. When the latter is low, it is related to a sedentary lifestyle and obesity .
Currently, many children have low levels of physical activity and motor difficulties. In addition, the covid-19 pandemic has led to fewer opportunities for children to develop motor skills.
How and when to detect a deficit
Currently, in Spain, children with motor skills deficits are only identified if their parents detect a problem and consult a pediatrician who refers them to a specialist. It has been shown that parents of low socioeconomic status are less likely to follow this process .
On the other hand, waiting times for appointments with specialists are very long and the cost of private consultations is very high.
Therefore, there is a need for solutions that allow a systematic and efficient evaluation of the motor skills of a greater number of children, with greater regularity and with less dependence on the health system.
The role of the school
Schools are an ideal place to carry out this type of procedure, since boys and girls spend a large part of the day in them and because Physical Education is an ideal context to evaluate motor skills. The possibility of exploring these skills in schools would allow a “universal” screening and, therefore, the identification of children with difficulties in this area.
Recently, in England, a valid tool for the evaluation of motor skills, called FUNMOVES, has been developed for boys and girls from 5 to 11 years of age. It is about the assessment of these skills in a group in one hour of Physical Education, being the same teachers who, after training, carry out the evaluation. Its cost is minimal, since the activities consist of running, jumping, throwing bags, kicking bags and maintaining balance, and it only requires materials that all schools usually have.
Application in Spain and other countries
In Spain there are no validated instruments for the group evaluation of motor skills in the school context. In our research team, we are carrying out the validation of FUNMOVES in the Navarra school population.
One of the objectives pursued is to contribute to the detection of a disorder that is highly unknown and, therefore, underdiagnosed: developmental coordination disorder / procedural learning disorder (DCD).
This pathology implies marked motor clumsiness, which significantly influences day-to-day life, in the family, school and social spheres. For example, presenting bad handwriting due to a fine motor deficit, investing a lot of time in self-care tasks such as dressing, due to slowness; failing Physical Education, being teased in the schoolyard or park due to lack of coordination, etc. These difficulties are also frequently associated with attention deficit , reading problems and visual-spatial integration .
Early detection is vital with a view to the prognosis of people with neurodevelopmental disorders. Our long-term objective is the massive dissemination of this evaluation method, freely and free of charge, to all the autonomous communities; in this way, it could have an impact on the community of those affected at the state level. Training teachers to be able to evaluate the motor skills of their students, quickly and in groups and in a natural context, that of physical education, will contribute to the evaluation of the “universal” nature of these skills.
In this way, the number of schoolchildren diagnosed with BDD would increase and the diagnostic process would be expedited, unloading the number of patients from specialists, which could derive economic benefits for the state health services; and what is more important, the underdiagnosis of BDD would be reduced with all that this implies.
Diagnosed boys and girls will be able to receive the support and help they require, from an exhaustive evaluation of the cognitive profile, to find out their strengths and weaknesses, to the design of the reinforcement guidelines that are required. For example, curricular adaptations at school and subsidized therapies outside the school context.
Each child identified with the FUNMOVES, with probable DCD, will be evaluated individually and exhaustively in order to corroborate or rule out this pathology. And we will provide intervention guidelines for families and schools, through a written report, for parents and guardians, and we will detail how these skills can be trained, through formal activities and games.
Author Bio: Sara Magallon Recalde is a Contracted Professor Doctor. Faculty of Education and Psychology. Area of specialization: learning and neurodevelopmental difficulties and disorders at the University of Navarra