The role of balance ability in physical activity and fitness in children with Developmental Coordination Disorder

By Yao Chuen Li

Children with Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) are known to have significant motor impairments. These motor problems may subsequently hinder these children from participating in physical activity that is beneficial for their physical and mental health. One of the diagnostic criteria for DCD is that the child's general motor coordination is significantly poorer than his peers'. However, a message we may miss here is that not all children with DCD have the same characteristics of motor impairments even if as a group they all score well below average on a motor assessment test.

DCD is a heterogeneous group. In other words, some children may have general coordination problems, while others may only perform poorly on specific domains, such as manual dexterity, or balance. A subtype of DCD, who particularly have poor balance, has been consistently identified in previous studies. As we know, balance ability, such as running, jumping, and hopping, plays an important role in free play and organized sports. Children with DCD who specifically have balance problems may be more vulnerable to activity deficit than children without DCD, while children with DCD who don’t have balance problems may have similar levels of physical activity to children without coordination problems.

In addition, insufficient participation in physical activity may further increase the risk for obesity in children with DCD who have balance problems. A previous study has found that compared to children without DCD and children with DCD who don’t have balance problem, this specific subtype of children with DCD are about twice as likely to be obese. The excessive body weight in these children may conversely affect physical pursuits. Consequently, a vicious circle may emerge between poor balance ability, physical inactivity, and obesity in children with DCD.

Therefore, in order to enhance the participation in physical activity and reduce the risk for obesity, interventions may specifically focus on improving balance abilities in children with DCD. However, due to the limited number of studies, more research is apparently needed to better understand this issue.



Li, Y. C., Joshi, D., King-Dowling, S., Hay, J., Faught, B., & Cairney, J. (20-23 August, 2014). Developmental Coordination Disorder and physical activity in male youth: Are balance problems responsible for the activity-deficit? NASPEM Biennial Conference, 2014, Minneapolis, USA. Oral presentation.

Zhu, Y. C., Wu, S. K., Cairney, J., Li, Y. C., Chen, W. Y., & Chen, F. C. (2014). High risk for obesity in children with a subtype of developmental coordination disorder. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 35(7):1727-33