The Clumsy Child

Dr. Parang Mehta, MD.

Is your child accident prone to an exceptional degree?  Does he crash into people and furniture all the time?  Are simple tasks like buttoning a jacket or eating a meal neatly major challenges for him?

The good news is, he's not alone.  Five to ten percent of people suffer from extraordinary clumsiness, and it is a defined medical disorder.   The most commonly used term for it is dyspraxia, though a variety of other names have been used.   Though most of these children have only a mild problem, about two percent of children have it bad -- enough for them to stand out in school and home.  

These children are neither deliberately naughty, nor stupid.   Their unusual clumsiness is a manifestation of a developmental disorder.   Rather then humiliation and punishments, they need support, patience, and help to learn to accomplish physical tasks successfully.  

What is clumsiness?

An inability to perform simple physical tasks smoothly and efficiently.   At birth, all movements are awkward and uncoordinated.   Most children learn to coordinate movemets of the hands and feet with what the eyes show the brain.   In some children, this coordination does not occur adequately, and their movements continue to be awkward and inefficient.   Such movements come across as clumsiness.  

Because of this simple inability to plan and complete movements efficiently, these children drop things, bump into chairs and people, make a mess while having a meal, and find it difficult to perform everyday tasks like getting dressed or arranging their schoolbooks neatly.   These children are neither foolish, nor retarded.   In fact, some of them may be above average in reading and mathematics skills.   However, they are poor at sports, find it difficult to make and keep friends, and often suffer from depression and low self esteem.  

How do we help them?

They need affection, support, and training.   All the small physical tasks that we do everyday, and most children learn effortlessly, are a challenge to children with dyspraxia.   They need to be taught simple things repeatedly till thay have perfected them.   Tasks should be given to them in small pieces -- they have difficulty with a sequence of tasks.  

It may be necessary to lower some expectations in order to lessen the incidence of failure.   These children can be trained to do most things, because they are not mentally retarded.   Repetition, gentleness, and patience are the ingredients for success.   Punishments and criticism related to clumsiness should be cut out entirely.  

Though these children do well in a regular school, special consideration is needed.   They need more time to complete assigned tasks.   Extra attention in the form of extra hours at school with one on one teaching helps them enormously.   Though they are up to their peers' standard, they sometimes do very poorly at school, because of poor writing ability.   Special attention to develop writing ability is needed.  

Sports is a major problem area.   Since they have very poor hand eye coordination, they are poor at sports, and are often left out by their peers.   Playing at home for extended times, and training to develop simple abilities, will help them to be able to at least participate in school sports activities.  

Parents, siblings, friends, and the school all need to help these children.   Professional help comes from pediatricians, neurologists, special educators, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, and others as needed.   With enough affection, guidance, and patience, these children can have a near normal life.

Last Revision: February 14, 2016

Doctorspeak for clumsiness

Unusual clumsiness was first given a medical name in the early part of the twentieth century -- Congenital Maladroitness.  Since then a variety of terms have been used to describe this condition.

Internet Resources

Dyspraxia Foundation website:  This is a UK charity which is a resource for parents, for children and adults who have the condition, and for professionals who help all of them.

The Dyspraxia Support Group, New Zealand:   This is a parent-initiated voluntary support group.  Their website has detailed information on the disorder.

Danny's day at school:  Description of a school day of a child with dyspraxia.  It also has insights on how the problems can be met.

Contact Information

Dr. Parang Mehta,
Mehta Childcare,
Opposite Putli, Sagrampura,
Surat, India.    Tel: +91 9429486624.