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Treatment of clumsiness

The involvement of an occupational therapist or physiotherapist in providing advice about teaching children motor tasks is helpful. An occupational therapist will usually provide help with fine motor difficulties, and a physiotherapist with improving gross motor skills.

The first step is to identify tasks that are important to the child, such as catching a ball. The child will be motivated if he is learning a skill that is important to him. A realistic goal must be set at the outset.

The task should then be broken up into steps. Each step is usually taught separately, with praise for effort. It is best if the training is approached in an enjoyable manner, with tasks turned into games whenever possible. Each step is first introduced in an easy way and then gradually becomes more difficult (for example, when teaching catching, the child first catches a balloon, then a large ball, then smaller and smaller balls). Sometimes parallel exercises are useful, for example, the child practises clapping hands as a way of bringing the hands accurately together in preparation for catching a ball.

When teaching complex actions, such as tying shoe laces, it may be best to teach the last stage first. The parent ties the laces except for the last step, and then teaches the child to do this. When this is mastered the child learns to do the last two steps, and so on, until the child can do the whole process himself. This form of teaching is known as ‘reverse chaining’.

In all motor tasks it is essential that the child practises repeatedly. It is also important that the actions taught are directly related to the desired skill; it is no use practising kicking a bag to become better at catching it.

It is very important that the child is allowed to practise these motor tasks in private, away from his peers (and sometimes away from his siblings too). It is only when he has mastered the skill that he should have the opportunity of displaying his ability in public. It is best if you can arrange this in a way that your child will be rewarded for his accomplishment.

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