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Motor Skills

Although motor skills are NOT the main issue when talking about dyslexia, several sources say that in between 35% to 60% of the cases, dyslexia and fine motor skills alterations do co-exist. Motor skills can be divided into two types: fine and gross. The former includes manual dexterity, hand-eye coordination, and writing, whereas the latter involves spatial awareness, distance awareness, balance, throwing and catching, etc.

Countries where Motor Skills is assessed

So far, most studies that have been conducted on dyslexia focus mainly on the links between the cognitive development and academic performance of the child and it’s reading and writing ability. However, several studies have indicated that there is also a presence of differences in motor skills of these children compared to other children their age that do not have dyslexia. There is, so they say, a link between dyslexia and motor skills. 

Although motor skills are NOT the main issue when talking about dyslexia, several sources say that in between 35% to 60% of the cases, dyslexia and fine motor skills alterations do co-exist. 
Problems in motor skills, both gross and fine, can have a reasonable impact on the quality of life of children with dyslexia as a certain level of proficiency in motor skills is important to be able to function well in everyday life. Motor skills are involved in daily activities like buttoning a shirt, tying shoe laces or manipulating scissors.

Dyslexia is linked to an impairment of the automatization of sensory-motor procedures. This is how our brain processes the stimuli (or information) it receives. Sensory information can be something we see, hear, taste, touch or smell. In general, the brain reacts rapidly to new sensory input, like a sound, an image or even letters on a piece of paper. But for people with dyslexia, researchers have found that their reaction to the stimuli they received was on average about half that fast compared to those without dyslexia.

In that perspective, we could say that something like fluent reading relies on basic functions that link input units (letters or sounds) with output units (speech or spelling).

Dyslexia can be seen as something that is not solely limited to a dysfunction in the phonological system, but rather linked to multiple factors.

As we’ve seen before, it is often reported that children with dyslexia have deficits in gross motor skills, specifically with balance and postural tasks, and might come around as “clumsy”. Since the part of the brain that controls balance is called the cerebellum, many of these studies support the CDTD theory.

The Arm Motor Ability Test (AMAT) has been used to determine the effectiveness of constraint-induced movement therapy (CIMT) and includes 13 unilateral and bilateral tasks. Sample items include tying a shoe, opening a jar, wiping up spilled water, using a light switch, using utensils, and drinking.

FINE MOTOR SKILLS

  1. introduction

So far, most studies that have been conducted on dyslexia focus mainly on the links between the cognitive development and academic performance of the child and it’s reading and writing ability. However, several studies have indicated that there is also a presence of differences in motor skills of these children compared to other children their age that do not have dyslexia. There is, so they say, a link between dyslexia and motor skills. 

Although motor skills are NOT the main issue when talking about dyslexia, several sources say that in between 35% to 60% of the cases, dyslexia and fine motor skills alterations do co-exist. 

Problems in motor skills, both gross and fine, can have a reasonable impact on the quality of life of children with dyslexia as a certain level of proficiency in motor skills is important to be able to function well in everyday life. Motor skills are involved in daily activities like buttoning a shirt, tying shoe laces or manipulating scissors.

For a correct functioning of the motor skills, we need a correct development of our so-called non-declarative memory. This memory is used when you do certain things in a mechanical way and without actively thinking about them, like riding a bike, or buttoning a shirt. 

On the other hand, explicit memory, like remembering facts or words, is something that needs our full and active attention and focus. We are fully aware of doing it. Although both memory systems are different, it is said that they do interact with each other. After all, the act of reading is a mechanical activity for most of us…

Where, for a long time, links between dyslexia and motor skills were not deemed important, there are more and more studies showing that there actually might indeed be associations between motor skill and language development. 

One of the reasons could be that, when a small child has less developed motor skills and thus moves around less than other children, they will have less opportunities to interact with their environment, and will, as a consequence, receive less environmental support for their language development. 

  1. what are fine motor skills

Fine motor skills are essential in many aspects of life.

Things like hand posture while writing, buttoning, using scissors, turning keys, handling coins, tying shoelaces, opening and closing zippers, etc. are all part of our daily activities. These activities involve the finer muscles in the body and need precision and focus. Although a child needs a lot of attention while learning these fine motor skills at first, over time they become automatic. Although, as we have seen, in some cases it takes longer to reach that level of automatization. Sometimes even in adulthood some persons still struggle with fine motor skills. Bad handwriting is a good example of this.

Opposed to fine motor skills, gross motor skills are those that involve the large muscles in the arms, legs and torso. Depending on the age of the child, some examples of gross motor skills could be crawling, walking, running, tossing and catching a ball, kicking, etc. Gross motor skills are also related to other abilities such as balance, coordination or reaction time. 

  1. fine motor skills and dyslexia

Dyslexia is linked to an impairment of the automatization of sensory-motor procedures. This is how our brain processes the stimuli (or information) it receives. Sensory information can be something we see, hear, taste, touch or smell. In general, the brain reacts rapidly to new sensory input, like a sound, an image or even letters on a piece of paper. But for people with dyslexia, researchers have found that their reaction to the stimuli they received was on average about half that fast compared to those without dyslexia.

In that perspective, we could say that something like fluent reading relies on basic functions that link input units (letters or sounds) with output units (speech or spelling).

Dyslexia can be seen as something that is not solely limited to a dysfunction in the phonological system, but rather linked to multiple factors.

One theory on dyslexia, which is called the Cerebellar Deficit Theory of Dyslexia (CDTD) suggests that the apparent impairments of dyslexia can be attributed to a failure of skill automatization, which leads to slower information processing and motor skill impairments. 

As we’ve seen before, it is often reported that children with dyslexia have deficits in gross motor skills, specifically with balance and postural tasks, and might come around as “clumsy”. Since the part of the brain that controls balance is called the cerebellum, many of these studies support the CDTD theory.    

Other impairments that have been reported in children with dyslexia include sequential movements. These are movements that we make in a certain order (or sequence) to reach a certain desired result, like finger to thumb movements, throwing a bowling ball or serving when playing tennis. 

But sequential movements are not limited to the hands, arms or legs alone. Our eyes are also involved in sequential movements, like following a moving light with our eyes. This activity is called sequential tracking. And sequential tracking is one of the most fundamental components of reading. After all, all letters of the same word and all the words of the same sentence have to be read in the correct order (or sequence) for us to understand what’s written. Sequential tracking is related to the way we move our eyes, and research has shown that eye movement in people with dyslexia is very different from that of other people their own age that do not have dyslexia. 

Reading is possibly one of the most complex skills someone could learn. Like everything else in life, it develops gradually. And the development of reading skills is directly linked to the reader’s eye movement.  

When we start learning how to write, we learn spelling and handwriting at the same time. Although they are different processes, studies show that they interact and there are many reports that indicate difficulties in handwriting with children with dyslexia. 

In the case of dyslexia and fine motor skills there’s also a lot to say for the presence of comorbidities. A considerable percentage of people with dyslexia also show signs of attention deficit disorder, developmental coordination disorder (DCD) or language disorders. Fine motor skill problems are therefore not exclusively linked to dyslexia. 

  1. how to measure motor skills

Since fine motor skills are related to, but not dependent on, a child’s reading ability, it’s something that can be detected at a younger age. While the usual earliest age of detecting reading difficulties is 7, in the case of motor skills deficits, this can sometimes even be in their first years of life.

Not only can it be detected at an early stage, early detection can also be beneficial for the child itself, and it’s further development. 

Depending on the age of the child, there exists a myriad of tests available. Some of the tests that have been mentioned in the research that we’ve used for this document include:

  • The Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency (2nd edition): provides a comprehensive overview of both fine and gross motor skills in children and young adults.
  • Edinburgh Handedness Inventory: possibly one of the most used tools to screen handedness. 
  • Purdue Pegboard Test: it tests the fingertip dexterity as well as the gross movement of the subject’s hand, fingers and arm. 
  • Lincoln-Orseretsky Motor Development Scale (LOMDS): Designed for 6-14 year olds. It tests 36 different items, covering a wide variety of motor skills.

Nevertheless, observation should be the first tool to detect possible existence of dysfunctional motor skills. Although mere observation can never be seen as determinant it can give certain indications that could lead to further evaluations.

Poor motor performance may manifest itself as poor balance, coordination problems, dropping things or bumping into them, clumsiness, etc. Another indication could be remarkable delays in reaching certain milestones in the child’s motor development, like turning, crawling, sitting or walking. Or at a later stage it can be detected by the speed of acquisition of basic motor skills such as kicking, running, jumping, writing, hopping, catching, throwing, etc.

These differences in motor development and skills have a direct impact on the daily activities of the child, either on academic level or in their personal sphere. 

  1. what can you do to help

Although it remains an area to be explored further, there are indications that early intervention and well planned and directed practice can improve the consequences of dyslexia. 

Activities like motor sequence learning are characterized by rapid gains in the initial stages of the practice. Automatization occurs over a period of time and after repeated sessions. 

A child as old as 4 weeks is usually able to fixate its eyes on different points in a sequence. However, this sequencing skill does not reach its full potential until the age of 7. Since sequencing skills are very important for reading accuracy, when training those skills at an early age we are helping our child to possibly become a more accurate reader. 

Early intervention with physical training is said to stimulate brain development. Practicing motor skills also enhances sustained attention and general processing speed, which could have a positive effect on academic performance as well as the activity of reading. This leads to a positive role for meta-learning.  

Things one can do to enhance development of motors kills small children could be dressing and undressing dolls, tearing papers, throwing and catching a ball, threading beads, etc. It’s important to repeat the activity over time so the right parts of the brain are stimulated. Making it playful and encouraging the child will also enhance their self esteem as well as their general motor skills.

Studies have shown that the most basic motor skills should be developed by the age of 8 y/o. Nevertheless, after that age, development continues and the majority of children come up to speed in the most important motor skills areas at a later stage of life. Nevertheless, directed practice of fine motor skills can improve the results of dyslexia. 

Sources:

  • Shared and differentiated motor skill impairments in children with dyslexia and/or attention deficit disorder: From simple to complex sequential coordination 
  • Motor profile of students with dyslexia (Psychology Research, Vol 4, number 1, Jan 2014)
  • Motor Sequence Learning and Developmental Dyslexia (Pierre Orban, Ovidiu Lungu, Julien Doyon)
  • Motor impairment in dyslexia: The influence of attention disorders (Yves Chaixa, Jean-Michel Albaretb, Celine Brassard, Emmanuel Cheureta, Pascale de Castelnau, Jacques Benesteaua, Caroline Karsentya, Jean-Franc-ois Demonet)
  • La dislexia y su repercusión en la Educación Física (Dña Soledad de la Torre Pérez)
  • Gross Motor Skills Performance in Children with Dyslexia: A Comparison between Younger and Older Children  (Jurnal Sains Kesihatan Malaysia 17(2) 2019: 121-128)

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