Developmental coordination disorder, self-regulation, and executive functioning in preschool-aged children: Implications for research

  • Jeffrey D Graham Family Medicine, McMaster University
  • Yao-Chuen Li Family Medicine, McMaster University
  • Sara King-Dowling Family Medicine, McMaster University
  • Christine Rodriguez Family Medicine, McMaster University
  • John Cairney Family Medicine, McMaster University


Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is one of the most prevalent childhood neurodevelopmental disorders and is characterized by impaired gross and fine motor skills (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). DCD has been linked to lower levels of physical and mental health, executive functioning (EF), and several self-regulation problems (for a review see Cairney et al., 2015), yet the data pertaining to preschool-aged children remains limited. Self-regulation broadly refers to the process of exerting control over one's thoughts, emotions or behaviours (Baumeister, 2014). Importantly, childhood self-regulation is predictive of several adaptive cognitive, physical and health related outcomes over the life course (Mischel et al., 2011). Participants (n = 211, 89 girls, Mage = 4.56±0.50 years) in the current study are part of a larger longitudinal study. Presently, 110 (76 boys) children are classified as at risk for DCD (DCDr). DCDr children were found to experience a greater amount of internalizing (e.g., emotional control; p = .001, d = 0.46) and externalizing (e.g., aggression; p < .001, d = 0.78) self-regulatory problems. Based on the Strength Model (Baumeister, 2014), we believe various self-regulatory training techniques used in typically developing young adults (for a review see Berkman, In Press) also warrant investigation in children with DCD. Because self-regulatory training techniques target the neural underpinnings of executive functioning (Lopez et al., 2015), we hypothesize that physical self-regulation training techniques which require minimal coordination to perform (e.g., isometric handgrip, wall-sits, planks) should positively affect the overall physical and mental health of children with DCD.

Acknowledgments: This study is funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR award #126015) and supported by a CIHR Postdoctoral Fellowship