The impact of physical activity on externalizing behaviours in children with developmental coordination disorder


Background: Children with Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) often experience difficulties with motor coordination and externalizing behaviours (EB) such as rule breaking, aggression and attention problems. Literature has shown a positive impact of physical activity (PA) on internalizing problems, such as anxiety and depression, in children. However, a gap still remains regarding the effect of PA on EB. Purpose: To investigate whether PA mediates and/or moderates the relationship between DCD and EB in young children. Methods: Participants (N=589, 338 boys, Mage= 4.9±0.6 years) were part of a longitudinal cohort study, the Coordination and Activity Tracking in Children study. Motor coordination was assessed using the Movement Assessment Battery for Children – 2nd Edition. EB and ODD were measured using the Child Behaviour Checklist. Regression analyses were conducted for symptoms of ODD and EB separately. Mediating and/or moderating effects of PA on the relationship between DCD and ODD/EB were conducted using the PROCESS macro in SPSS v24. Results: Children with DCD had higher levels of ODD (b= -0.77, p <0.001) and EB (b=-.322, p <0.001) relative to typically developing children. However, PA neither mediated nor moderated this association. Conclusion: The skill gap hypothesis may be one explanation as to why PA may not be mediating or moderating this relationship. Motor skill demands for participating in PA are quite low in children, and therefore may not impact PA at this age. These results highlight the importance of early motor skill interventions to promote PA participation as children get older and skill demands increase.