It’s not every day you hear a college professor termed a “huge blessing,” but that’s how Fort Worth mother Christine Lund describes Priscila Caçola.
This spring Lund brought her 7-year-old daughter, Evelyn, to Dr. Caçola’s Developmental Motor Cognition Lab at UT Arlington. The kinesiology assistant professor and her team of undergraduate and graduate students are testing children ages 7-13 for developmental coordination disorder, a condition that limits motor development and is sometimes referred to as dyspraxia. Researchers believe it affects at least 6 percent of school-age children.
Children with the condition have difficulty with activities like games and sports, and it can even affect handwriting and other fine motor skills. They are more likely to become sedentary and suffer health consequences because they don’t participate in movement activities. Becoming victims of bullying and experiencing social isolation are common.
Caçola believes developmental coordination disorder may be linked to a difficulty in the way the brain plans movement. She hopes working with children like Evelyn—a bright girl who worries that her trouble with handwriting will cause her problems in school—will test that theory and lead to more effective interventions.
Getting the word out is the first step.
“Awareness is a huge challenge with movement difficulties,” Caçola says. “Our testing has been going well, and parents who come to campus for the assessments are happy that they did. But sometimes it’s difficult to get participants because most people don’t go around telling others that their kids seem clumsy. When they hear about my study is when they link the facts with their situation.”
Later this year Caçola plans to start an intervention program for kids with developmental coordination disorder as part of UT Arlington’s Center for Healthy Living and Longevity, which is housed in the Kinesiology Department of the College of Education and Health Professions. It will give participating children an opportunity to try research-based solutions in an environment with others who have similar difficulties.
For Christine and Evelyn Lund, knowing that there are researchers like Priscila Caçola opens new options.
“I want to empower Evelyn so she can feel confident in her abilities,” Christine says. “Now that I have the information, it’s up to me to decide how to move forward.”