Look where you are going!

The importance of looking where you are going and planning your walking path

Parents of children with DCD often report that their child tends to bump into door frames and furniture and trip over very low obstacles on the floor.  Walking across a room and through a doorway requires attention to what lies ahead and planning the walking path to avoid obstacles. 

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Walking over rough terrain or in a crowded space requires even more attention to the environment, looking ahead for potential hazards, adapting the direction and speed of walking to deal with changing circumstances and so on. 

Children with good coordination have learned to pay attention the the environment and plan and adapt their actions according to the demands of the situation. They also expect to succeed and when they fall their movement brain records that there has been a planning mistake and uses this information to adapt future actions to avoid falling again in a similar situation.  All this happens without the child being aware of  the movement brain's ongoing analysis of failures and successes and updating of movement plans.  This is referred to as implicit learning. 

Children with DCD do not learn from their mistakes in the same implicit manner.  They often need to be explicitly taught how to use attention to gather the information needed for action planning. 

Children with DCD often do not expect to succeed which means that when they fail at a task their movement brains are not alerted to a the fact that a planning failure has occurred and as a result do not learn from mistakes. 

A coaching strategy for training Nick not to bump into things

Nick is an active, on the go  6-year-old who is full of bruises on his legs because he falls and bumps his shins at least once a day, and will often bump into furniture or walk into the door frame as he moves from one place to another in the house.

Today Nick and his mum are practicing a stop-look-notice-plan strategy

Nick has planned a route through the house walking from one room to another. The game is to walk through all the doorways in the house without bumping into the door frame or furniture.  

Before Nick sets off he reminds himself to look ahead and notice what is in the way.  He  then walks at a moderate speed across a room and through the first doorway. Once through the door he stops again and looks ahead before he sets off on the next leg of his journey through the house.  

Today he achieves his goal of walking through all the doorways and around  all the rooms in the house. 

Speeding up and planning a path

Next Nick and his mum think about ways they can make this game more difficult. Nick decides that he wants to walk a little faster and that he wants to time himself. Together they plan a course:  from the kitchen to living room, then into the bathroom and from there into Nick's bedroom and back into the kitchen.  They write down the plan and Nick practices remembering the sequence. 

Then he sets out on his journey using the stopwatch on mum's cell phone to time himself.  The first trial he sets off at speed and develops a speed wobble turning into the passage and bumps into the doorway. 

The next trial he goes a little slower and finishes the the whole course without bumping into anything. 

What has Nick learned and what next? 

Nick is learning to look ahead, moderate his speed and change his expectations. Falling is an error and he should stop and consider what went wrong. Now he expects to walk around the house without falling.

In the days that follow Nick and his mum create new games - they add extra obstacles to walk around and over. They go for a walk in a busy mall where Nick practices not bumping into people.

At school Nick's teacher introduces a game for the whole class that involves all the children moving around the classroom and not bumping into or even touching each other. 

What can be learned from this coaching example

  • Select an activity that the child needs to improve 
  • Think about how the activity can be made more simple or easier so that it can be performed successfully
  • Involve the child in planning practice sessions
  • Provide incentives and rewards
  • Teach the child to recognize error and expect to succeed 
  • Practice the simplifies task until it can be done  successfully
  • Next make the task a little more difficult and provide opportunities for practice
  • Provide opportunities for performing the task in different places and spaces 

More about motor planning for walking 

Navigating a space without bumping or falling 

Why children trip and fall 

Bibliography: Planning a walk trajectory and clearing obstacles