By Gilma Avalos

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ARLINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) – Every Monday evening, kids from all over North Texas spend an hour at the Little Mavs Movement Academy at the University of Texas Arlington.

As they write their name in the air with ribbon, or slither around an obstacle course, they’re actually working to improve their handwriting, balance, fine and gross motor skills. But when you’re a kid, playing with friends, is just fun.

“This is the highlight of my week,” Quintin Thomas says. “I look forward to coming here after school.”

The 5th grader has attended the academy since he was diagnosed with Developmental Coordination Disorder.

“We were really concerned. What is he not going to be able to do? What will it hold him back from,” remembers Brandi Thomas, Quintin’s mom.

DCD is surprisingly common, affecting approximately 6 to 13 percent of school-aged children, according to the American Psychiatric Association. The neurodevelopmental condition impacts fine and gross motor skills.

Common symptoms include major delays in achieving motor milestones like crawling and walking.

Children may also have difficulty putting on and taking off clothing, writing clearly, tying their shoelaces and managing zippers and buttons.

“They may have problems cutting with scissors, eating, and sitting still for too long because of their postural control,” says Dr. Priscila Caçola, Assistant Professor at UTA.

“Other than that, they’re really intelligent,” she explains.

Because kids are otherwise bright, symptoms can be dismissed as sheer laziness.

“Kids try and get frustrated because they are intelligent and they cannot understand why they are not able to do the things other kids can,” she explains.

If it’s not addressed, the disorder can impact kids in and out of the classroom.

“They are at risk for bullying, anxiety, and depression, also physical health [issues] because they’re not going to be as active, because they don’t have good motor skills,” Dr Caçola says.

The Little Mavs Academy focuses on intervention in an environment where kids feel comfortable.

“Kids can improve on motor skills but most importantly they find a place where they fit in,” Dr Caçola says.
“I feel like it’s good to know they’re not the only ones,” Quintin said.

When 2nd grader Eli Gerstenkorn was first referred to the program by his school principal, he was struggling with a rite of passage.

After working with specialized bicycles at the Little Mavs Movement Academy, Eli is on his way.

“I can ride my bike without training wheels,” he proclaims.

His handwriting has improved so much, his teacher praised a recent school assignment.

“He came home from school and I told him his teacher was really boastful of his writing. He just got the biggest smile on his face. I just think it will help his confidence in school,” says Wendy Gerstenkorn, Eli’s mother.

Quintin who used to dread team sports has been playing on a basketball team for several seasons. He says his handwriting has improved significantly.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, it started at a 1 and went to a 7,” Quintin says.

His mom no longer worries about DCD’s limitations.

“This program has given me confidence in what he can achieve and has given him confidence,” Thomas says.

The Little Mavs Movement Academy is currently accepting 4 to 16-year-old children with DCD. The program is not a substitute for individualized treatments like physical therapy. Student volunteers from UTA’s Department of Kinesiology, are on hand to guide children through the program.

Parents can make screening appointments to see if their children qualify.

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