Motor development disorders

Photo of a father and son playing with a ball

Many children’s movements seem to be particularly awkward and clumsy. Often, it’s just a phase, but sometimes the cause is a motor development disorder.

Around 5% of children have a development disorder that affects their motor skills (how they move). These types of disorder are more common among boys than among girls. They can affect the child’s ability to perform major body movements (“gross motor skills”), such as walking, and small movements like writing (“fine motor skills”). Usually, these children also have poor coordination.

What forms do motor development disorders take?

Many children mainly have problems with their gross motor skills. For instance, they learn to walk much later and are less confident in their movements than their peers, or they seem clumsy. They have trouble keeping their balance, stumble a lot or often drop things. They also find it difficult to catch a ball or hop on one leg.

Symptoms of fine motor problems can come to light when the child isn’t as skillful or quick as others in writing, arts and crafts and drawing. Their handwriting can be less legible or they might have problems cutting out and folding paper. In some cases, their drawings of simple objects or figures are very inaccurate.

How do these developmental disorders evolve?

Motor skill problems usually begin to become apparent between the ages of three and five. Some children simply develop more slowly or individually than others so minor difficulties often disappear as they grow older.

However, if the child has a developmental disorder, the difficulties usually persist until puberty. Around half of these children still have motor skill problems in adulthood.

As the child’s body develops, their motor skill problems tend to decrease. While motor skills play a major role in children’s development, for example when children are learning to walk, swim or write, they are less critical during the teenage years. Many children also learn to cope better with their motor skill deficiencies as they grow older. Others, however, continue to have difficulties.

What are the potential consequences of a motor development disorder?

Children who have motor development disorders are usually not as physically active as other children, have poorer grades in sports at school and avoid team sports.

Fine motor deficits can cause difficulties with written work and art/music/craft lessons. But in most school subjects they don’t have a direct impact on performance. However, the child’s self-esteem can be diminished due to things like teasing or constantly feeling they’ve failed. This can result in mental health issues and affect relationships with friends and other children.

The child might also be less able to perform everyday activities like getting dressed, eating or playing. In addition, motor impairments can make it more difficult to train for and hold down a job.

How are motor development disorders diagnosed?

In Germany, the child development check-ups carried out by pediatricians or family doctors can point to a possible disorder. However, additional examinations in a specialized pediatric practice or center for social pediatrics are needed before a can be made.

These specialists test the child’s coordination, perception and motor skills. The child is also given a through physical examination to rule out other conditions that can lead to motor skill problems, primarily nervous system disorders. In addition, the doctors talk to the parents to find out more as well as asking them to fill in questionnaires as a basis for assessing the child’s development.

Usually, children under the age of five shouldn’t be diagnosed as having a “motor development disorder.” This is because it’s difficult to judge whether younger children are simply developing more slowly than their peers or whether they do actually have a developmental disorder. In addition, the results of the motor skill tests can be unreliable if the child doesn’t cooperate throughout.

What forms of treatment and support are available?

Parents are often recommended to encourage their child to be more active and do more sports and exercise. But it’s important to focus on activities that the child enjoys and doesn’t find too challenging. Usually, if the movements and exercises are too difficult, the child will feel like they have failed and will stop participating. The most important thing is to help the child develop its coordination, perception and ability to control movements. A doctor or can advise you on which activities are suitable.

The following forms of treatment are also possible:

  • Occupational therapy: This involves practicing everyday tasks and movements with the therapist’s guidance. The child practices things like (un)dressing, drawing and writing, training both gross and fine motor skills. The therapist also helps the child improve their coordination by working on perception skills and use of hearing, smell, touch and sight to interact with their environment.
  • Physiotherapy: This involves various child-friendly exercises to practice movements, coordination and dexterity. The physician might also work on improving the child’s perceptual skills and emotional reactions.

The following questions play a role in deciding which type of support the child needs:

  • How significant are the motor skill problems?
  • To what extent are they having a negative impact on the child’s life?
  • Will doing more exercise and joining a sports club be enough?
  • Or does the child need more specific support and treatment?

Apart from improving the child’s motor skills, the treatment aims to boost their self-esteem, encourage them to become more active and so improve their relationships with other children.

What can parents do?

In the long term, treatment can only be successful if your child takes what it learns from therapy and applies it in day-to-day life. So it’s important to seek advice on how to help them do that. Possible ideas include:

  • Encouraging your child to be more active.
  • Looking to see which activities your child enjoys and making them possible on a regular basis.
  • Applying therapy exercises at home.
  • Setting a good example and being more active yourself. You can do this by walking or cycling more or not using escalators, for instance.
  • Letting your child do things. For example, letting them climb or get dressed on their own. Getting your child to help with household chores.
  • Playing, running or playing catch with your child, suggesting activities you can do together and spending lots of time outdoors.
  • Being patient and allowing your child to take their own time.

Neuropädiatrische Gesellschaft der deutschsprachigen Länder (GNP). Definition, Diagnose, Untersuchung und Behandlung bei umschriebenen Entwicklungsstörungen motorischer Funktionen (UEMF) (S3-Versorgungsleitlinie). AWMF-Registernr.: 022-017. 2020.

Schlack HG, Esser G. Umschriebene Entwicklungsstörungen. In: Schlack HG, Kries R (Ed). Sozialpädiatrie. Berlin: Springer 2009. P. 157-187.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

Comment on this page

What would you like to share with us?

We welcome any feedback and ideas - either via our form or by We will review, but not publish, your ratings and comments. Your information will of course be treated confidentially. Fields marked with an asterisk (*) are required fields.

Please note that we do not provide individual advice on matters of health. You can read about where to find help and support in Germany in our information “How can I find self-help groups and information centers?

Über diese Seite

Updated on August 30, 2023

Next planned update: 2026


Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

How we keep you informed

Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter or newsfeed. You can find all of our films online on YouTube.