The Gifts of the DCD Child
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Bruce Lee
The first time I read this quote from the martial arts master Bruce Lee, I thought how apt it was for the DCD child and the gifts hidden within his/her condition.
For me as a parent, watching my child struggle with DCD never gets any easier. I see the ways it impacts his movements, his ability to care for himself, his ability to play with his peers, his participation in sport and his academic output. Then there are the secondary social and emotional impacts that he encounters daily.
However, I have also learnt to see the ways DCD is making him stronger and the incredible skills it is teaching him that will be the foundations he will build on for life. Instead of focusing on the ways he struggles, I choose to focus on these successes and allow these to fill my heart.
Every child with DCD will learn the power of getting up more times than they fall down.
Yes, this is a skill that all children must learn. However it is a challenge the DCD child faces with more frequency than their peers. From the time he was a toddler, my son would fall, and each time he would leap back up with a shout of “I’m okay!” and try again. From his first tentative steps, to tripping over his own feet when he runs, to trying to co-ordinate the complexities of movement to participate in a ball game with his sister or his peers, he falls. And he gets up. Again and again.
One day, his ski school instructor said to me: “I teach a lot of kids, and they all fall over. But none of them get up like him. Where others will sit and cry, he bounds right back up and keeps on going.”
So I celebrate his determination, tenacity and resilience.
Every child with DCD will learn that the acquisition of any skill comes through the discipline of repeated practice.
Let’s talk about those childhood rights of passage: learning to swim and riding a bike.
For our DCD child, these things have taken time … a lot of time, and a lot of practice.
There were the countless laps around the school field with stabilizers on his bike. The stabilizers stayed on his bike for one summer, then two, more than when his same-aged peers had progressed to zooming around on two wheels.
These were essential while he developed the core strength to sit up straight and balance on four wheels (before he could progress to two) while simultaneously managing the bi-lateral coordination needed for both legs to pedal at the same time. Once we mastered moving in straight lines, we progressed to turning corners. This was a new challenge that then required renewed repeated practice. Left was easier than right. Figure eights took a long time.
He fell. He got back up. He finally had the confidence to tackle a small ramp at the bike park. He nailed it. We cheered! He went again. On his fourth time, he fell. He broke his leg. When his leg healed, he tried again.
As with biking, so it is with swimming. First there is the core strength needed to float. Then the leg strength and bi-lateral coordination needed to kick: left, right, left right. Then the added complexity of incorporating the arms with the kicks. Don’t forget to breathe. Don’t forget to keep kicking when you turn your head to breathe (otherwise you sink).
At the end of the lesson set, the report cards would be returned with the next level for enrolment the same as the last. Group lessons delivered the distressing self-awareness of not keeping pace with his peers. With the start of each new lesson set he would watch them line up under progressively larger numbers on the pool deck, while he stayed firmly in place. In time, he became noticeably older than his lesson-mates, which also impacted his self-confidence. A switch to private lessons became the obvious and necessary choice for both his physical development and emotional wellbeing.
Eventually, a pass! And the cycle would start again, as the new motor skills required to swim at the next level became more complex, and more challenging for the DCD child to master. Yet, there he would be, standing on the pool deck every single week, waiting to dive right in.
So I celebrate his patience and perseverance.
The DCD child will go through life trying and trying again, working hard, practicing over and over and over again, to learn the motor skills that come quite naturally to others.
When Mr Lee says “I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times” it would appear that he is saying he fears the man who can deliver a masterful kick.
Perhaps. However, I believe that it has little to do with the kick itself and more to do with the strengths of character required to practice a skill 10,000 times that makes for a formidable opponent and earns his deepest respect.
For in all this practice, he or she is building the habits of hard work, determination, resilience, tenacity, patience and perseverance. More than any particular motor skill, these strengths are the foundations for future success in the adult world. And our DCD kids will have them in spades.