PhD Student Jocelyn Tan wins award for presentation on AMPitup research project

27 November 2019

Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is a condition where a person’s motor coordination is below the expected level for their age and is estimated to be present in between 5-15% of primary school aged children1.  But the perception of DCD being a childhood condition has led to a lack of research on the lifelong consequences for sufferers as they pass through adolescence and adulthood, and it is in this area that Jocelyn Tan’s early feasibility and efficacy work was awarded best presentation from the 2019 Child Health Symposium Consumer Involvement Session run by the Child and Adolescent Health Service.

The Adolescent Movement exercise Program (AMPitup) is run by The University of Notre Dame Australia for adolescents with movement difficulties and has recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Jocelyn’s research will look at the potential improvements participants experience in bone health as they engage in frequent physical exercise over a long period of time. Jocelyn’s project is part of the West Australian Bone Research Collaboration (WABRC), a partnership between Notre Dame, Edith Cowan University, Perth Children’s Hospital and the University of Jyväskylä.

“We know that people with DCD have an impairment of bone health,” Jocelyn says, “and the theorised reason for that is because they have low levels of physical activity.

So by engaging them in exercising and intervention activities it is possible that we could be improving their bone health.

Osteoporosis, a condition where bones become weak and brittle, happens to everyone who lives long enough. As we age, our bones continue developing until we are around 20-30, development then plateaus until the age of 40-45, at which point it begins to decline.

The research that Jocelyn is undertaking, using the longitudinal data collected from the AMPitup project, has wide-reaching potential benefits in understanding how we can help prevent this weakness of bones presenting earlier or causing more issues than it should.

“Physical activity is known to be one of the most important factors for new bone development and preventing bone loss,” Jocelyn says.

“One of the things that spurred this research on was a five year study by WABRC, which found that the fracture rate in children has steadily been increasing. There’s no reason why this should be increasing, everything is safer for kids now than it has ever been, so the only thing we can possibly think of as a reason for the change is that their physical activity levels are dropping.”

Another issue facing those who suffer from DCD is a low diagnosis rate. Roughly 5% of the population has DCD, but diagnosis rates are significantly lower.

“A lot of people might look at their kids and just think they’re a bit clumsy, their handwriting isn’t great right now, they don’t like sports and that’s the extent of it. They don’t get diagnosed with anything.”

But DCD is a lifelong condition, it develops early on and in most cases carries through to adulthood. The idea is that if we can address the issue early on, they might not get to the point in adulthood where they actually have major health consequences.

Jocelyn explains that many people who have grown up with the disease find coping mechanisms to avoid the potential issues that come from it. For example, they may take the elevator instead of the stairs, or they may be more selective with choosing a parking space, or perhaps they choose shoes depending on the level of support they get from them.

But this avoidance of the issue is something Jocelyn hopes to bring an end to by highlighting the issue of bone health and proposing solutions for early intervention to improve their overall quality of life. A huge benefit of using the AMPitup program data for this study is that it is focused on the adolescent age range.

“A lot of the research into DCD is focused on children, but we’re the only group looking at bone health in this particular age range. The AMPitup program is also a general exercise intervention program, which is good for the research because it is isn’t specifically focused on bone health, meaning that it will show the effects of general physical activity rather than specialised exercises.”

“This research is about opening the door and highlighting the issue so we can start this important conversation.”

Jocelyn’s research is across the lifespan and will extend into adulthood where she is looking at the relationship between DCD and bone health. She is currently recruiting adults aged 25-40 years for this study. If you want more information about this aspect of her work, please contact Jocelyn via email at Jocelyn is a PhD candidate within the WABRC and you can follow the team’s work via twitter @WABRC.

1 Grace, T. & Hands, B. (2017) Developmental Coordination Disorder: A resource for parents, teachers and clinicians. Perth, WA: University of Notre Dame

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