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Press Release

Press release

Tackling development issues in primary school children

13 May 2010

Research shows that children's motor skills deteriorate over the school year and a short questionnaire can assist early identification of development problems. New research shows that children's motor skills deteriorate over the school year, but that early intervention with short periods of targeted physical exercise can help reverse the decline. Further research validated a short questionnaire that will assist early identification of development problems. The work was funded by the Health Research Board.

Dr Amanda Connell, a Health Research Board Fellow in the Department of Physiotherapy at the University of Limerick will present her findings at the Rehabilitation Therapies Research Society (RTRS) Conference in Dublin on Friday 14 May 2010.
'I monitored more than 200 first and second class pupils at the start and at the end of the school year. I found that about one-in-nine children had significant motor skills problems at the start of the year, but that this number increased over the year.  To find out if physical intervention would help, I divided the children into two groups. A control group received no intervention, and a second group who participated in eight 20-minute movement classes mid-year.
I discovered that a small amount of targeted physical activity makes a significant difference to the number of children experiencing motor skill difficulties in a classroom. Among the children who had no special intervention, we found a decline in motor skills in more than one-in-four indicating a potential problem by the end of the year. This is the equivalent of almost 8 children in a class of 30.  Meanwhile those who received the movement classes fared much better, and only one-in-seven experienced a decrease in motor skills, equal to approximately 4.5 children in a class of 30. 
We know that poor motor skill ability is linked to low educational attainment and problems with behaviour and social skills. This in turn increases distress and anxiety among children. So in terms of tackling childhood development issues this is an important discovery that needs to be applied in practice', says Dr Connell.
Children with, or at risk of developing behavioural, social and motor skills problems, face a long wait for assessment. The assessments are expensive and children loose valuable time waiting when they could be receiving support. 
'Early identification and intervention can also significantly improve the child's prognosis. It also reduces the need for extended late intervention and the associated education costs, so it is essential that we have reliable tests in order to accurately identify children at risk quickly', she says.
In order to assist with early identification of children at risk from development problems, Dr Connell also validated the use of a simple, reliable questionnaire, which takes about five minutes to answer and is completed by a parent and a teacher. They simply review a set of statements on different aspects of the child's daily life. For example; Is the child helpful if someone is hurt, upset or feeling ill? Or are they easily distracted, does their concentration wander?
'Wherever we ran the questionnaires, we got an 80% response rate, which is phenomenal. For comparison, a 40% response rate would be typical for most similar surveys. This not only increases the reliability of the findings, but shows the test is easy to use'.
Dr Connell adds;
'As well as helping specialists accurately identify the children who need further assessment and intervention, what became clear to me throughout the project was the potential for parents, schools and health professionals to work together to improve children's education and health'.
Enda Connolly, Chief Executive at the Health Research Board says;
'This project demonstrates how health research can be applied in a very practical way to make a simple, but dramatic difference in a child's development. It could also go a long way to help reduce the number of children needing specialist intervention at a late stage for developmental problems saving both time and money'.  
Commenting on the value of research in the therapies area, Dr Deirdre Hurly Osing, Chair of the RTRS says, 'We are really starting to see the direct benefits of the HRB funding for therapies research. This project is just one example of how dedicated research activity can deliver benefits for patients and society. We are also seeing a major increase in the calibre of research and that is developing the credibility of the research we do. The HRB commitment to health services research will lead to more practical results to benefit people's health, change how we deliver care and provide our services more efficiently'. 

Notes to editors.

The Rehabilitation and Therapy Research Society (RTRS) was established in May 2004 by representatives from the professions of physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy. Since its inception in 2004 the society has focussed on developing and supporting research in the therapy professions throughout Ireland.

The 6th Annual Conference of the Rehabilitation and Therapy Research Society will be held on Friday 14th May 2010 at the Trinity Centre for Health Sciences, Trinity College Dublin. The theme of this year's conference is 'The Future of Rehabilitation and Therapy Research'. Presentations from keynote and invited speakers demonstrated current research within the therapy professions, and the direct impact such research can have on the health and wellbeing of the population. The research papers and posters highlight the variety and depth of clinically relevant research conducted by physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists across Ireland.

According to Dr Deirdre Hurley Osing, Chairperson of the Rehabilitation and Therapy Research Society, this year's 6th annual conference of the Rehabilitation and Therapy Research Society demonstrates the direct benefits to the health of the Irish population of investment in rehabilitation and therapy research through two recipients of the HRB Therapy Fellowship awards. The day also provides evidence of the wealth of research being conducted by Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists and Speech Therapists across the Island of Ireland's Universities and health settings that will have a direct impact on future patient care. The society looks forward to continuing to support this work in the coming years.

For more information contact:
Gillian Markey, Communications Manager
Health Research Board
m 00353 87 2288514
t 00353 1 2345103
e gmarkey(at) 



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