Aims  Motor performance and self-perceived motor competence have a great impact on the psychosocial development of children in general. In this review, empirical studies of gross motor performance and self-perception of motor competence in children with emotional (depression and anxiety), behavioural, and pervasive developmental disorders are scrutinized, with the objective of identifying specific motor characteristics that may be relevant to clinical practice.

Method  A systematic search of studies published between 1997 and 2007 was performed using nine search engines.

Results  Children in all three categories (emotional, behavioural, and pervasive developmental disorders) exhibit poor gross motor performance and problematic self-perception of motor competence, with certain indications of disorder-specific characteristics. In particular, children with emotional disorders have balance problems and self-perceived motor incompetence; children with behavioural disorders show poor ball skills and tend to overestimate their motor performance; children with pervasive developmental disorders demonstrate poor gross motor performance and self-perceived motor incompetence. As a result, children with developmental and emotional disorders are restricted in participating in games and play, which may lead to inactive lifestyles and further disruption of their psychosocial and physical development.

Interpretation  Motor problems need more, to some extent disorder-specific, attention in clinical practice than has been provided to date.