About development coordination disorder (DCD)

Development coordination disorder (DCD) is a developmental disorder that causes problems with movement and coordination.

Children with DCD can find it hard to coordinate their bodies to do everyday tasks, like dressing themselves, writing neatly, running or riding a bike. This can make them seem clumsy or awkward.

Children with DCD are just as smart as other people. But clumsiness and trouble with everyday physical activities can affect children’s self-esteem, ability to fit in with others and schoolwork.

DCD affects 5-6% of children and is a lifelong condition.

You might hear people using the term ‘dyspraxia’ as well as terms like DCD. Dyspraxia means difficulty with movement. It’s a symptom of DCD, but it isn’t the same as DCD.

Signs and symptoms of DCD

Children with development coordination disorder (DCD) might have trouble with:

  • small, detailed movements (fine motor skills) – for example, writing, tying shoelaces or using cutlery
  • larger movements (gross motor skills) – for example, kicking, throwing or jumping.

They might also have trouble:

  • learning new movements
  • using movement skills in unfamiliar ways or situations – for example, catching balls of different sizes
  • planning movements, especially as part of a sequence of steps – for example, learning a dance routine.

Other signs of DCD might be:

  • poor balance – for example, tripping and falling a lot
  • awkward or clumsy movements – for example, a child might often bump into things
  • messy writing
  • physical fatigue – for example, a short walk to the local store might take longer and be more tiring for a child with DCD.

Children with DCD might also avoid tasks that need movement or coordination, like dressing themselves.

If you’re concerned that your child is showing signs of DCD, it’s a good idea to talk with your GP. The GP can refer your child to a health professional with expertise in DCD.

Diagnosing DCD

Your GP can refer you to health professionals who can diagnose development coordination disorder (DCD). These professionals might include occupational therapists, paediatricians or psychologists.

Health professionals diagnose DCD by looking at your child’s movement skills and how these skills affect your child’s everyday life. They might also do a general health check to rule out other causes for your child’s movement problems.

Diagnosis of DCD might include:

  • interviews with you and other primary carers of your child
  • interviews with your child
  • questionnaires about your child’s movement skills, for you and your child’s teachers to complete
  • tests that examine your child’s movement skills.

There might also be a general health check and other tests to look at your child’s:

  • development
  • learning
  • education and IQ
  • language and speech
  • vision and hearing.

It can be harder to diagnose DCD in children under five years because movement skills vary a lot among children in this age group. If your child is under five years and you’re concerned about her movement, it’s still a good idea to talk with your GP or child and family health nurse.

Treatment for children with DCD

There’s no cure for development coordination disorder (DCD), but therapy can help your child to manage his symptoms. The right therapy for DCD depends on your child’s existing movement skills.

For example, an occupational therapist might be able to show you how to teach new movement skills to your child, by breaking them down into steps. This might include skills like tying shoelaces or handwriting, which will make things easier for your child at home and at school.

Or a physiotherapist might be able to work with your child to improve her gross and/or fine movement skills. This can make it easier for your child to do everyday things like running or getting dressed.

It’s a good idea to learn as much as possible about DCD from your health professionals. Online and face-to-face support groups can give you information and help you find services to help your child. And they can be a good way to make contact with other parents of children with DCD and get support for yourself.

School support for children with DCD

Children with development coordination disorder (DCD) can face challenges at school that can make it difficult to keep up in class or fit in with peers.

A child with DCD might have trouble:

  • writing and typing fast or accurately enough to keep up in written tasks or tests
  • using tools and materials for art, craft or science activities
  • remembering or following complex instructions
  • taking part in PE class
  • speaking clearly, which can make it harder to socialise or fit in with others.

As a first step, it’s important to build a positive relationship with your child’s school. When you have a good relationship, it’s easier for you to talk with teachers about your child’s DCD and how they can support your child’s learning. It’s also easier to clear up any misunderstandings about your child’s behaviour or attitude to learning.

There are also some practical things you can do to work with the school on supporting your child’s learning and helping him overcome challenges:

  • Ask about having a health professional work with your child at school – for example, your child’s occupational therapist. Some schools have on-site therapists.
  • Talk with your child’s teachers about an individual learning plan to support your child’s learning.
  • Let staff know about strategies that work for your child at home. For example, you might let staff know that your child learns better with step-by-step picture cards.
  • Talk with teachers about classroom strategies that might work for your child. For example, if your child has trouble with writing, teachers can give her extra time in class to work on written tasks. Your child might also find it easier to use a keyboard in class rather than writing on paper.

Physical activity for children with DCD

Children and teenagers with development coordination disorder (DCD) often avoid physical activity because they feel they aren’t ‘good’ at it. This means that they’re more likely to develop health issues like poor cardiovascular health and obesity.

Helping children find activities that they like is one of the keys to keeping them active. It helps to try different activities so that your child can find one (or more!) activities that he enjoys.

Unlike team sports, individual sports or physical activities often better suit children with DCD because they can learn at their own pace. Examples of individual activities include martial arts, dance, gymnastics, yoga and hiking.

Children with DCD might also enjoy physical activities with repeated movements, like running, swimming, cycling, skating and rowing. The repeated movements help make these activities easier to learn.

Children and teenagers with DCD can be at risk of anxiety and depression because of the way that DCD can affect self-esteem and everyday life. If you think your child might have anxiety or depression, start by talking to your GP or going to a mental health service.

Causes of DCD

We don’t know what causes development coordination disorder (DCD). Some experts think there might be problems in the way the brain plans how to move or how the brain sends messages to the body.

More research is needed.