What is Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD)?
DCD is a chronic motor skill disorder seen in children and youth, which significantly affects activities of daily living, school performance, and leisure activities.
The disorder is diagnosed by a paediatrician or sometimes jointly between an educational psychologist and occupational therapist using the DSM-5 criteria:
(a) A significant difficulty learning and carrying out skills that require motor coordination (taking into consideration the child’s age and opportunity for skill learning).
(b) The motor skills deficits significantly and persistently interfere with everyday tasks (activities of daily living) in the home, play and school environments.
(c) The onset of symptoms becomes apparent in early childhood.
(d) The motor skills deficits are not due to: an intellectual disability, visual impairment, neurological or medical condition affecting movement.
DCD vs Dyspraxia
Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is a formal and defined condition. Dyspraxia is not. Dyspraxia is a term used to describe a difficulty with coordinated motor planning or lack of praxis.
Some Features of Children with DCD:
- Poor motor planning makes new movements and actions harder to do.
- Physically awkward or clumsy (slowness or inaccuracy when performing motor skills).
- Difficulties in planning and organisation skills (movement, writing, daily life tasks).
- Poor body awareness (hold pencil too lightly/tightly, bump into things, not knowing own strength).
- Difficulties in learning new motor skills.
- Difficulties with P.E., sports and on the playground.
- Reduced interest in physical activities.
- Handwriting, printing, copying difficulties.
- Difficulties with dressing, feeding, grooming, organising belongings.
- Requires extra effort (often slow) and attention when tasks have a motor component.
Other Impacts on Daily Life:
Poor attention and concentration: Children with DCD need to put in a lot more effort than other children to perform seemingly simple motor tasks. Due to this effort, they can fatigue easier and it can be more difficult to engage in sustained auditory attention. Some children also struggle with processing sensory information.
Speech, language and social skills difficulties: Gross and fine motor difficulties, poor planning and sensory integration difficulties can make it difficult for a child to engage in playground games or activities. Some children with DCD also have speech and language difficulties which affect their ability to communicate and interact with their peers.
Auditory processing difficulties: Some children struggle to block out background noise (both in the classroom and in the playground), follow rapid speech or conversations from multiple speakers.
Behavioural and emotional difficulties: Some children have a high level of frustration and reduced motivation. Others report psychological issues, including significantly higher levels of anxiety or depression and decreased quality of life than their peers.
How can parents help?
- Clear short instructions.
- Go at your child’s pace. Speak slowly, pause between instructions.
- Give verbal and physical cues to help them through an activity.
- Give your child time to observe other children before joining in games.
- Provide your child with lots of different FUN opportunities to practice a skill: e.g. instead of catching a ball: catch falling leaves, bubbles, scrunched-up pieces of newspaper, rolled up socks, balloons.
- Reverse chaining: sometimes children may just need help starting an activity, but will be able to finish it independently.
- Try to balance assistance and independence.
- Consistency and Repetition: When teaching a task, practice it the same way each time. You may need to repeat a task several times. With each repetition remain consistent. Remember what Aled always says: Perfect practice makes perfect!
- STOP (see Blog): Stop-Think-Observe-Proceed
A 4-step strategy for learning a new task:
(1) Stop – Stop to think (What am I going to do?)
(2) Plan – How am I going to do it?
(3) Do – Go ahead and do it. Comment while you are doing the task.
(4) Check – Recall the steps. How did my plan go? Recognise what went well/wrong.
Written by: Aled Hughes & Marinet Brennan
For ideas on how to develop ‘Movement and Listening Skills’ at home, please go to our YouTube channel:
Throughout our podcasts we will also endeavour to illustrate the importance of movement as a foundation skill to learning: Move to Learn, Learn to Move.
To listen to Aled Hughes and Marinet Brennan’s podcasts on the topic of ‘Movement and Listening’ click on the Apple / iTunes Podcast link below. You can also find us on Spotify.