What is Development Coordination Disorder?

Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is a motor skills disorder that affects five to six percent of all school-aged children. DCD occurs when a delay in the development of motor skills, or difficulty coordinating movements, results in a child being unable to perform common, everyday tasks. By definition, children with DCD do not have an identifiable medical or neurological condition that explains their coordination problems.

Frequently described as “clumsy” or “awkward” by their parents and teachers, children with DCD have difficulty mastering simple motor activities, such as tying shoes or going downstairs and have difficulty performing age-appropriate academic and self-care tasks.  Children with DCD usually have normal or above-average intellectual abilities. However, their motor coordination difficulties may impact their academic progress, social integration, and emotional development.

While it was once thought that children with DCD would simply outgrow their motor difficulties, research tells us that DCD persists throughout adolescence into adulthood. Children with DCD can and do learn to perform certain motor tasks well, however, they have difficulty when faced with new, age-appropriate ones and are at risk for secondary difficulties that result from their motor challenges.

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Some of the motor symptoms that may be seen in a child with DCD include:

  • Slower acquisition of developmental milestones e.g. learning to sit, crawl, walk
  • Poor balance and timing, tripping over easily
  • Poor coordination and sequencing of movements
  • Clumsiness and poor spatial awareness
  • Problems picking up simple objects
  • Problems learning left from right
  • Slower development of laterality i.e. right or left-handedness
  • Difficulties with motor planning.

Assessments for DCD typically include establishing a history of developmental milestones, motor skills screening activities, and a comparison to normal rates of development to establish areas of difficulty. This assessment would normally be completed by your Paediatrician or Physiotherapist and at times in combination with an Occupational Therapist.

What Therapies for Kids can do

We will carry out a formal assessment of your child including assessing motor,  sensory and perceptual abilities in addition to their functional, self-care, and play skills, Once the assessment has been completed areas will be identified that we can assist with and a treatment plan will be devised in discussion with you and your child. Treatment will focus on improving the child’s motor abilities. If they can perform motor tasks more easily that will develop more confidence and self-esteem.

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Physiotherapy treatment may include:

  • Practicing gross motor skills such as walking, running, hopping
  • Balance activities
  • Coordination skills e.g. throwing and catching a ball
  • Strengthening activities to improve movement control
  • Activities to improve postural control
  • Advice and education to parents and teachers
  • Advice on the appropriate equipment to improve abilities.

Occupational Therapy treatment may include:

  • Practice of fine motor skills
  • Practice of self-care activities including dressing, buttons, shoelaces, and knife and fork
  • Practice of functional tasks such as specific play, colouring in, handwriting, and cutting
  • Upper limb strengthening activities to improve movement and control.



You will be given a home exercise programme, which is an essential aspect of treatment. A school visit may also be necessary to assess your child in the classroom, provide advice on the environment, and make recommendations regarding aids that may be required to maximise your child’s potential.


What you can do

You can help your child to learn and practice movements and motor skills to challenge him or her. For children with movement disorders, it is essential to determine the most effective way of learning; movement, and our experienced team of Paediatric Physiotherapists & Occupational therapists can assist with this.

The key things to remember in any physical activity for your child are:

  • make sure it is fun
  • make sure it is achievable for your child
  • make sure it is not too easy
  • select a variety of activities
  • do little bits and often
  • for any child, work out the best way they learn
  • tailor the way you teach to the way your child best learns.
  • try physical / verbal / visual prompts.

Practice of specific functional tasks or games will be required in order to consolidate and build on these skills each week. Finding your child’s preferred learning style or being able to provide an appropriate reward for their efforts will assist in their therapy journey.

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