Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) / Dyspraxia

Developmental coordination disorder (DCD) can be described as the lack of motor coordination necessary to perform every day tasks that are appropriate to the child’s age and is not due to another medical condition. Developmental Coordination Disorder is the most accepted term used to describe coordination difficulties but you may have heard of other terms including; dyspraxia, clumsy child syndrome, perceptual motor dysfunction.

Developmental Coordination Disorder is an umbrella term and there are many different features associated with the condition and every child is different. It is characterised by difficulty in planning smooth, coordinated movement which leads to;

  • Clumsiness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Problems with language, perception and thought

(NHS choices 2012)

There is no known cause for Developmental coordination disorder but some possible theories include pre-natal complications, prematurity and low birth weight. It is thought to be caused by a disruption in the way messages are transmitted from the brain to the rest of the body (NHS Choices 2012).

A child with Developmental Coordination Disorder often presents with slower movement and reaction times making coordination difficult. They can find it difficult to plan and learn new motor skills and tend to rely very heavily on their vision. When a child develops, the nervous system is constantly responding to sensory information the body receives and adapts to achieve and consolidate a skill and therefore experiences a child has are important. Normally, a child develops by exploring their environment through play and have lots of positive experiences through successfully completing tasks. However, because of motor coordination difficulties a child with Developmental Coordination Disorder has a lot more negative experiences and therefore can avoid activities, which in turn has an impact on their development.

Some of the problems a child with Development Coordination Disorder experience include;

  • Poor gross motor skills – activities that require the use of big muscle groups such as running, jumping, hopping, riding a bike, swimming
  • Poor fine motor skills – activities that require the use of small muscle groups, such as, pencil skills, fastening buttons, using cutlery, tying shoelaces
  • Reduced coordination
  • Difficulty with organisation and motor planning
  • Reduced proprioception – this is the ability to detect where your body is in space
  • Perceptual difficulties – this could be poor spatial awareness, reduced body awareness, difficulty recognising shapes/objects/colours
  • Poor concentration
  • Difficulty following instructions
  • Reduced postural control – this means the child can have an instability/weakness of the muscles involved in maintaining your posture and this can have an impact on the child’s ability to perform many everyday tasks

These features can impact the child on a daily basis. They may have difficulty with self-care (washing/dressing/feeding), problems with academic tasks (handwriting/drawing/organisation/P.E) or problems with leisure activities. Due to the fact that children with Development Coordination Disorder often have many negative experiences there can be some important secondary implications such as lack of confidence/reduced self-esteem, reduced fitness and becoming over-weight.

Developmental Coordination Disorder can also occur alongside other conditions such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

How can physiotherapy help?

At Gateway Physiotherapy, our specialist paediatric physiotherapist will conduct an in-depth assessment and provide your child with a treatment programme that meets your child’s individual needs. For example, this could involve muscle strengthening, balance activities or skill-based tasks. We will work with you and your child to formulate specific treatment goals and aim to help you better understand your child’s needs in order to provide them with strategies to help them realise their full potential.

The Dyspraxia Foundation can provide some useful resources for families of children with Developmental Coordination Disorder.