What Is Developmental Coordination Disorder?

Children normally develop the ability to sit up, stand, walk, and talk at predictable ages. When they are late in achieving these milestones, it may be due to a developmental problem. Developmental coordination disorder (DCD) is one such condition.

DCD is a lack of coordination between your mental intentions and your ability to get your body to carry out those intentions. For example, you might think, “I need to tie my shoe.” However, your brain does not properly send the instructions for shoe tying to your hands and feet. Your brain knows how to tie shoes, but your hands just can’t follow your brain’s instructions. The same thing happens when you try to run, jump, write, button a shirt, and many other tasks that most people take for granted.

People with DCD generally have normal intelligence. However, DCD is sometimes called “clumsy child syndrome,” and it may cause others to think that people with this condition are inept or unintelligent because they cannot perform basic tasks. This condition can be considered a childhood disorder, but the effects of DCD continue into adulthood.

Signs of DCD can appear soon after birth. Newborns may have trouble learning how to suck and swallow milk. Toddlers may be slow to learn to roll over, sit, crawl, walk, and talk.

As you enter school, symptoms of the disorder may become more noticeable. Symptoms of DCD may include:

  • an unsteady walk
  • difficulty going down stairs
  • dropping objects
  • running into others
  • frequent tripping
  • difficulty tying shoes, putting on clothes, and other self-care activities
  • difficulty performing school activities such as writing, coloring, and using scissors

People with DCD may become self-conscious and withdraw from sports or social activities. However, limited exercise can lead to poor muscle tone and weight gain. Maintaining social involvement and good physical condition is essential for overcoming the challenges of DCD.

The causes of DCD are not well-understood, but researchers believe that it is the result of delayed brain development. People with DCD generally have no other medical issues that can explain the disorder. In some cases, DCD can occur with other disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or disorders that cause intellectual disabilities. However, these conditions aren’t linked.

DCD is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms may be confused with those of other conditions. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) lists four criteria that must be met for a diagnosis of DCD:

  • The child shows delays in reaching motor milestones.
  • The condition significantly interferes with activities of daily living and/or academic performance.
  • The symptoms begin early in the child’s life.
  • Difficulties with motor skills are not better explained by intellectual disability, visual impairment, or brain disorders.

DCD is treated with a long-term program of education, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and social skills training to help you adapt to the disorder.

Physical education can help you develop coordination, balance, and better communication between your brain and your body. Individual sports such as swimming or bicycling may offer better opportunities to build motor skills than team sports. Daily exercise is essential if you have DCD, in order to train your body and brain to work together and to reduce your risk of obesity.

Occupational therapy can help you master daily activities. Occupational therapists know lots of techniques for helping people perform difficult tasks. Your occupational therapist can also work with school officials to identify changes that will help you to succeed in school, such using a computer instead of hand writing assignments.

Unfortunately, children with DCD generally continue to experience symptoms as adults. Proper training and education in motor skills can help you to lead a normal and fulfilling life. Your outlook depends on how well you adapt to DCD and overcome its limitations.