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Developmental Coordination Disorder

Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), previously known as “clumsy child syndrome,” is a diagnosis given to children who display a delay in motor coordination which affects their ability to perform daily tasks. This diagnosis is thought to affect up to 5-8% of school aged children and is more common in young boys. DCD is also often seen in conjunction with other disorders such as learning disabilities, pre-maturity, and attention-deficit disorder. As many as 41% of children with ADHD are thought to also have DCD.

The most common finding about children with DCD is that they are overall “clumsier” than their typical peers. You start to see signs of DCD as motor tasks become more difficult during development, around the age of 5 or 6. When compared to peers, they often have difficulty with ball skills, they consistently fall or bump into objects, and they tend to fall behind in gym class. Commonly, children with DCD also have a hard time following 2-3 step commands and imitating body positions. In addition to gross motor difficulties, they may also have fine motor issues such as difficulty with handwriting and dressing.

Children with DCD have a delay in motor planning and coordination. This means, they are unable to unconsciously plan motor skills. Where a typical child may perform a skill 2-3 times and master it, a child with DCD may have to perform the task many, many times prior to being able to perform it. Additionally, they cannot generalize tasks that they have learned (ie they can catch a large playground ball but they have difficulty catching a football). In combination with coordination difficulties, children with DCD are often weaker than their peers, mostly due to disuse of their muscles.

Without intervention, it has been found that children with DCD do not just “grow out” of their clumsiness as previously thought. Instead, referral to therapy is important in helping these children develop important motor milestones. Physical therapists are trained to watch the way your child moves, and help give them strategies to learn new movements. While it is harder for these children to learn new tasks, they can eventually master almost any task with repetition of the movement pattern. Physical therapist will also work on strengthening your child’s muscles and teach your child skills to help them with new tasks. For example, children with DCD may benefit from using their visual system more (ie watching themselves in the mirror, or looking down to avoid bumping into objects). Your physical therapist will gear your child’s treatment towards the goals that you and your child set for him/herself, whether that is learning to skip, keeping up in gym class, or running without falling.

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