developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD) (dyspraxia in children)

Last edited 11/2022 and last reviewed 11/2022

Developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD), also known as dyspraxia, in children

Developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD), also known as dyspraxia, is a condition affecting physical co-ordination. It causes a child to perform less well than expected in daily activities for their age, and appear to move clumsily.

DCD is thought to be around 3 or 4 times more common in boys than girls, and the condition sometimes runs in families (1)

  • affects between 5% to 6% of the paediatric population and is characterised by impaired motor proficiency, which interferes with the performance of activities of daily life, academic/school-based activities, leisure and play (2)
  • for a diagnosis of DCD, these motor proficiency difficulties cannot be explained by other neurological conditions that affect movement (2)

Terminology Dyspraxia or DCD?

  • while many people in the UK use the term dyspraxia to refer to the difficulties with movement and co-ordination that first develop in young children, this term is used less often by healthcare professionals (1)
    • instead, most healthcare professionals use the term developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD) to describe the condition
    • this term is generally preferred by healthcare professionals because dyspraxia can have several meanings
      • for example, dyspraxia can be used to describe movement difficulties that happen later in life because of damage to the brain, such as from a stroke or head injury
      • at all ages, dyspraxia can be congenital or acquired (3)
  • occasionally healthcare professionals may also use the term specific developmental disorder of motor function (SDDMF) to refer to DCD

Symptoms of DCD in children

  • early developmental milestones of crawling, walking, self-feeding and dressing may be delayed in young children with DCD
  • drawing, writing and performance in sports are also usually behind what is expected for their age
  • although signs of the condition are present from an early age, children vary widely in their rate of development
  • means a definite diagnosis of DCD does not usually happen until a child with the condition is 5 years old or more (1)
  • it is noted that the pattern of a young person's difficulties often changes over time as performance expectations increase and the environments in which young people live and study become more complex (4)
    • young children need help to get dressed for example, but we expect older children to manage independently
Causes of DCD
  • doing co-ordinated movements is a complex process that involves many different nerves and parts of the brain
  • any problem in this process could potentially lead to difficulties with movement and co-ordination
  • it's not usually clear why co-ordination doesn't develop as well as other abilities in children with DCD
  • however, a number of risk factors that can increase a child's likelihood of developing DCD have been identified. These include:
    • being born prematurely, before the 37th week of pregnancy
    • being born with a low birth weight
    • having a family history of DCD, although it is not clear exactly which genes may be involved in the condition
    • the mother drinking alcohol or taking illegal drugs while pregnant

Treatment of DCD

  • there is no cure for DCD, but a number of therapies can help children to manage their problems. These include:

    • being taught ways of do activities they find difficult, such as breaking down difficult movements into smaller parts and practicing them regularly
    • adapting tasks to make them easier, such as using special grips on pens and pencils so they are easier to hold

  • although DCD does not affect how intelligent a child is, it can make it more difficult for them to learn and they may need extra help to keep up at school
  • treatment for DCD will be tailored to your child and usually involves a number of different healthcare professionals working together
  • although the physical co-ordination of a child with DCD will remain below average, this often becomes less of a problem as they get older
  • however, difficulties in school – particularly producing written work – can become much more prominent and require extra help from parents and teachers
  • for more information about treating DCD in children.