Developmental Coordination Disorder

What is it?

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 down stairs, and are unable to perform age-appropriate academic and self-care tasks. Some children may experience difficulties in a variety of areas while others may have problems only with specific activities.

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..


Kindergarten Teacher and Kid Playing with Wooden Building Blocks

Due to the heterogeneity of DCD, finding its cause has been difficult. There has been some speculation that the etiology of DCD is part of the continuum of cerebral palsy or that it is secondary to neuronal damage at the cellular level in the neurotransmitter or receptor systems.

However, the most current theory is that the problems experienced by children with DCD are believed to emanate from abnormalities in neurotransmitter or receptor systems rather than from damage to specific groups of neurons or brain regions.

Children’s difficulties with coordination can result from a combination of one or more impairments in proprioception, motor programming, timing, or sequencing of muscle activity.

Developmental coordination disorder may occur alone or with other learning disorders, such as communication disorders or disorder of written expression.


Children with developmental coordination disorder have difficulties with motor coordination compared to other children the same age. Some common symptoms include:

  • Clumsiness
  • Delays in sitting up, crawling, and walking
  • Problems with sucking and swallowing during first year of life
  • Walking with an unsteady gait
  • Problems with gross motor coordination (for example, jumping, hopping, or standing on one foot)
  • Problems with fine motor coordination (for example, writing, using scissors, tying shoelaces, or tapping one finger to another)


Historically, parents have been told not to worry about their child’s clumsiness because the child will outgrow the problem. However, current researchers in the area of DCD report that the children do not outgrow clumsiness and that, without intervention, they will not improve.

Physical and occupational therapy assist with helping the child develop movement strategies that increase coordination, motor planning, balance, strength and body awareness resulting in a decrease in overall clumsiness and increased ability to perform functional activities at home, school and in the community.

Speech and language therapy may also be required to help the child with the oral motor skills required for swallowing, chewing and speech.

Robert C Barnhart, Mary Jo Davenport, Susan B Epps, Vey M Nordquist, Developmental Coordination Disorder, Physical Therapy, Volume 83, Issue 8, 1 August 2003, Pages 722–731,

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