developmental coordination disorderDevelopmental coordination disorder (DCD) is caused by the underdevelopment of part of the brain responsible for making skills automatic (the cerebellum) — in other words, motor skills and coordination are not performed automatically (for example, picking up a toy or putting food into the mouth using a fork). Also known as developmental dyspraxia, DCD has absolutely nothing to do with your child’s intelligence and can be managed carefully so that your child does not miss out on any opportunities at school or at home.
You are probably concerned that your child seems especially clumsy. You are probably also worried that others have begun to notice this too, and perhaps your child is becoming increasingly frustrated as a result. In the past, experts would have said that your child has “clumsy child syndrome” and leave it at that. “They’ll grow out of it” or “It must be because they’re having a growth spurt” were common dismissals. Now we know better. Not only is your child frustrated at not being able to do what they want with their fingers, hands, arms, and legs, but they cannot understand why they can’t do what all the other children seem to be able to do without even thinking about it. Their language, communication, and perception skills are also likely to be delayed.
Here is how you can identify whether your child has DCD:
Babies and toddlers
When your child was an infant, they may have been a bit floppy (low-toned) or found it hard to stay sitting up straight. They may have been late to sit and walk or were unable to crawl. They may have been overly fussy and had difficulties with eating. Later on, as they became more mobile, they may have seemed to have more than the usual number of bumps and scrapes.
Children aged three to five
Your child is now at nursery school, where key milestones are being assessed regularly. Delays are being noted and reported to you during consultations. Here your child will be compared with their peers, so significant delays are more apparent, making diagnosis possible. You may have noticed perhaps that your child hasn’t learned to catch a ball as quickly as their older sibling did or finds eating with a knife and fork really tricky. Maybe they spill their drink nearly every time they have one and it’s driving you up the wall (buy a plastic-coated table cloth!). They are overly excitable and prefer the company of adults rather than peers in their age group. They have weak language and communication skills and, as a result, their perception is sometimes skewed. They don’t enjoy creative play much and struggle to stay on task. They find riding a tricycle tricky, being unable to alternate pedal pushes and maybe not having the core strength to remain on the seat. They may even keep bumping into things.
A child with the physical symptoms of DCD is going to have underdeveloped core stability. Core stability is all about your body being able to sit upright, maintain balance, and have your limbs moving in a controlled and fluid manner. A child with DCD will therefore find it difficult to sit or stand comfortably, keep their balance even while seated, and stay seated for long. They will need to move about to readjust their position in an attempt to get comfortable and will become tired quickly.
If your child is under five, then a diagnosis is unlikely but not impossible. Why? Because children move through the early developmental stages at such different rates that it is hard to tell whether their difficulties are part of normal developmental delays or are more chronic (long-term). You may have seen this variation in the speed of development with your own children or those of your friends and family as you compare their progress from first words to potty training to learning how to share. However, your health advisor will be able to observe any delays in development and offer guidance on ways to support your infant or toddler at home. Also, a diagnosis is more likely when your child is in a setting where they are quite clearly falling behind their peer group, such as full-time education. However, the earlier the diagnosis, the better.
Nobody knows your child better than you do. And nobody wants the best for their child as much as you do. That is why you are in a great position to understand your child’s developmental coordination disorder (remember, you may hear it referred to as developmental dyspraxia) and get the best results for them.