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Developmental Coordination Disorder


What is developmental coordination disorder?

Developmental coordination disorder is problems with motor skills. A child with this disorder has a hard time with things like riding a bike, holding a pencil, and throwing a ball. People with this disorder are often called clumsy. Their movements are slow and awkward.

Children with developmental coordination disorder may also have a hard time doing things that involve moving muscle groups in sequence. For example, the child might be unable to do the following in order: open a closet door, get out a jacket, and put it on.

Up to 6% of children may have developmental coordination disorder. The symptoms often go unnoticed until children start school. It is usually diagnosed in children who are between 5 and 11 years old.

How does it occur?

The cause of developmental coordination disorder is unknown. Children whose parents, brothers, or sisters have it appear to be more likely to have it. The disorder may be caused by changes in brain chemicals or damage to the pathways that link brain cells to certain muscle groups. The nerve cells that control muscles may not develop correctly.

What are the symptoms?

Some symptoms may appear in the first 2 years of life. The child may:

  • have a very hard time sitting up or raising his or her head
  • be unable to stand without help or have a very hard time standing without help
  • be unable to crawl or have a very hard time crawling
  • walk very late or have a very hard time walking
  • turn the whole head instead of just their eyes when looking at something

Some symptoms appear during the preschool or grade school years. The child may:

  • have trouble holding a pencil or drawing
  • have trouble holding a cup or using a fork or spoon
  • have poor handwriting
  • find it hard to throw a ball or ride a bicycle
  • be clumsy and accident prone
  • play sports poorly
  • have trouble paying attention or remembering things
  • have a hard time dressing (doing buttons and zippers, or tying shoelaces)

How is it diagnosed?

Parents and healthcare providers usually notice motor skill problems in these children. Your healthcare provider will first rule out other conditions (such as muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, and mental retardation) as causes. Your provider will also ask how the child is feeling, how he or she is doing in school, and about problems the child has with motor skills. The provider may ask the child do some simple tasks such as clap hands, hold a pencil, draw, or write.

How is it treated?

If the problem is mild and there is no other physical problem, treatment may not be needed. If the problem is severe, treatment may include:

  • sensory integration therapy
  • speech and language therapy
  • help with math, reading, and spelling
  • physical therapy
  • medicine and treatment for any other disorders.

An important part of treatment for a child with this disorder is increasing the child's self-esteem through support and encouragement from family members, friends, and teachers. Praise your child for his or her efforts and for any improvement, however small, in his or her motor skills.

How long will the effects last?

This disorder may last into adulthood. If the condition is mild, most people can lead a normal life.

What can I do to help my child?

  • Learn as much as you can about this disorder. Most libraries and bookstores have information.
  • Continue to follow the treatment plan.

Written by Psychiatric Professional Services, Inc.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-01-28
Last reviewed: 2010-12-02

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.

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