Developmental Coordination Disorder in Children: What Is It?

Developmental coordination disorder limits children's motor skills. Although it can't be cured, early intervention can make a bigdifference. Find out more in the following article.
Developmental Coordination Disorder in Children: What Is It?
Mara Amor López

Written and verified by the psychologist Mara Amor López.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

Developmental coordination disorder (DCD) is a disorder that hinders the development of certain motor skills in children. Although it’s not a learning disorder in itself, it interferes with the brain maturation process in specific areas, and children who suffer from it experience limitations in their performance in and out of school.

Previously, this condition was known as clumsy child syndrome, due to the peculiarities in the movements of children who suffer from it. In general, their level of coordination is insufficient and this brings them problems when it comes to performing certain daily tasks.

In this article, we’re going to talk a little more about this disorder so that you know it better and learn to see the signs. Keep reading!

What is developmental coordination disorder (DCD) in children?

As we’ve anticipated, DCD is a disorder characterized by motor difficulties that limit the physical skills of those who suffer from it.

Like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), DCD is a neurodevelopmental condition or disorder. That is, it’s not acquired by not practicing sports regularly, but occurs due to an inadequate development of a certain area of the child’s brain.

The problems caused by this condition have an impact on school performance and on the performance of daily activities. Although it’s an incurable disorder, with appropriate treatment, children with DCD can greatly improve their motor skills. Therefore, it’s essential to obtain an accurate diagnosis as soon as possible in order to start early intervention.

It should be noted that DCD doesn’t appear with the same severity in all cases and, often, children with DCD also have other comorbidities whose symptoms overlap.

In general terms, children with DCD have deficits in gross and fine motor skills, planning, and coordination of movement.

A small girl crying because she's fallen off her bike.
Children with DCD have difficulties in carrying out some movements and exercises that are typical of their developmental stage. They fall easily and tend to avoid what they don’t do well.

Symptoms of DCD

The first symptoms begin to appear in the early stages of development. The most common symptoms are listed below:

  • Difficulties in sucking the breast or ingesting food during the first year of life.
  • Clumsiness while moving. They bump into objects, trip over their own feet, fall down easily, and even the objects they pick up slip out of their hands.
  • Delays in certain motor development milestones, such as crawling, walking, or sitting.
  • Problems with gross motor coordination. For example, difficulties in hopping on one leg or both feet, jumping, standing still on one leg, or riding a bicycle.
  • Difficulties in fine motor coordination, such as that required to use scissors, pick up small objects with their fingers, use a pencil, or tie shoelaces, among others.
  • Atypical body movements.
  • Difficulties in maintaining balance.
  • Limitations in learning physical movements and skills.

The consequences of developmental coordination disorder in children

Developmental coordination disorder leads to a number of complications that aren’t limited to physical performance. Because of this, they should be known and addressed alongside motor treatment. Let us look at some cases:

  • Low self-esteem, especially due to lack of physical exercise skills and teasing from peers.
  • Learning difficulties. They may have difficulty completing certain academic tasks.
  • A tendency to suffer repeated accidents and falls.
  • Weight gain due to sedentary lifestyles, as physical activity is often abandoned due to lack of enthusiasm, disinterest, or the frustration it generates in children.

Treatment of DCD

The treatment of this disorder is aimed at improving the quality of life of the children who suffer from it and, even if it doesn’t cure it, it can help them improve their motor performance.

We’ll bring you some guidelines to help these children overcome their difficulties:

  • Combine cognitive and motor exercises.
  • Use the computer to help them take notes if there are difficulties in writing.
  • Encourage a healthy lifestyle. Instill eating and physical activity habits to improve the child’s self-esteem and to prevent obesity.
  • Reinforce the child positively and avoid scolding or criticizing their mistakes.
  • Don’t force them to finish their homework quickly and let them do it in their own time.
  • Encourage them to gain autonomy so they can see that they’re capable and thus strengthen their self-esteem.
A father handing a soccer ball to his son.
Encouraging children to overcome their difficulties involves adapting activities to their possibilities. Therefore, motor skills, self-esteem, and self-confidence about one’s own body are reinforced.

About developmental coordination disorder in children

For children with developmental coordination disorder, performing certain trivial activities can be a great challenge. As we’ve mentioned throughout the article, these children may also have difficulties in learning, as schoolwork requires certain physical skills to write, organize material, or do physical education. In addition, children with DCD may have problems carrying out activities of daily living, such as brushing their hair, brushing teeth, dressing, or eating.

Therefore, it’s important to detect it early in order to intervene as soon as possible and help children adapt to the environment around them. If you think your child has DCD, seek professional help to overcome the obstacles.

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  • Grajo LC, Guzman J, Szklut SE, Philibert DB. Learning disabilities and developmental coordination disorder. In: Lazaro RT, Reinia-Guerra SG, Quiben MU, eds. Umphred’s Neurological Rehabilitation. 7th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2020:chap 12.
  • Fernández, C. R., Zubillaga, D. M., Fernández, L. R., Santos, L. R., Fernández, J., & Guzón, P. C. (2015). Trastorno del desarrollo de la coordinación. Bol pediatr55, 247-253.  En internet: http://sccalp.org/uploads/bulletin_article/pdf_version/1427/BolPediatr2015_55_234_247_253__1_.pdf

The contents of You Are Mom is for educational and informational purposes only. At no time do they replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment from a professional. If in doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.