Developmental coordination disorder

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Developmental coordination disorder
Other namesDevelopmental motor coordination disorder, developmental dyspraxia
SpecialtyPsychiatry, neurology
SymptomsMotor skills deficit and informational processing difficulties
ComplicationsLearning difficulties, low self-esteem, little to no engagement in physical activities like sports leading to obesity
Usual onsetEarly childhood
Differential diagnosisMotor impairments due to another medical condition, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dysgraphia, joint hypermobility syndrome, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
TreatmentOccupational therapy
Frequency5–6% (of all age groups)[1]

Developmental coordination disorder (DCD),[2][3][4][5][6] also known as developmental motor coordination disorder,[7] developmental dyspraxia or simply dyspraxia,[8][9][10][11] is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired coordination of physical movements as a result of brain messages not being accurately transmitted to the body. Deficits in skilled motor movements per a child's chronological age interfere with activities of daily living.[12] A diagnosis of DCD is then reached only in the absence of other neurological impairments such as cerebral palsy,[13][8] multiple sclerosis, or Parkinson's disease.

According to CanChild in Canada, this disorder affects 5 to 6 percent of school-aged children.[14] However, this disorder does progress towards adulthood, therefore making it a lifelong condition.

Signs and symptoms[edit]

Various areas of development can be affected by developmental coordination disorder and these may persist into adulthood,[11]. DCD has no cure. Often various coping strategies are developed, and these can be enhanced through occupational therapy, psychomotor therapy, physiotherapy, speech therapy, or psychological training.

In addition to the physical impairments, developmental coordination disorder is associated with problems with memory, especially working memory.[15] This typically results in difficulty remembering instructions, difficulty organizing one's time and remembering deadlines, increased propensity to lose things or problems carrying out tasks which require remembering several steps in sequence (such as cooking). Whilst most of the general population experience these problems to some extent, they have a much more significant impact on the lives of dyspraxic people.[16] However, many dyspraxics have excellent long-term memories, despite poor short-term memory.[16] Many dyspraxics benefit from working in a structured environment, as repeating the same routine minimises difficulty with time-management and allows them to commit procedures to long-term memory.

People with developmental coordination disorder sometimes have difficulty moderating the amount of sensory information that their body is constantly sending them, so as a result these dyspraxics may be prone to sensory overload and panic attacks.[16]

Moderate to extreme difficulty doing physical tasks is experienced by some people with dyspraxia, and fatigue is common because so much energy is expended trying to execute physical movements correctly. Some dyspraxics have hypotonia, low muscle tone, which like DCD can detrimentally affect balance.[3]

Gross motor control[edit]

Whole body movement and motor coordination issues mean that major developmental targets including walking, running, climbing and jumping can be affected. The difficulties vary from person to person and can include the following:

  • Poor timing.[17]
  • Poor balance[17][18] (sometimes even falling over in mid-step). Tripping over one's own feet is also common.
  • Difficulty combining movements into a controlled sequence.
  • Difficulty remembering the next movement in a sequence.
  • Problems with spatial awareness,[18][19] or proprioception.
  • Trouble picking up and holding onto simple objects such as pencils, owing to poor muscle tone or proprioception.
  • Clumsiness to the point of knocking things over, causing minor injuries to oneself and bumping into people accidentally.
  • Difficulty in determining left from right.
  • Cross-laterality, ambidexterity, and a shift in the preferred hand are also common in people with developmental coordination disorder.
  • Problems with chewing foods.

Fine motor control[edit]

Fine-motor problems can cause difficulty with a wide variety of other tasks such as using a knife and fork, fastening buttons and shoelaces, cooking, brushing teeth, styling hair, shaving,[3][20] applying cosmetics, opening jars and packets, locking and unlocking doors, and doing housework.

Difficulties with fine motor co-ordination lead to problems with handwriting,[3] which may be due to either ideational or ideo-motor difficulties.[17][21][non-primary source needed] Problems associated with this area may include:

  • Learning basic movement patterns.[22]
  • Developing a desired writing speed.[20]
  • Establishing the correct pencil grip.[20]
  • Handwriting that is difficult to read and may miss words in sentences or place words in the incorrect order
  • The acquisition of graphemes – e.g. the letters of the Latin alphabet, as well as numbers.

Developmental verbal dyspraxia[edit]

Developmental verbal dyspraxia (DVD) is a type of ideational dyspraxia, causing speech and language impairments. This is the favoured term in the UK; however, it is also sometimes referred to as articulatory dyspraxia, and in the United States the usual term is childhood apraxia of speech (CAS).[23][24][25]

Key problems include:

  • Difficulties controlling the speech organs.
  • Difficulties making speech sounds.
  • Difficulty sequencing sounds
    • Within a word, and
    • Forming words into sentences.
  • Difficulty controlling breathing, suppressing salivation and phonation when talking or singing with lyrics.
  • Slow language development.

Associated disorders and secondary consequences[edit]

People who have developmental coordination disorder may also have one or more of these co-morbid conditions:

However, a person with DCD is unlikely to have all of these conditions. The pattern of difficulty varies widely from person to person; an area of major weakness for one dyspraxic can be an area of strength or gift for another. For example, while some dyspraxics have difficulty with reading and spelling due to dyslexia, or with numeracy due to dyscalculia, others may have brilliant reading and spelling or mathematical abilities. Co-morbidity between ADHD and DCD is particularly high; the overlap between the two disorders is believed to be about 50% (approximately half of people with DCD have ADHD, and approximately half of people with ADHD have DCD).[40][41][42]

Sensory processing disorder[edit]

Sensory processing disorder (SPD) concerns having oversensitivity or undersensitivity to physical stimuli, such as touch, light, sound, and smell.[43] This may manifest itself as an inability to tolerate certain textures such as sandpaper or certain fabrics such as wool, oral intolerance of excessively textured food (commonly known as picky eating), being touched by another individual (in the case of touch oversensitivity) or it may require the consistent use of sunglasses outdoors since sunlight may be intense enough to cause discomfort to a dyspraxic person (in the case of light oversensitivity). An aversion to loud music and naturally loud environments (such as clubs and bars) is typical behavior of individuals with dyspraxia who have auditory oversensitivity, while only being comfortable in unusually warm or cold environments is typical of a dyspraxic with temperature oversensitivity. Undersensitivity to stimuli may also cause problems, as individuals do not receive the sensory input they need to understand where their bodies are in space. This can make it even more challenging to complete tasks.[44] Dyspraxics who are undersensitive to pain may injure themselves without realising it. Some dyspraxics may be oversensitive to some stimuli and undersensitive to others.[non-primary source needed]

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) {Also Formerly known as: Specific Language Disorder (SLI); Receptive/Expressive Language Disorder; Speech and Language Impairment}[edit]

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) research has found that students with developmental coordination disorder and normal language skills still experience learning difficulties despite relative strengths in language. This means that, for students with developmental coordination disorder, their working memory abilities determine their learning difficulties. Any strength in language that they have is not able to sufficiently support their learning.[38]

Students with developmental coordination disorder struggle most in visual-spatial memory. When compared to their peers without motor difficulties, students with developmental coordination disorder are seven times more likely than typically developing students to achieve very poor scores in visual-spatial memory.[45] As a result of this working memory impairment, students with developmental coordination disorder have learning deficits as well.[46]

Psychological and social consequences[edit]

Psychological domain: Children with DCD may struggle with lower self-efficacy and lower self-perceived competence in peer and social relations. Some demonstrate greater aggressiveness and hyperactivity.[47]

Social domain: Children may be more vulnerable to social rejection and bullying, possibly resulting in higher levels of loneliness.[47]


Assessments for developmental coordination disorder typically require a developmental history,[9] detailing ages at which significant developmental milestones, such as crawling and walking,[6][8][26] occurred. Motor skills screening includes activities designed to indicate developmental coordination disorder, including balancing, physical sequencing, touch sensitivity, and variations on walking activities.[citation needed]

The American Psychiatric Association has four primary inclusive diagnostic criteria[citation needed][26] for determining if a child has developmental coordination disorder.

The criteria are as follows:

  1. Motor coordination will be greatly reduced, although the intelligence of the child is normal for the age.
  2. The difficulties the child experiences with motor coordination or planning interfere with the child's daily life.
  3. The difficulties with coordination are not due to any other medical condition
  4. If the child does also experience comorbidities such as intellectual or other developmental disability; motor coordination is still disproportionally affected.[9]

Screening tests that can be used to assess developmental coordination disorder include:

  • Movement Assessment Battery for Children (Movement-ABC – Movement-ABC 2)[48][49][50][51][52]
  • Peabody Developmental Motor Scales- Second Edition (PDMS-2)[48]
  • Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency (BOTMP-BOT-2)[48][53][54][55]
  • Motoriktest für vier- bis sechsjährige Kinder (MOT 4–6)[48][56]
  • Körperkoordinationtest für Kinder (KTK)[48]
  • Test of Gross Motor Development, Second Edition (TGMD-2)[48]
  • Maastrichtse Motoriek Test (MMT)[48]
  • Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS-IV)[citation needed]
  • Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (WAIT-II)[citation needed]
  • Test Of Word Reading Efficiency Second Edition (TOWRE-2)[citation needed]
  • Developmental Coordination Disorder Questionnaire (DCD-Q).[57] The DCD-Q has been translated into many languages. For French-speaking populations, a Canadian-French version [58] and a European-French version [59] are available.
  • Children's Self-Perceptions of Adequacy in, and Predilection for Physical Activity (CSAPPA)[60]

Currently there is no single "gold standard" assessment test.[48]

A baseline motor assessment establishes the starting point for developmental intervention programs. Comparing children to normal rates of development may help to establish areas of significant difficulty.

However, research in the British Journal of Special Education has shown that knowledge is severely limited in many who should be trained to recognise and respond to various difficulties, including developmental coordination disorder, dyslexia and deficits in attention, motor control and perception (DAMP).[26] The earlier that difficulties are noted and timely assessments occur, the quicker intervention can begin. A teacher or GP could miss a diagnosis if they are only applying a cursory knowledge.

"Teachers will not be able to recognise or accommodate the child with learning difficulties in class if their knowledge is limited. Similarly GPs will find it difficult to detect and appropriately refer children with learning difficulties."[61]


Developmental coordination disorder is classified in the fifth revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a motor disorder, in the category of neurodevelopmental disorders.[1][62]


There is no cure for the condition. Instead, it is managed through therapy. Physical therapy or occupational therapy can help those living with the condition.

Some people with the condition find it helpful to find alternative ways of carrying out tasks or organizing themselves, such as typing on a laptop instead of writing by hand, or using diaries and calendars to keep organized.[63] A review completed in 2017 by Cochrane of task-oriented interventions for DCD resulted in inconsistent findings and a call for further research and randomized controlled trials.[64]


Developmental coordination disorder is a lifelong neurological condition that is just as common in males as it is in females. Currently however, the diagnosis criteria favours males which results in over 80% of males being diagnosed before the age of 16 compared to only 22% for females. The exact proportion of people with the disorder is unknown since the disorder can be difficult to detect due to a lack of specific laboratory tests, thus making diagnosis of the condition one of elimination of all other possible causes/diseases. Approximately 5–6% of children and adults are affected by this condition.[3][5][6][65]


Collier first described developmental coordination disorder as "congenital maladroitness". A. Jean Ayres referred to developmental coordination disorder as a disorder of sensory integration in 1972,[66][67] while in 1975 Sasson Gubbay, MD, called it the "clumsy child syndrome".[9][28][68] Developmental coordination disorder has also been called "minimal brain dysfunction", although the two latter names are no longer in use.

Other names include developmental apraxia,[9] disorder of attention and motor perception (DAMP)[9][28] dyspraxia,[8] developmental dyspraxia,[9] "motor learning difficulties",[9][28] perceptuo-motor dysfunction,[9][28][67] and sensorimotor dysfunction.[9]

The World Health Organization currently lists developmental coordination disorder as "Specific Developmental Disorder of Motor Function".[8]

In popular culture[edit]

Ryan Sinclair, a companion of the Doctor in the BBC science fiction television programme Doctor Who, has the disorder. The character debuted in 2018.[69]

Notable cases[edit]

People who have publicly stated they have been diagnosed with developmental coordination disorder include Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe,[70] photographer David Bailey,[71] model Cara Delevingne,[72] singer Florence Welch,[73] UK politician Emma Lewell-Buck,[74][75] Rugby Union player Ellis Genge,[76] actor Will Poulter,[77] singer Mel B,[78] actor Olive Gray,[79] author Holly Smale,[80] games critic John "TotalBiscuit" Bain[81] and musician Toyah Willcox.[82]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Mandich A, Polatajko HJ (November 2003). "Developmental coordination disorder: mechanisms, measurement and management". Human Movement Science. 22 (4–5): 407–11. doi:10.1016/j.humov.2003.09.001. PMID 14624825.
  • Biggs, Victoria (2005). Caged in Chaos : A Dyspraxic Guide to Breaking Free. London; Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. ISBN 978-1-84310-347-9. OCLC 57316751.