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September 8, 2021

An Overview of Developmental Coordination Disorder in Children

It could be more than clumsiness

Key takeaways:

  • Around 5% of children have Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD).
  • DCD affects coordination, balance, motor skills, and motor planning.
  • DCD can make it difficult to remember how to perform actions.
  • It can also make it difficult to follow multi-step directions involving movement.
  • Children with DCD don’t have a sense of where their body is in space.
  • Physical therapy can help improve muscle strength, balance, and body awareness
  • It takes time for children to develop good coordination and it’s not uncommon for them to fall or be a bit clumsy when they’re young. However, there are times when a lack of coordination can point to a potential issue called Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD). Around 5%of children in the U.S. have it.

What is DCD, what are the signs to look for, and how can physical therapy help if you suspect your child might have it? This guide from Lumiere Children’s Therapy will answer your questions.

Explaining DCD

DCD (also known as dyspraxia) is a motor skill disorder that can affect coordination, gross and fine motor skills, and motor planning. More than one million children in the U.S. have this condition and it’s more common in boys than girls. Unlike typical clumsiness, children will not just grow out of it.

DCD can make it difficult for children to keep up with their classmates in school and take part in physical activities. Children might also have difficulty with fine motor skills such as writing, brushing their teeth, or hair, or using a fork.

It’s important to note that DCD isn’t related to other developmental or physical disorders like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or cerebral palsy.

Signs of DCD

Parents are often the first to notice a problem with their child. However, sometimes teachers or others who are around your children are the first to spot the signs of DCD. These signs include:

  • A delay in meeting milestones like sitting up, crawling, and walking
  • Clumsiness – Dropping or bumping into things
  • Difficulty with running, hopping, or other physical activities
  • Challenges holding and using objects
  • Difficulty throwing and catching a ball
  • Difficulty following multi-step directions involving movement
  • Unsteady walk
  • Frequently runs into other children
  • Trip over their own feet

Children with DCD can feel like their body parts don’t move correctly. Their bodies don’t automatically “remember” how to perform certain actions.

Causes and diagnosis of DCD

The root cause of DCD is unknown. Research has uncovered that children with DCD have, “a consistent problem with rhythmic coordination and timing…as well as deficits in executive functioning that affect working memory, inhibition, and attention,” according to Psychology Today.

Some see a link between premature birth or low birth weight and DCD. Research has also found that DCD dysfunctions mimic the signs seen in children who have ADHD.

To arrive at a diagnosis, it’s important to rule out other medical conditions and learning disorders. Most children aren’t diagnosed before age five as they tend to develop gross and fine motor skills at different ages.

How physical therapy can help

Starting physical therapy (PT) is one of the best things you can do for a child who’s been diagnosed with DCD. The therapist will conduct an examination and determine areas that need improvement in order to develop better coordination, balance, motor skills, motor planning, and muscle strength.

PT can be invaluable for a child with DCD. Let’s look at three of the many ways it can help.

1. Improves strength

A physical therapist will use and demonstrate exercises that boost core and overall muscle strength. This can include games and other tasks that make the experience fun. These activities are also good for cardiac and overall health.

2. Improves balance

These exercises can include things like standing on one foot, hopping on one foot, walking on a flat surface, and walking on a balance beam.

3. Improves body awareness

PT exercises can include things like obstacle courses, which help a child with DCD learn how to plan movements.

Find Help for your child

If your child has been diagnosed with DCD, Lumiere Children’s Therapy can help. Our physical therapy experts will work with your family, offering exercises to build strength, coordination, and balance. We will also help your child build new skills and achieve milestones.

In addition to PT, we provide other comprehensive therapies for children with a wide range of physical, emotional, and developmental conditions, including:

  • Speech therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Developmental therapy
  • ABA (behavior) therapy
  • Social work
  • Augmentative alternative communication
  • Early intervention
  • Teletherapy

Lumiere Children’s Therapy is a full-service, multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice located in Chicago that serves the developmental needs of children from birth to 18 years of age. Learn more about how our team of clinicians works to improve the lives of children and their families.

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