​What is developmental coordination disorder?

Developmental coordination disorder (DCD) is a motor skill or coordination difficulty. Teachers and parents frequently describe the child with DCD as "clumsy" or "awkward". "It affects 4-6 per cent of school-aged children. A higher proportion of boys than girls have DCD with the ratio of boys to girls ranging from 2:1 to 5:1," say ​Aye Aye Myint and Chua Shuzhen, Senior Physiotherapists, Rehabilitation Department​, ​​KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth​ group.​

What difficulties does the child with DCD have?

The child with DCD may present in the following ways:

  • Difficulty in performing age-appropriate academic tasks
  • Difficulty in performing or learning new motor skills (e.g. hopping, jumping)
  • Delays in achieving motor milestones (e.g., walking, crawling, sitting)
  • Limited postural control or have difficulty maintaining an ideal posture for a prolonged period (e.g. a tendency to slouch)
  • Difficulty in everyday tasks that require higher-level coordination. This includes
    • going down the stairs
    • catching a ball
    • cycling
  • Examples of clumsiness which might show in the child include:
    • tripping frequently
    • bumping into objects
  • Hand coordination (dexterity) may also be affected. This includes:
    • tying shoelaces
    • fastening buttons
    • putting on and taking off clothes
    • feeding themselves
    • cutting with scissors
    • writing poorly
    • dropping things
  • The child may prefer sedentary activities like computer games, reading, watching television compared to sports or playground activities.

What are the causes of DCD?

The primary cause of DCD is unknown. Risk factors include premature birth, low birth weight, family history of DCD and maternal drug abuse during pregnancy.

DCD is commonly seen with other developmental conditions including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning difficulties (LD), speech/language disorders and behavioural disorders.

Recently, researchers have suggested a possible link between the cerebellum and the challenges seen with DCD. The cerebellum is the part of the brain responsible for motor movement coordination, balance, equilibrium and muscle tone.

What is the prognosis for DCD?

Children with DCD will normally outgrow their “clumsiness” and motor difficulties; however they may have difficulty in learning new, complex tasks as they grow into adulthood.

Children with DCD will also try to avoid participating in physical activities so as to prevent themselves from being embarrassed in front of their peers. This sets into motion a vicious cycle where they exercise less, their fitness level deteriorates and their risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and mental health issues increases.

Read on for more information on developmental coordination disorder (DCD) - its diagnosis, treatment and tips to improve your child's motor skills.

Ref: T12