Developmental coordination disorder: how do children learn new movements? | Children's Charity

Developmental coordination disorder: how do children learn new movements?

Published on 5 April 2016

Evidence suggests up to one in 20 children in the UK has developmental coordination disorder (DCD).1 Children with DCD have problems with movement and coordination. Everyday activities such as writing, getting dressed and playing sports can be harder for children with DCD than for other children. Some children become reluctant to exercise, meaning fitness levels drop. Professor Helen Dawes, of Oxford Brookes University, is investigating how children with DCD learn new physical activities, with the longer-term goal of developing therapies that enable children to overcome some of their movement difficulties so they can be more physically active and fitter.

Action Medical Research and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy Charitable Trust are jointly funding this study

How are children’s lives affected now?

“Children with DCD find it difficult to learn physical activities such as writing, running, riding a bike and catching a ball,” says Professor Dawes. “When performing activities like this, children with DCD might be much slower than other children and they may need to put in a great deal of effort and concentration. Children’s difficulties can affect all aspects of life, including education, family life, sports and leisure activities.”

“One of the things that DCD affects the most is children’s participation in sports and their level of physical activity,” adds Professor Dawes. “Children with DCD tend to be aware of their movement difficulties, and rate their own physical or athletic competence as low. Feelings of inadequacy can mean children avoid physical activity both during childhood and throughout adult life, which can affect their fitness, health and wellbeing. It’s important to find new ways to help children with DCD.”

How could this research help?

“We aim to improve understanding of how children with DCD learn new physical skills,” says Professor Dawes. The research involves measuring children’s movement using motion sensors while they’re learning a new skill, and monitoring brain activity using brain scans before and during training to look for under or over activity in their brains.

“Our work could improve understanding of how quickly children can expect to learn new skills, which would help when setting realistic goals for learning,” says Professor Dawes.

“We also hope to improve understanding of how much conscious effort children with DCD have to put in during physical activities, and whether they can learn to do things more automatically, without thinking,” says Professor Dawes. “This could help when deciding whether to encourage children to take up less complex sports, such as swimming or running, or sports like football that require a combination of skills (such as running, kicking, and watching both the ball and other players). Longer term, our findings could help us develop new therapies that enable children with DCD to overcome some of their movement difficulties and live more active lives.”


1.NHS Choices. Developmental co-ordination disorder (dyspraxia) in children. Website accessed 23 February 2016.

2. Lingham R et al. Prevalence of developmental coordination disorder using the DSM-IV at 7 years of age: a UK population-based study. Pediatrics 2009; 123: e693-700.

Project LeaderProfessor Helen Dawes PhD MMedSci MCSP
Project team
  • Professor Heidi Johansen-Berg MPhil MSc BSc
  • Dr Anne Delextrat PhD MSc BSc
  • Miss Wala Mahmoud MSc
  • Dr Patrick Esser PhD BSc
LocationFaculty of Health and Life Sciences, Oxford Brookes University
Other locations
  • Centre for Functional MRI of the Brain, University of Oxford
  • Department of Sport, Health Science and Social Work, Oxford Brookes University
Duration30 months
Grant awarded7 December 2015
Start date1 March 2016
End date28 February 2019
Grant amount£191,950.00
Grant codeGN2445

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