The Dr's Notebook - DCD | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - March 2006

The Dr's Notebook - DCD

What is developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD)?

DCD affects five to ten per cent of school-aged children in the UK. Despite having ‘normal’ intelligence and physical appearance, sufferers have poor co-ordination, and struggle with daily tasks such as using a knife and fork, writing neatly or dressing themselves. The condition can lead to educational under-achievement and behavioural problems, and most children need extra help both in school and at home.

How can you spot it?

DCD is considered by many to be a hidden disability because it often goes undiagnosed. Affected children will often be later in reaching ‘milestones’ than others, for example, sitting, standing and walking. Simple activities like climbing the stairs or catching a ball, which might seem to come naturally to other children, may prove difficult for a child with DCD, and their speech might be delayed.

Depending on its severity, DCD may only manifest itself when a child begins school, and their lack of co-ordination compared to their classmates becomes more pronounced. Some children may even pass through their primary years with few problems and remain undiagnosed until secondary school, where they are required to take notes, write examination papers and manipulate materials in practical subjects. Secondary school can therefore become a stressful environment and these children may fail to achieve their true potential.

What are the causes?

^DCD can result from illness or injury, but in the majority of cases there is no discernible cause^. However, it is not thought to be due to brain damage, rather an impairment of the brain’s ability to organise movement.

How does it affect a child’s development?

A child with DCD is likely to need extra help at school.They may also find it difficult to master handwriting or copying from the board. PE and playground games will also be difficult for someone with DCD, and these children will often do what they can to avoid them.

However, DCD need not necessarily mean educational underachievement for all those affected. Many children fare well with one-to-one tuition, and with the guidance of qualified professionals, can be helped to reach their full potential.

Does it affect adults too?

Given that there is no cure, a child with DCD is likely to become an adult with DCD, although there might well be improvement in some areas of co-ordination as they mature. There are many things that can be done to help overcome the difficulties of living with DCD in the working world, such as taking up sports or pastimes that will help improve co-ordination — swimming, bowling and computer games can all be beneficial. ^Breaking big tasks down into manageable chunks can make them seem less daunting^, and post-it note reminders can help ensure things are done in the right order. For the home, there are a number of useful tools for fiddly jobs like opening tins to make life easier, and relaxation techniques like yoga can help relieve the frustrations of day-to-day living. More detail on this can be found on the Dyspraxia Foundation website

How is DCD diagnosed?

If you suspect that you or your child may be displaying symptoms of DCD, it is important to get a professional diagnosis, and there are different routes for getting that diagnosis depending on the age of the person affected. If you have a child of pre-school age, your GP or Health Visitor will be able to give a referral to a paediatrician. A school-aged child should be taken to their GP or school doctor or nurse who can make the appropriate referral. Diagnosis for adults is also best made through referral by a GP.

Fact file

  • DCD goes by a number of other names, including dyspraxia, motor learning difficulties and perceptuo-motor dysfunction.
  • The word dyspraxia comes from ‘dys’ which means difficulty and ‘praxis’ which means doing.
  • DCD affects between five and ten per cent of the population, meaning that at least one child in nearly every primary school class in the country will be affected.
  • Boys are four times more likely to be affected by DCD than girls.
  • DCD can run in families.
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