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Developmental Coordination Disorder

What is developmental coordination disorder?

Developmental coordination disorder involves problems with muscle movement. A child with this disorder has a hard time with things like riding a bike, holding a pencil, and throwing a ball. Children with this disorder are often called clumsy. Their movements are slow and awkward.

This disorder usually lasts into adulthood.

What is the cause?

The exact cause of this disorder is not known. Children whose parents, brothers, or sisters have it may be more likely to have it. It is also more common in families with a history of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The disorder may be caused by changes in brain chemicals, damage to the pathways that link brain cells to certain muscle groups, or problems with nerve cells that control muscles. It is more likely in children who were premature or had a low birth weight.

It is more common in boys than in girls.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms in the first 2 years of life may include:

  • Having a very hard time raising his head
  • Being slow to sit up, stand, crawl, or walk without help
  • Turning his whole head instead of just his eyes when looking at something

Symptoms may not be noticed until your child starts school. Symptoms between 5 and 11 years old may include:

  • Having trouble holding a pencil, writing, or drawing
  • Having trouble holding a cup or using a fork or spoon
  • Finding it hard to throw a ball or ride a bicycle
  • Being clumsy and accident prone
  • Having trouble paying attention or remembering things
  • Having a hard time dressing, such as fastening buttons or tying shoelaces

Your child may also have a hard time doing things that involve moving muscles in sequence. For example, your child might be unable to do the following in order: open a closet door, get out a jacket, and put it on.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your child's symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Your provider may ask your child to clap his hands, hold a pencil, draw, or write.

Your healthcare provider will also check for physical problems such as muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy.

How is it treated?

If the problem is mild and there is no other physical problem, your child may not need treatment. If the problem is severe, treatment may include:

  • Sensory integration therapy, which is a kind of therapy that uses games to improve your child's sense of touch, sense of movement, and sense of body position
  • Speech and language therapy, which is used to help children who have problems using their muscles to speak
  • Help from your child’s school with math, reading, spelling, and physical education classes
  • Physical therapy, which helps improve your child’s strength and balance
  • Medicine and treatment for other disorders

How can I help my child?

  • Find out what services are offered through your school district to help children with developmental coordination disorder.
  • Your child’s therapists can help you learn ways to work with your child at home.
  • Look for your child’s strengths. No one knows what your child may be able to do in time, so don’t set your expectations too low. Encourage your child to try new things.
  • Be patient with your child. Praise your child for his efforts and for any improvement, however small.
  • Get your child moving. Encourage your child to get at least 60 minutes of exercise most days. If your child is not used to exercise, start slow and work up to 60 minutes. Children with developmental coordination disorder are at high risk for being obese, and for having heart disease and other health problems due to not getting enough exercise.
  • Join a support group. Support groups can help by sharing common concerns and solutions to problems with other families in the same situation. You can find these services through your healthcare provider, schools, therapy programs, and local and national support organizations.
  • See a mental health professional to help you cope with your stress.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-12-03
Last reviewed: 2012-12-03
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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