What is DCD?
Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting motor skill, coordination, and performance with daily activities. DCD currently affects 5-6% of school-aged children, and is typically identified in children starting as young as 5 years old. DCD is characterized by poor coordination and motor deficits that impact a child’s school achievement, functional skills, or participation with peers and their environment. Children with DCD may show delayed development of gross motor milestones (such as skipping, jumping, hopping) and be commonly described as “clumsy” or “slow”. Other characteristics a parent or school teacher may observe is increased time or difficulty completing tasks, as well as asymmetry in movements or motor skills.
Why is DCD important to identify and how can PT help?
Children with DCD have found to have poor cardiorespiratory fitness, decreased physical performance, including reduced muscle strength and endurance, as well as decreased social interaction and participation. The motor deficits affecting children with DCD can cause reduced physical activity, which can lead to poor cardiovascular health and increased risk of obesity throughout development and into adulthood. A lack of ability to perform motor skills in a timely and accurate manner can also hinder a child’s ability to keep up with their peers and participate in recreational activities including sports. Children with DCD do not outgrow their deficits when they reach adulthood. Physical therapy, along with other allied health care professionals, can help a child with DCD improve their physical health and quality of life as they development.
Physical therapy (PT) plays a critical role in addressing the coordination impairments and motor deficits presented in children with DCD, and can help increase a child’s physical fitness and participation in the community. A physical therapist will focus on the gross motor skills and task-oriented interventions specific to your child, but some interventions may include core stability strengthening, cardiorespiratory endurance, and functional movement training. By a physical therapist working with a child with DCD at a young age, the child can reduce the risk of the condition negatively affecting not only their physical, but also social and emotional development into adolescence and adulthood.
What do I do if I think my child may have DCD?
A PT cannot formally diagnose a child with DCD, and it is recommended to visit your child’s primary care physician to perform an assessment and possible diagnoses. It is beneficial to start with seeing your child’s physician in order to provide collaborative, coordinated care for all health care practitioners that are involved in improving your child’s health and future. Your physician can then make a referral for PT if indicated, and then can start the process of providing care that is specific to your child’s motor impairments and functional activity limitations.
Harris SR, Mickelson ECR, Zwicker JG. Diagnosis and management of developmental coordination disorder. CMAJ. 2015;187(9):659-665. doi:10.1503/cmaj.140994
Dannemiller L, Mueller M, Leitner A, Iverson E, Kaplan SL. Physical Therapy Management of Children With Developmental Coordination Disorder: An Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guideline From the Academy of Pediatric Physical Therapy of the American Physical Therapy Association. Pediatr Phys Ther. 2020;32(4):278-313. doi:10.1097/PEP.0000000000000753