Developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD), also known as dyspraxia, is a condition affecting physical co-ordination that causes a child to perform less well than expected in daily activities for his or her age, and appear to move clumsily.

DCD is thought to be around three or four times more common in boys than girls, and the condition sometimes runs in families.

This topic is about DCD in children, although the condition often causes continued problems into adulthood. 

Read about DCD in adults.

Symptoms of DCD

Early developmental milestones of crawling, walking, self-feeding and dressing may be delayed in young children with DCD, and drawing, writing and performance in sports are usually behind what is expected for their age.

Although signs of the condition are present from an early age, children vary widely in their rate of development, and DCD isn't usually definitely diagnosed until a child with the condition is around five years old or more.

Read about symptoms of DCD in children.

When to seek medical advice

Talk to your GP or health visitor – or a nurse, doctor or special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) at your child's school – if you have any concerns about your child's health or development.

If necessary, they can refer your child to a community paediatrician, who will assess them and try to identify any developmental problems.

Read about diagnosing DCD in children.

Causes of DCD

Carrying out co-ordinated movements is a complex process that involves many different nerves and parts of the brain.

Any problem in this process could potentially lead to difficulties with movement and co-ordination.

It's not usually clear why co-ordination doesn't develop as well as other abilities in children with DCD.

However, a number of risk factors that can increase a child's likelihood of developing DCD have been identified.

These include:

  • being born prematurely – before the 37th week of pregnancy
  • being born with a low birth weight
  • having a family history of DCD – although it is not clear exactly which genes may be involved in the condition
  • the mother drinking alcohol or taking illegal drugs while pregnant

Treating DCD

There's no cure for DCD, but a number of therapies can make it easier for children to manage their problems.

These include:

  • being taught ways of carrying out activities they find difficult – such as breaking down difficult movements into much smaller parts and practising them regularly
  • adapting tasks to make them easier – such as using special grips on pens and pencils so they are easier to hold

Although DCD doesn't affect how intelligent a child is, it can make it more difficult for them to learn and they may need extra help to keep up at school.

Treatment for DCD will be tailored to your child and usually involves a number of different healthcare professionals working together.

Although the physical co-ordination of a child with DCD will remain below average, this often becomes less of a problem as they get older.

However, difficulties in school – particularly producing written work – can become much more prominent and require extra help from parents and teachers.

Read about treating DCD in children.

Childhood dyspraxia: James' story

James was diagnosed in 2005 with dyspraxia, a disability that can affect movement and co-ordination. His mother describes James’s symptoms and the methods used to improve his condition. Note: this video represents the parent's view of her child.

Media last reviewed: 12/05/2016

Next review due: 12/05/2018

Dyspraxia or DCD?

While many people in the UK use the term dyspraxia to refer to the difficulties with movement and co-ordination that first develop in young children, the term is used less often by health professionals nowadays.

Instead, most healthcare professionals use the term developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD) to describe the condition.

This term is generally preferred by healthcare professionals because, strictly speaking, dyspraxia can have several meanings.

For example, dyspraxia can be used to describe movement difficulties that occur later in life as a result of damage to the brain, such as from a stroke or head injury.

Some health professionals may also use the term specific developmental disorder of motor function (SDDMF) to refer to DCD.

Page last reviewed: 12/08/2016

Next review due: 12/08/2019