Treating DCD in children
Developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD) can't be cured, but there are ways your child can be helped to manage their problems.
A small group of children, usually those with mild symptoms of clumsiness, may eventually ‘grow out’ of their symptoms. But the vast majority of children will need long-term help and will continue to be affected as teenagers and adults.
Once DCD has been diagnosed, a treatment plan tailored to your child's particular difficulties can be drawn up, which may involve input from a variety of specialists (see below).
This, combined with extra help at school, can help your child manage many of their physical difficulties, improve their general confidence and self-esteem, and allow them to live as independently as possible as they get older.
A number of healthcare professionals may be involved in your child’s care.
For example, your child may need help from a paediatric occupational therapist, who can assess their abilities in daily activities, such as handling cutlery, dressing, using the toilet, playing and school skills involving fine movement activities (such as writing), as well as other aspects of how the child functions in the school and the home.
The therapist can then work with the child, the parents and teachers to help find ways to manage any problems.
Your child may also recieve help from a paediatric physiotherapist. This is a healthcare professional primarily concerned with the child’s motor (movement) skills, who can help assess the child's abilities before devising an individualised therapy plan which may include – among others – activities to help improve walking, running, balance and co-ordination.
Other health professionals that may be involved in your child's care may include:
- a paediatrician – a doctor who specialises in the care of babies and children
- a clinical psychologist – a healthcare professional who specialises in the assessment and treatment of mental health conditions
- an educational psychologist – a professional who assists children who are having trouble progressing with their education due to emotional, psychological or behavioural factors
Some of the interventions these health professionals may provide are outlined below.
One of the main types of intervention used to help children with DCD manage their condition is known as a 'task-orientated approach'.
This involves working with you and your child to identify specific activities which cause difficulties and finding ways to overcome them.
For example, a therapist can help improve difficulties with specific movements by breaking the action down into small steps and teaching your child to plan these individual movements carefully and practise them regularly.
Your child may also benefit from adapting tasks to make them easier to perform, such as adding special grips to pens to make them easier to hold, or wearing loose-fitting clothes and Velcro fasteners rather than shoelaces to make dressing easier.
Your child may be encouraged to exercise regularly as well, as this is generally considered to be beneficial for children with DCD.
An alternative method to the task-orientated approach is the 'process-orientated approach'. This approach is based on the theory that problems with your child's senses or perception of their body may be contributing to their movement difficulties.
A process-orientated approach may involve regular activities aimed at improving these potential problems, with the aim of trying to improve your child's more general motor (movement) skills, rather than helping them with a particular task or activity.
However, current evidence suggests that a task-orientated approach is likely to be more effective for children with DCD than this process-orientated approach.
Treating other conditions
Children with DCD often have other conditions as well, which may need to be treated separately. The treatments for some of these related conditions are described below.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
If your child also has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), they may benefit from taking medication to help them concentrate better, be less impulsive, feel calmer, and learn and practise new skills.
Read more about treating ADHD.
If your child also has dyslexia, they may benefit from special educational interventions designed to improve their reading and writing.
Read more about treating dyslexia.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
If your child also has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), they may benefit from special programmes designed to help improve their communication, social interaction, cognitive and academic skills.
Read more about treating ASD.
Speech and language problems
Speech and language therapy may be useful if your child also has problems with their speech. A speech and language therapist can assess your child's speech, identify what problems they have, and help them find ways to communicate to the best of their ability.
This may involve exercises to move the lips or tongue in a certain way, practising producing certain sounds, and learning to control their breathing.
Treatment as your child gets older
Although the physical co-ordination of a child with DCD will remain below average, this in itself often becomes less of a problem as they get older. Usually by adolescence they are able to manage their daily activities much better, although difficulties in school – particularly producing written work – can become much more prominent.
A further treatment period by an occupational therapist for handwriting problems may be helpful when your child is a little older. In secondary school extra time in exams may need to be requested by the school. Use of a home computer may be helpful in producing homework and in some cases a laptop is provided in school.
A young person with DCD may also have one or more of the associated problems mentioned above, which may adversely affect their behaviour, socialisation and school achievement. These young people often require a significant degree of parental support in addition to the treatment they receive.
Due to the potential limitations of available treatments for DCD, and the fact it cannot be cured, some parents may be tempted to look into alternative therapies that claim to cure or greatly improve the condition.
However, there is usually no scientific evidence to support the use of such alternative therapies and they can be expensive as well as time-consuming. It is also important to bear in mind that in many cases the physical co-ordination problems associated with DCD will naturally improve over time anyway.
Looking after a child with DCD can be difficult and you may find it helpful to contact local or national support groups, such as the Dyspraxia Foundation.
The Dyspraxia Foundation has information and advice for parents of children with dyspraxia that covers many of the issues that may arise as your child gets older.
The Dyspraxia Foundation also has a network of local support groups and publishes a range of leaflets, booklets and books. They can be contacted on 01462 454 986.
Page last reviewed: 16/07/2014
Next review due: 16/07/2016