Developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD) cannot be cured, but there are ways to help your child manage their problems.
A small number of children, usually those with mild symptoms of clumsiness, may eventually "grow out" of their symptoms.
However the vast majority of children 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 made. This plan may involve a variety of specialists.
A treatment plan, combined with extra help at school, can help your child manage many of their physical difficulties, improve their general confidence and self-esteem, and help them to become a well-adjusted adult.
Several 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:
- using cutlery
- using the toilet
- fine movement activities such as writing
A therapist will then work with a child, their carers and their teachers to help find ways to manage any problems.
Your child may also receive help from a paediatric physiotherapist. They can assess their abilities and create a therapy plan especially for them, which may include activities to improve walking, running, balance and co-ordination, among others.
Other healthcare professionals 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 helps children who are having trouble progressing with their education because of 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-oriented approach.
This involves working with you and your child to identify specific activities that 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. They then teach your child to plan these individual movements and practice them regularly.
Your child may also benefit from adapting tasks to make them easier to do, such as adding special grips to pens to make them easier to hold, or wearing shoes with 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-oriented approach is the process-oriented approach. This 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-oriented approach may involve activities aimed at improving your child's general movement (motor) skills, rather than helping them with a particular task or activity.
However, this isn't thought to be as effective as the task-oriented approach.
Treating other conditions
Children with DCD often have other conditions as well, which may need to be treated separately.
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.
Find out more about treating ADHD.
If your child also has dyslexia, they may benefit from special educational interventions designed to improve their reading and writing.
Find out more about treating dyslexia.
If your child also has autism, they may benefit from special programmes designed to help improve their communication, social interaction, and cognitive and academic skills.
Find out more information and advice about autism.
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 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, practicing producing certain sounds, and learning to control their breathing.
Treatment as your child gets older
Although the physical co-ordination skills of a child with DCD will remain below average, this often becomes less of a problem as they get older.
During adolescence, difficulties in school – particularly producing written work – may become much more prominent.
Further treatment with an occupational therapist for handwriting problems may be helpful when your child is a little older.
Teachers may request older children be allowed more time in exams. Having access to a computer can make homework easier, and some schools will provide a laptop.
A young person may have 1 or more of the additional problems associated with DCD which adversely affects their behaviour, socialisation and school achievement.
These young people often require a significant degree of parental support in addition to the treatment they receive.
Because of the limitations of available treatments for DCD and the fact it cannot be cured, some parents may look into alternative therapies that claim to cure or greatly improve the condition.
But there's usually no scientific evidence to support the use of alternative therapies, and they can be expensive and time consuming.
It's also important to bear in mind that sometimes the physical co-ordination problems associated with DCD will naturally improve over time.
Looking after a child with DCD can be difficult. 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.
There is also a directory of local support groups, and it publishes a range of leaflets, booklets and books. Contact the Foundation's helpline on 01462 454 986.
Page last reviewed: 28 August 2019
Next review due: 28 August 2022