Developmental coordination disorder, or DCD,
is a lifelong condition that makes it hard for kids to learn motor skills and
coordination. It’s a neurodevelopmental condition, not
a learning disorder, but it impacts how well kids function in school and in
daily life. All of the tasks and activities kids need to do require motor
skills, from taking notes to playing games to getting dressed. When these
skills are weak it can create many challenges. DCD affects at least 5% of
kids, and is more common in boys than girls. It often co-occurs with learning and attention issues, especially ADHD. In fact,
it’s unusual for kids with DCD not to have another condition. The cause of DCD is unknown, although there seems to be a genetic component. Kids are typically
diagnosed at 5 or 6, when it’s clear that they don’t have age-appropriate
motor skills. They might have trouble with fine motor skills, which can make it
hard to do things like writing, using scissors, and tying their shoes. They
might have weak gross motor skills, which can make it difficult to do things like
running, throwing, and catching. DCD also affects an important ability
called motor planning. This is the ability to know, remember, and perform all
of the small steps in a particular movement or task. When kids have poor
motor planning, they have difficulty with even basic activities. Take washing hair,
for example. This routine task involves a series of small steps. Kids have to wet
their hair, pour shampoo into their hands, rub their head until it’s soapy, and then
rinse out the shampoo. Most kids quickly learn what to do and are able to wash
their hair without thinking about it, but kids with poor motor planning may take a
long time to understand the steps involved. So, it takes them longer to
master this everyday task. DCD impacts other abilities as well. Many
kids with DCD have trouble maintaining their balance.
They might fidget or squirm in their seats to keep their body straight. They
might also have trouble learning new movements. Having DCD can be very
frustrating for kids, and can take a toll on their self-esteem.
The good news is that with intervention and practice, motor skills can improve.
Occupational therapy and physical therapy can help kids develop their fine
and gross motor skills. Kids may be able to get these treatments at school
through a 504 plan or an IEP. School supports and accommodations can also be
helpful for kids with DCD. Kids might get written lesson notes from the teacher,
instead of having to copy them off the board. Or they might get assistive
technology like dictation software. At home, parents can provide opportunities
for practicing motor skills. Cooking together, playing board games, or tossing
a ball around can be fun ways to work on motor weaknesses. And most importantly,
having your support and encouragement can go a long way toward helping your child
build confidence along with motor skills. You’re the best person to show your
child that challenges don’t need to stand in the way of success.

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