Children with developmental coordination disorder (DCD) find it difficult to learn motor skills like tying shoes, getting dressed and riding a bike. Even though DCD is common, many children who have it are not diagnosed or treated.

Children with DCD find it difficult to learn motor skills like tying shoes.
Children with DCD find it difficult to learn motor skills like tying shoes.

Dr. Jill Zwickeran investigator and occupational therapist at BC Children’s Hospital, has dedicated her career to helping kids with DCD get the care they need. She recently published new research showing that DCD broadly impacts a child’s quality of life and was awarded a new grant to launch a campaign to improve the diagnosis and treatment of this under-recognized disorder. She founded a DCD Clinic in Vancouver to help increase diagnosis of this disorder and leads national and international efforts to educate physicians and therapists about how to diagnose DCD.

Here are Dr. Zwicker’s five things parents should know about DCD:

  1. DCD is very common – DCD effects five to six per cent of children. That’s one to two children in every classroom in Canada.
  2. DCD is under-diagnosed – Children with DCD have difficulty learning motor skills and may struggle with everyday tasks like using utensils, writing by hand or playing sports. Children with DCD have average to high intelligence and do not suffer from other underlying health conditions like poor vision or cerebral palsy that can cause poor coordination. DCD is typically diagnosed by a pediatrician in consultation with an occupational or physical therapist. If you think your child may have DCD, talk to your pediatrician.
  3. The impact is more than just physical - Children with DCD may have trouble succeeding in school and fitting in with their peers because of their motor problems. “I’ve done research showing that children with DCD often feel lonely, depressed or anxious and may suffer from low self-esteem,” says Dr. Zwicker. In a study co-authored by Dr. Zwicker that appears this month in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy, researchers interviewed children with DCD and found they may struggle emotionally and find it difficult to make friends because of their motor difficulties. 
  4. Children don’t outgrow DCD – It was once believed that children with DCD would eventually grow out of the condition. However, long-term studies have shown that children with DCD often continue to experience motor problems into adolescence and adulthood. Adults with DCD may have difficulty with cooking, housework, driving and other everyday activities.
  5. DCD is treatable – By working with an occupational therapist, children with DCD can improve important every day skills like using utensils, tying their shoes or learning to print. “Children with DCD have average to high intelligence. These are bright kids, but they’re not reaching their full potential because of motor difficulties,” says Dr. Zwicker. “For children with DCD, a little investment can go a long way.”

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