Developmental Coordination Disorder


Developmental Coordination Disorder also known as Dyspraxia


Developmental Coordination Disorder in school aged children born very pre term and/or at very low birthweight – A Systematic Review

Jessica Edwards 1, Michelle Berube, Kelcey Erlandson, Stephanie Haug, Heather Johnstone, Meghan Meagher, Shirley Sarkodee-Adoo, Jill G Zwicker

Researchers still do not know the exact cause of DCD or why some children develop it and others do not. There have been many studies done on the relationship between prematurity and DCD.  In all of the studies, DCD has been found to occur more often in babies that are born very early or have a low-birth weight.  It is important that children who were born prematurely are identified if they are experiencing developmental delays or signs of DCD.  Children with DCD should have access to therapies and early intervention to support their development.


What is Developmental Coordination Disorder?

Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is a motor disorder that affects how children move and coordinate their movements.  It is estimated that this disorder affects approximately 5% of children, and the prevalence is higher amongst children who were born preterm. Every individual may experience difficulties in different ways.  These difficulties may impact on participation in everyday life skills including in education, learning to speak, and everyday activities.

Children with DCD can have difficulties getting dressed, learning how to tie shoes, writing, learning to ride a bike and keeping up with other children during physical activity tasks.  They are often slower at completing tasks and may get tired more easily.

These children cannot have their difficulties with movement explained by a general medical condition such as; Cerebral Palsy, Hemiplegia or Muscular Dystrophy. Studies involving school-aged children showed increased numbers of DCD among children who had very low birth weights below 1500 g or were very preterm under 32 weeks than among age children born at term with normal birth weights. This means not all babies born very small and very early will have this problem but within the numbers of children that have this problem an increase prevalence was born early and small for gestationDSM-5 classifies DCD as a motor disorder under the broader heading of neurodevelopmental disorders. The DSM-5 criteria for DCD are as follows:

  • Acquisition and execution of coordinated motor skills are below what would be expected at a given chronologic age and opportunity for skill learning and use; difficulties are manifested as clumsiness (eg, dropping or bumping into objects) and as slowness and inaccuracy of performance of motor skills (eg, catching an object, using scissors, handwriting, riding a bike, or participating in sports)
  • The motor skills deficit significantly or persistently interferes with activities of daily living appropriate to the chronologic age (eg, self-care and self-maintenance) and impacts academic/school productivity, prevocational and vocational activities, leisure, and play
  • The onset of symptoms is in the early developmental period
  • The motor skills deficits cannot be better explained by intellectual disability or visual impairment and are not attributable to a neurologic condition affecting movement (eg, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, or a degenerative disorder)

Developmental coordination disorder (DCD) is a condition that needs to be managed over the course of a lifetime. The challenges in this disorder make it hard for kids to preform motor skills and coordination. It’s not a learning disorder, but it can impact learning. Kids with DCD struggle with physical tasks and activities and they need to do both in and out of school..

Children with DCD can struggle with many tasks that other children find easy during school including printing, cutting, opening lunch boxes, and keeping up on the playground.  They may also have difficulty with organisation, speed of writing and participation in sport. Sometimes they can experience sadness or anxiety because they find it difficult to keep up with other children their own age.

Children with DCD/Dyspraxia might show these signs:

  • Have difficulty with writing
  • Work very slowly
  • Unable to speak clearly
  • Have trouble with reading and maths
  • Have difficulty copying from the board
  • Find Physical Education lessons very difficult
  • Have great difficulty organising themself
  • Have a short concentration span

What conditions may coexist with the disorder?

Children who have developmental coordination disorder frequently have other childhood disorders like for example; Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder/ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder or specific learning disabilities and children with developmental coordination disorder (with or without ADHD) have been found to be at increased risk of anxiety and depression.

Other problems commonly associated with DCD are psychosocial difficulties like weight gain, physical fitness, difficulty in activities of daily-living, physical and social activities.


Young children with DCD may be eligible for supports under the Early Intervention Program with NDIS. If your child has developmental delays or you have concerns about their motor skills you should talk to your health care professional and see if they can refer you for services through NDIS. You can get more information about the Early Intervention program here:

You may also be able to access supports and therapies through the medicare system.  You can ask your doctor about whether they can provide you with a GP Management Plan to access allied health services for your child.  Many families find Occupational Therapists can provide helpful strategies to support their child’s development.

Strategies that support the child with DCD

  • Talk to the education provider and request an Individualised Education Plan be put in place for the child
  • Help your educator to understand DCD and how they can best support the child.  This website has excellent resources for each year level and provides information for teachers (
  • Provide opportunities to succeed by breaking down tasks into smaller steps.
  • Encouragement to persist and attempt tasks.
  • Teach new skills in a step-by-step manner and keep the environment as predictable as possible during teaching.
  • Participation in non-team sports (swimming or dance)
  • Introduce new skills or environments on an individual basis before introducing peers.
  • Use plain language and instructions.
  • Provide visual as well as verbal cues.
  • Check in with the child to make sure they understand the task.
  • Provide extra time to complete tasks or shorten the task.
  • Recognise and reinforce the child’s strengths.
  • Appropriate set up for school desk- a slant writing board can be useful.
  • Set realistic and achievable goals for all task performance and completion.
  • Make participation, not competition, the goal.

Ways to Help Yourself as a Parent

Access information about the condition and its symptoms.

Explain the extra support your child needs to  everyone involved in the child’s care and education.

Try to stay calm and patient when your child has difficulty with tasks that other children their age find easy to complete.

Obtain information about what can be done to help your child.

Determine specifically where and how to help our child.

Access funding or services that might not otherwise be accessible.

Get in touch with other parents who have had similar experiences

Here are some of the ways that children are screened for DCD

  • Was your child was born preterm? How early?
  • Your child’s birth weight
  • At what age did your child first walk independently?
  • Does your child seem ‘clumsy’? Do they often bump in to things?
  • Does your child have difficulty with every day tasks such as dressing (including buttoning shirts and tying shoelaces), brushing teeth, opening doors and using a knife and fork when eating
  • Does your child have difficulty with activities at school such as handwriting, printing, or cutting with scissors?
  • Does your child have difficulty with physical activities such as throwing or kicking a ball, competing in team sports at school or in the community, or participating successfully in physical education classes?
  • Does your child’s teacher say that they work too slowly or are not completing their work?

Useful websites and resources:

Need support? NurtureConnect allows you to connect with our NurtureProgram support team, or call our 24 hour NurtureLine 1300 622 243 or join our Facebook community.


Confirmation Content

Disclaimer: This publication by Miracle Babies Foundation is intended solely for general education and assistance and it is it is not medical advice or a healthcare recommendation. It should not be used for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment for any individual condition. This publication has been developed by our Parent Advisory Team (all who are parents of premature and sick babies) and has been reviewed and approved by a Clinical Advisory Team. This publication is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Miracle Babies Foundation recommends that professional medical advice and services be sought out from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your personal circumstances.To the extent permitted by law, Miracle Babies Foundation excludes and disclaims any liability of any kind (directly or indirectly arising) to any reader of this publication who acts or does not act in reliance wholly or partly on the content of this general publication. If you would like to provide any feedback on the information please email [email protected].