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Developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD) can cause a wide range of problems. Some of these may be noticeable at an early age, while others may only become obvious as your child gets older.

Delays in reaching normal developmental milestones can be an early sign of DCD in young children. For example, your child may take slightly longer than expected to roll over, sit, crawl or walk.

You may also notice that your child:

  • shows unusual body positions (postures) during their 1st year
  • has difficulty playing with toys that involve good co-ordination, such as stacking bricks
  • has some difficulty learning to eat with cutlery

These signs might come and go.

As your child gets older, they may develop more noticeable physical difficulties, plus problems in other areas.

Movement and co-ordination problems

Problems with movement and co-ordination are the main symptoms of DCD.

Children may have difficulty with:

  • playground activities such as hopping, jumping, running, and catching or kicking a ball. They often avoid joining in because of their lack of co-ordination and may find physical education difficult
  • walking up and down stairs
  • writing, drawing and using scissors – their handwriting and drawings may appear scribbled and less developed compared to other children their age
  • getting dressed, doing up buttons and tying shoelaces
  • keeping still – they may swing or move their arms and legs a lot

A child with DCD may appear awkward and clumsy as they may bump into objects, drop things and fall over a lot.

But this in itself isn't necessarily a sign of DCD, as many children who appear clumsy actually have all the normal movement (motor) skills for their age.

Some children with DCD may also become less fit than other children as their poor performance in sport may result in them being reluctant to exercise.

Additional problems

As well as difficulties related to movement and co-ordination, children with DCD can also have other problems such as:

  • difficulty concentrating – they may have a poor attention span and find it difficult to focus on 1 thing for more than a few minutes
  • difficulty following instructions and copying information – they may do better at school in a 1-to-1 situation than in a group, so they can be guided through work
  • being poor at organising themselves and getting things done
  • being slow to pick up new skills  – they need encouragement and repetition to help them learn
  • difficulty making friends – they may avoid taking part in team games and may be bullied for being "different" or clumsy
  • behaviour problems – often stemming from a child's frustration with their symptoms
  • low self-esteem

Although children with DCD may have poor co-ordination and some additional problems, other aspects of development – for example, thinking and talking – are usually unaffected.

Children with DCD may also have other conditions, such as:

  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – a group of behavioural symptoms that include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness
  • dyslexia – a common learning difficulty that mainly affects the way people read and spell words
  • autism – a condition that affects social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour

Some children with DCD have difficulty co-ordinating the movements required to produce clear speech.