A Whistle-Stop Tour: DCD/Dyspraxia in School-Aged Children

Author Bio: Fiona Peters is a UK primary teaching assistant with a keen interest in Special Educational Needs (SEN) and improving teaching and learning through the use of technology.  As well as being a school governing body associate, she also administers the DCD Awareness Twitter account and is eager to promote awareness of the needs of children with SEN in mainstream education.

Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is a marked impairment of motor skills which affects everyday living.  Messages from the brain regarding movement somehow become confused en route to parts of the body, the cause of which is yet unknown.  In the UK, the term is often used interchangeably with ‘dyspraxia’.  Strictly speaking, DCD is a general umbrella term for this motor based condition and dyspraxia is a more sensory based sub-type.  However, any differences are rather blurry and related literature usually refers to them in the same context as one another.  Symptoms can vary in type and severity from person to person and the exact diagnosis given is often down to the personal preference of the practitioner.  For the purposes of this blog, I shall use the term DCD to cover both.

Around 5-6% of children have DCD, equating to at least one child per class, with a greater proportion of males than females affected.  Despite this, DCD is still relatively unheard of compared to dyslexia, ADHD and autism, even though it can co-exist with any of these Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs), as well as with the lesser known dysgraphia (a disorder of written expression) and dyscalculia (a maths learning disorder), with some symptoms overlapping.  Speech and language difficulties may also be present.  It is therefore important for professionals to take a holistic view of the child when considering interventions.

Children with DCD demonstrate a significant gap between their motor skill ability and that expected for their age and intelligence, as a result of difficulties relating to perceptual processing and organisation of movement.  They present with poor gross motor skills (eg jumping, hopping, skipping), fine motor skills (eg handwriting, tying shoelaces, using zips), or a combination of both.

Rather than produce a rather long list of ‘symptoms’ that characterise DCD, I have included this link to an excellent booklet produced by the CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research, based at McMaster University, Canada.  It is aimed at parents and educators to help them recognise and support school-aged children with DCD and explains the characteristics these children can display.  CanChild also has a superb online DCD Workshop which I thoroughly recommend – particularly to parents and teachers of children with DCD, or indeed to those hopefully curious enough to find out more!  I also like the following two books because of their clear, informative and yet concise explanations.  They are both aimed at school teachers and support staff but are still a very useful read for parents whose children are affected:

Dyspraxia/DCD Pocketbook by Afroza Talukdar (ISBN: 978-1 906610388)

How to understand and support children with Dyspraxia by Lois Addy (ISBN: 978-1-85503-381-8)

Diagnostic routes vary and can depend on whether any issues, apart from the suspected DCD, require investigation.  The most usual pathway to specialist referral is either through the school’s Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo), or general medical practitioner, if organised by the parents.  Children are likely to be assessed by a paediatrician, who will also seek to rule out any other medical conditions, and an occupational therapist, who will carry out a battery of tests to discover the extent of the difficulties.  The occupational therapist can liaise with the school, advise on any necessary accommodations and plan a course of therapeutic action to help support the child.  Other professionals such as physiotherapists, speech and language therapists and educational psychologists may also be involved, depending on the individual child’s needs.

It is important that professional advice is sought at the earliest opportunity so that necessary help can be put into place at home and school as soon as practicable.  Without this, a child may never reach their full potential and develop a lack of confidence and low self-esteem.

DCD is a lifelong condition, which continues to affect a large proportion of those diagnosed into adulthood.  However, with appropriate support, skills can be improved and strategies learned to help cope.  Experts are keen to encourage parents/carers to focus on what their child can do, rather than what they can’t.  That is good advice – for the good news is that children with DCD can and are able to lead successful lives.

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