About DCD — Summary
Developmental coordination disorder (DCD) is an important and all-encompassing mental health condition. Arising in the first 3 to 4 years of life, the visible signs of DCD include clumsiness, slow, ungraceful and inefficient movements. Often, motor skill development is delayed; one’s posture, balance, gait and energy levels may also be affected by DCD.
Because of their movement difficulties, many youngsters feel and display exasperations; consequently, DCD not only affects the individual, but also family members and many others.
Although bright and capable in other ways, with increasing age, DCD starts impacting play behaviour, participation in recreational activities and the acquisition and performance of skilled motor activities needed at home, school and elsewhere. Eventually, DCD can affect one’s physical fitness, lifestyle choices, pre-vocational opportunities and career options.
Because of its broad impact and given that few professionals possess knowledge or proper training about this topic DCD is frequently missed, misunderstood or misdiagnosed.
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- The abbreviation 'DCD' stands for Developmental Coordination Disorder.
- DCD has been formally recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) since 1987.
- Although this neurodevelopmental condition is well-known and identified by international researchers who study the topic, DCD is currently under-identified by many doctors and other professionals.
- For 30+ years the APA has reported a consistent prevalence rate for DCD (at about 6%).
- Prior to formalizing a DCD diagnosis, the APA requires that four criteria must be met.
- The APA reports that DCD can impact fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and/or motor planning; however, scientists and clinicians attest that DCD affects much more than those reported motor skills.
- The APA reports that DCD often co-occurs with other neurodevelopmental conditions.
- When DCD does co-occur with other conditions, the impact of DCD can be amplified and result in other known consequences including: low self-esteem and/or self-worth; problems with behaviour; a sedentary lifestyle, reduced personal well-being, the potential for obesity and other health risks, etc.
- Informal terms used to describe DCD/incoordination include: dyspraxia, sensory integration dysfunction, sensory processing disorder or clumsy child syndrome. Some others refer to these individuals as being ‘out of sync’ or diagnose them with slow or weak processing speed, writing disabilities, non-verbal learning disorder, ADHD, and other conditions.
- The coordination problems associated with DCD negatively affect the person’s ability to acquire and perform activities of daily living (ADL) (tasks involving self-care or self-maintenance such as independent toileting, dressing and feeding skills, blowing one’s nose, other hygiene skills, etc.).
- Because clumsy children may bump into others, knock over toys, struggle to join in or keep up with the games of peers, be late to learn bike riding, etc., social play is also affected by DCD.
- DCD also impacts academic achievement, task productivity, and the skilled performance of many other expected tasks or activities in school. Almost always, students with DCD struggle to coordinate the speed, legibility and fine motor control required for neat penmanship, colouring, cutting, folding, pasting, etc. Few people realize that DCD can also negatively affect one’s ability to quickly make or follow gestures/actions, keep the rhythm/beat in music class, participate properly in games and sports in physical education, engage in other performance-based tasks, and so forth.
- Although the APA does not mention it, scientists and practitioners testify that DCD often impacts one’s oral motor skills (affecting speech and communication), ocular motor skills (affecting many visual skills), hand-eye coordination, attention, organization and executive functioning. Additionally, many with DCD have problems processing, integrating/coordinating and regulating sensory signals.
- So too, DCD influences one’s ability to coordinate, regulate and control their emotions properly. The coordination difficulties often result in frustrations, annoyances, and the inability to quickly adapt to challenging situations; consequently, their flexibility and psychosocial well-being is affected.
- Investigators and client’s stories reveal that DCD seriously impacts one’s social integration. Given that clumsy children cannot keep up with peers in play and games, they tend to participate less in sports and physical activities, start missing out on age-appropriate social exchanges and problem-solving situations, and are often excluded from fun and similar leisure events. To counteract any peer-based conflict, teasing, or feelings of disregard offered by others, uncoordinated individuals many choose to self-isolate; this further affects social inclusion. Accordingly, it is very possible that clumsy, unhappy and withdrawn individuals have become confused with autism/ASD.
- At present, there seem to be many connections and mix-ups between DCD, ASD and specific forms of autism [e.g., Asperger’s, high functioning autism (HFA), Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), sub-clinical or mild forms of ASD]; in fact, this is the focus of Dr. Kamps’ newest book called: Autism—Exploring the Explosion: Discoveries, assumptions, misunderstandings, and developmental coordination disorder.
THREE KEY CONCEPTS
1. Regarding the Diagnoses of DCD:
Although identified frequently by knowledgable researchers, DCD is an all-encompassing and very complex condition to diagnose. To begin, many features much be 'ruled in' while other factors must be 'ruled out'. Because the APA identifies DCD as a formal mental health disorder, it can only be diagnosed by a medical doctor or a mental health professional. Unfortunately, given that DCD is classified as a 'motor disorder' and few medical or mental health professionals have training in motor development or motor learning, DCD is seldom diagnosed by the very clinicians who should be identifying individuals who present with incoordination.
2. Regarding DCD and diagnostic decisions:
If after testing, professionals explain that you or your child has a learning disorder in processing speed or in writing/written expression due to slow productivity or poor legibility, these conclusions are NOT supported by the APA. The only location in the DSM that addresses issues of neatness or speed of penmanship is within DCD. Rather than being misdiagnosed, the correct diagnosis according to the APA would be DCD.
3. Regarding DCD and ASD:
If you agree with most of these descriptors of DCD and you know with certainty that at one point in time you, or your child desired, "or still wants" social connections or friendships, you or your child does NOT have ASD.