Developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD) can't be cured, but there are ways your child can be helped to manage their problems.
A small group of children, usually those with mild symptoms of clumsiness, may eventually "grow out" of their symptoms.
But the vast majority of children need long-term help, and will continue to be affected as teenagers and adults.
Once DCD has been diagnosed, a treatment plan tailored to your child's particular difficulties can be drawn up, which may involve input from a variety of specialists.
This, combined with extra help at school, can help your child manage many of their physical difficulties, improve their general confidence and self-esteem, and enable them to become a well-adjusted adult.
A number of healthcare professionals may be involved in your child's care.
For example, your child may need help from a paediatric occupational therapist, who can assess their abilities in daily activities, such as:
- handling cutlery
- using the toilet
- school skills involving fine movement activities – such as writing
The therapist can then work with the child and their parents and teachers to help find ways to manage any problems.
Your child may also recieve help from a paediatric physiotherapist. They can help assess the child's abilities and create an individualised therapy plan, which may include activities to help improve walking, running, balance and co-ordination, among others.
Other health professionals that may be involved in your child's care may include:
- a paediatrician – a doctor who specialises in the care of babies and children
- a clinical psychologist – a healthcare professional who specialises in the assessment and treatment of mental health conditions
- an educational psychologist – a professional who assists children who are having trouble progressing with their education as the result of emotional, psychological or behavioural factors
Some of the interventions these health professionals may provide are outlined below.
One of the main types of intervention used to help children with DCD manage their condition is known as a task-oriented approach.
This involves working with you and your child to identify specific activities that cause difficulties, and finding ways to overcome them.
For example, a therapist can help improve difficulties with specific movements by breaking the action down into small steps, and teaching your child to plan these individual movements carefully and practise them regularly.
Your child may also benefit from adapting tasks to make them easier to perform, such as adding special grips to pens to make them easier to hold, or wearing loose-fitting clothes and Velcro fasteners rather than shoelaces to make dressing easier.
Your child may be encouraged to exercise regularly as well, as this is generally considered to be beneficial for children with DCD.
An alternative method to the task-oriented approach is the process-oriented approach. This approach is based on the theory that problems with your child's senses or perception of their body may be contributing to their movement difficulties.
A process-oriented approach may involve regular activities aimed at improving these potential problems, with the aim of trying to improve your child's more general movement (motor) skills, rather than helping them with a particular task or activity.
However, this isn't thought to be as effective as the task-oriented approach outlined above.
Treating other conditions
Children with DCD often have other conditions as well, which may need to be treated separately. The treatments for some of these related conditions are described below.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
If your child also has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), they may benefit from taking medication to help them concentrate better, be less impulsive, feel calmer, and learn and practise new skills.
Read about treating ADHD.
If your child also has dyslexia, they may benefit from special educational interventions designed to improve their reading and writing.
Read about treating dyslexia.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
If your child also has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), they may benefit from special programmes designed to help improve their communication, social interaction, and cognitive and academic skills.
Read about treating ASD.
Speech and language problems
Speech and language therapy may be useful if your child also has problems with their speech.
A speech and language therapist can assess your child's speech, identify what problems they have, and help them find ways to communicate to the best of their ability.
This may involve exercises to move the lips or tongue in a certain way, practising producing certain sounds, and learning to control their breathing.
Treatment as your child gets older
Although the physical co-ordination of a child with DCD will remain below average, this often becomes less of a problem as they get older.
By adolescence this usually improves as they get older, although difficulties in school – particularly producing written work – can become much more prominent.
A further treatment period by an occupational therapist for handwriting problems may be helpful when your child is a little older.
Teachers may request older children be allowed more time in exams. Having access to a computer can make homework easier, and some schools will provide a laptop.
A young person with DCD may also have one or more of the associated problems mentioned above, which may adversely affect their behaviour, socialisation and school achievement.
These young people often require a significant degree of parental support in addition to the treatment they receive.
Because of the potential limitations of available treatments for DCD and the fact it can't be cured, some parents may be tempted to look into alternative therapies that claim to cure or greatly improve the condition.
But there's usually no scientific evidence to support the use of alternative therapies, and they can be expensive and time consuming.
It's also important to bear in mind that in many cases the physical co-ordination problems associated with DCD will naturally improve over time.
Looking after a child with DCD can be difficult. You may find it helpful to contact local or national support groups, such as the Dyspraxia Foundation.
The Dyspraxia Foundation has information and advice for parents of children with dyspraxia that covers many of the issues that may arise as your child gets older.
There is also a network of local support groups, and they publish a range of leaflets, booklets and books. They can be contacted on 01462 454 986.