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Developmental Coordination Disorder

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Developmental coordination disorder, sometimes referred to as motor clumsiness, is a movement condition marked by difficulty learning fine and gross motor skills compared to children of the same age. Children with this disorder may struggle with activities such as getting dressed, eating meals, and playing games with others as a result of poor motor coordination skills. In addition to the resulting lack of physical fitness, developmental coordination disorder influences a child's self esteem and social abilities. The condition continues throughout adulthood, but treatment can improve motor skills and provide helpful strategies to navigate everyday tasks. About 5 percent of children between ages 5 and 11 are diagnosed with developmental coordination disorder, and the condition affects many more boys than girls, according to the DSM-5.


Signs of developmental coordination disorder include:

  • Delay in achieving motor milestones such as sitting, crawling, or walking
  • Clumsiness such as dropping and bumping into objects
  • Slowness and difficulty with motor skills including when catching a ball, writing, using scissors, or riding a bike
  • Unsteady walk, tripping over feet

A diagnosis of developmental coordination disorder may be given if the motor skill impairment interferes with activities of daily living and negatively impacts a person’s ability to participate in school, work, leisure, and play.

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Although more research is being conducted from a cognitive-neurological perspective, the root cause of developmental coordination disorder is unknown. The condition is also studied from a dynamic systems perspective, which combines biological systems theory and ecological psychology, assuming that a coordination disorder results from an interaction between individual, task-oriented and environmental factors. Researchers do know that there is a consistent problem with rhythmic coordination and timing among children with developmental coordination disorder, as well as deficits in executive functioning that affect working memory, inhibition, and attention. Researchers have also noted that dysfunction in these areas mimics that of ADHD.

Before a diagnosis is given, children may be tested to rule out the possibility of a medical condition or learning disorder. Developmental coordination disorder is typically not diagnosed before age five because the age when children develop motor skills varies.


Children with developmental coordination disorder greatly benefit from early intervention efforts. Treatment may include physical education or the implementation of helpful strategies, such as encouraging children who have trouble writing to use a computer to take notes. Perceptual motor training, which combines physical movement with math or reading tasks that require thinking, is considered a first-line treatment for children with developmental coordination disorder. The severity of the condition plays a role in how much a child can improve. While many children see an improvement in symptoms with treatment over the long term, 50 to 70 percent of children continue to have problems with coordinated movement through adolescence. The severity of the condition does not worsen over time, but developmental coordination disorder does continue into adulthood.

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.      
U.S. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. Developmental Coordination Disorder. Reviewed December 9, 2016. Accessed September 27, 2017.
Smits-Engelsman BCM, Blank R, Van Der Kaay, AC, et al. Efficacy of interventions to improve motor performance in children with developmental coordination disorder: a combined systematic review and meta-analysis. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology. March 2013;55(3):229-237.
Wilson PH, Ruddock S, Smits-Engelsman B, Polatajko H, Blank R. Understanding performance deficits in developmental coordination disorder: a meta-analysis of recent research. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology. March 2013; 55(3):217-228.
Last updated: 07/24/2017