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Developmental Coordination Disorder: Definition, Symptoms & Causes

Instructor: Alyssa Campbell

Alyssa is an active RN and teaches Nursing and Leadership university courses. She also has a Doctorate in Nursing Practice and a Master's in Business Administration.

Developmental coordination disorder impacts a person's ability complete tasks that other unaffected people take for granted. Read this lesson to learn more about what this condition is and how its symptoms affect daily life.

What is Developmental Coordination Disorder?

Developmental coordination disorder is a neurological condition (a disease affecting the brain, spinal cord, or nerves) in which the parts of the body do not move as they should. In normal unaffected individuals, electrical messages sent and received by the brain normally result in fluid movements of the muscles and coordinated limb movements.

Unfortunately, for people like Ben who have been diagnosed with developmental coordination disorder, the electrical messages from the brain to various muscles of the body are interrupted at some point during the transmission. Since Ben was a young child, he has had difficulty with fine and gross motor function, hand-eye coordination, and balance.

Symptoms Confirming the Diagnosis

Ben has always appeared clumsy since he was a toddler, especially when compared to his peers. Because he was an only child, his parents did not notice anything strange or peculiar about his development until a preschool teacher mentioned that he wasn't meeting age-appropriate milestones.

Milestones are key developmental markers indicating appropriate growth, intelligence, and physical coordination and movement. These developmental markers are important signs of health because they help to determine deficiencies in children, and they allow for medical professionals to provide help or assistance to children who lag behind. Even though Ben was otherwise very healthy, his parents made an appointment for him to be evaluated by a physician.

As Ben began to get older, his symptoms made his diagnosis a bit more obvious. His parents learned to look for symptoms like:

  • Fine coordination: As Ben got older, his progression in school became difficult. It was apparent that using pencils and pens was challenging, thereby making written assignments especially hard to complete. Other tasks that required fine motor coordination or the use of small and precise movements put Ben behind his classmates.
  • Difficulty with activities of daily living: Although Ben was getting older, he still required his mom's help to get dressed in the morning. In order to promote his independence, Ben's parents bought clothing that was easier to put on and take off, including items like pullover shirts, Velcro shoes, and other items that were loose and allowed for sudden body movements and spasms.
  • Irregular gait: Ben enjoyed sports but had difficulty with the simplest of activities. Aside from frequent stumbling and tripping, Ben often depended on using modified crutches to help him achieve a normal gait, or walking pattern. His gait has always been off, but the crutches help him maintain his balance, safety, and dignity.

Even though Ben could describe what he was intending to do, he continued to show difficulty controlling his movements and making the physical movements necessary to complete the desired task. This led to his diagnosis of developmental coordination disorder.

What Causes Developmental Coordination Disorder?

Although developmental coordination disorder is clearly characterized by a lack of muscular control, physical difficulty with movements, and even challenges with the sequencing of tasks, Ben's family learned that there is currently no known cause of his disorder. His parents also learned that Ben's disorder was often accompanied by attention-deficit disorder. Fortunately, Ben continues to show no signs of this condition.

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