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Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD)- how Exercise Physiology can help!

Exercise Physiologist Cooper Rice has a keen interest in helping kids with DCD to help them achieve their goals. In this weeks Blog Cooper run's through DCD and how Exercise Physiology can assist in managing DCD.

What is DCD?

  • Usually discussed as a childhood condition where no other medical or neurological condition is present which would explain the presented motor skills by the subject

  • Difficulties or delays with motor skills or co-ordinating movements

  • Often described by parents and teachers as “clumsy”

  • My extend into adulthood if no intervention as children like to perform tasks that they have mastered and avoid tasks that are unfamiliar and difficult to perform

Diagnosis of DCD usually occurs in early childhood, but not before 5yrs. This is because motor difficulties are more pronounced when house tasks and school demands increase. Children with DCD tend to achieve major milestones such as crawl, stand and walk.

Common tasks that young people with DCD may have difficulty with

  • Dressing, washing themselves, brushing their teeth

  • Dinner table/meals: difficulty with use of cutlery and more frequent spills

  • Learning to ride a bike

  • School: writing and drawing,

  • playground and PE classes (throw, catch, kick and hit)

Common characteristics of the above-mentioned tasks

  • inconsistency with performance

  • movements look slow and less fluid

  • slower reaction times

  • inconsistency with force production

Further research is needed about the causes of DCD. However recent research highlights that different parts of the brain are activated during tasks when they shouldn’t be. The subject may also have neural firing of the message from the brain to the limbs.


Intervention is primarily based around is to perform exercises which are specific to the action in which they are having difficulty with and breaking the task into segments. For example, if the young person is having difficulty with throwing then break the task into simple instructions such as:

1. point with opposite hand (aiming for where they want to aim at)

2. throwing arm up (to prepare for throw)

3. step with the leg on the same side as the arm that is pointing (initial segment of the sequence of a throw)

4. throw the ball (final segment)

These tasks need to be repeated and repeated to master (REMEMBER PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT!).

Some tasks may need to be modified to become easier as it is critical that the subject experiences success with the task. For example, kicking a moving soccer ball too hard? Try using a balloon instead. For a specific skill to be mastered it needs be practiced at least 2-3/ week.

Unfortunately, team sports may not be appropriate as the child gets older due to the skill level of other people in their class. Therefore, it is critical to promote participation in other individualised sports and hobbies which the child may enjoy. Some examples include:

  • Swimming

  • Cycling or Scootering

  • Karate or other martial arts

  • Dancing or Drama classes

  • Golf


  • Tasks should be taught in the correct way, however if the ultimate goal of the task is not being met then alternative ways can be taught in order to achieve that goal

  • Usually children learn an appropriate and achievable task, it will just take more time.

Cooper is available for individual or small group Exercise Physiology sessions. To book in for an initial assessment with Cooper click here or call 9284 4405.

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