Understanding Developmental Coordination Disorder


  • Susan J. Grosse Aquatic Consulting and Education Resources Services


Developmental Coordination Disorder, motor skills, adapted physical education


Almost every adapted physical education teacher, recreation therapist, or general activity leader knows at least one individual (and more likely knows several) who has difficulty learning sport skills, whose movements appear dissimilar from peers, and/or who doesn’t do well when playing games and sports. That same individual may have difficulty with fine motor skills, have very hard to read hand writing, and may look clumsy when performing daily tasks. This individual lacks coordination. It may be that this lack of coordination is the result of a concomitant disability, inadequate opportunities to develop motor skills, or just lack of effort. However, lack of coordination may also be a result of the individual having a developmental coordination disorder.

Any individual experiencing coordination problems may feel left out, inadequate, unhappy, frustrated, and embarrassed by his or her ineptness. These feelings can result in said individual’s withdrawal and/or refusal to join in and participate in physical activity. Lack of coordination can also lead to that individual being disruption in an attempt to shift attention from away from his or her lack of competence. This individual may be “labeled” lazy, slow, clumsy, stupid, or troublemaker, but no matter what the label, the individual has a problem. Lack of coordination can have lasting effects in all areas of daily life. For the physical education student with a developmental coordination disorder, frustration can lead to refusal to participate and future negative attitudes about physical activity. Lacking coordination in motor activity can also, in later life, lead to complete aversion to leading an active lifestyle. 

But, while general assumptions regarding who has a developmental coordination disorder, who is uncoordinated due to a disability, and who is just having transitory difficulty mastering a skill, can be made, it is important for physical education, recreation, and sport professionals to be able to distinguish the specifics of developmental coordination disorder in order to provide appropriate and timely intervention. This article explores determination of developmental coordination disorder, causes of chronic coordination problems, how a lack of coordination relates to other disabilities, and how lack of remediation can have a negative lasting effect on an active lifestyle. Most important, this article will include techniques for activity professionals to use to assist a student with developmental coordination disorder in mastering physical activity and sport skills. These techniques are equally appropriate for implementation in one-on-one situations and large classes, as well as with sports teams.

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