The 5-10% cohort in your PE class: Developmental Coordination Disorder

21st December 2017 by Professor Beth Hands
The 5-10% cohort in your PE class: Developmental Coordination Disorder

In every PE class, you will observe children who struggle to efficiently perform the many fundamental motor skills required to participate in most of the skills and games.  They may be unable to catch a ball, to jump over a cone, or kick a soccer ball.  They might frequently trip and fall over, or always be caught first in a tag game.  As teachers, we might just think “they are clumsy”, “they are not the sporty type” that “they are not trying hard” or even “they are lazy”.  Their peers are also aware of their inadequacy as movement is such a public event.  We can see who can’t catch a ball or who comes last in running races.  Whereas, in the classroom, children may not be aware of who is the worst speller or mathematician, they know who they don’t want on their team as they can’t catch a ball or run fast.

Some of these children may have a condition called Developmental Coordination Disorder. This diagnosable condition means a person has significant difficulty coordinating their movements and are often unable to complete many everyday tasks such as tying shoe laces, doing up buttons, or making a sandwich. They don’t have any other movement-related disorder, such as cerebral palsy, that could explain their difficulty.

DCD can have a powerful negative impact on a child’s physical and emotional health.  Some physical consequences include lower fitness (aerobic endurance, muscle strength, muscle endurance, lower flexibility) and reduced bone strength. Many experience poor self-esteem and low confidence, depression, stress, anxiety and develop greater risk-taking behaviours as they enter adolescence.  In the playground, they may be socially isolated, or even bullied by their peers, so they may retreat to the library or computer room. As adolescents they are unable to participate in many weekend sporting activities which are particularly important for social interaction and the development of peer relationships.

The incidence of this condition is between 5 and 10% so there is a high probability that a boy or girl in your class has this condition- which at present is under-recognised and generally under-resourced.  Often parents don’t realise that their child has a condition with a name, and are often very relieved when someone else acknowledges that their child has a difficulty!  So look for those children in your class and think about how best to understand and support them. More ideas to come in the next Blog!

If you want to know more

  1. visit – a website developed by a team of researchers from the University of Notre Dame Australia, Curtin and UWA about DCD.
  2. Email for a free copy of the resource Developmental Coordination Disorder: A resource for parents, teachers and clinicians.

Professor Beth Hands
Senior research Scholar, University of Notre Dame Australia