Dyspraxia/Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD)

Áine is one of Ireland’s foremost experts in Dyspraxia/Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) and has a special interest in its impact on children, young people and adults.

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Áine was one of the recipients of the prestigious SPHeRE scholarship from the HRB (Health Research Board), during which she completed her doctoral studies in DCD, examining both the most effective interventions to treat this disorder, and how to combat the negative impacts it has on inclusion and participation for young people.

Áine is passionate about increasing awareness of DCD and ways to support parents, professionals and schools to promote the physical, social and emotional wellbeing and academic potential of children with DCD. Áine is a published author of several papers on DCD in high-impact journals.

Early assessment and identification are essential to support the child/young person/adult to live to the fullest and successfully manage DCD.

Depending on your needs and your situation, Áine may assess difficulties in the following areas:

  • Physical – gross and fine motor skills, coordination and balance
  • Mental – emotional control and self-regulation, task completion, organisational skills, time management and coping strategies
  • Environmental - home, school, university, work or community.
  • Resources for everyday activities - assistive technology, furniture, cooking utensils, computers and many more.

Through consultations, Áine can help you decide if a full assessment or other type of support would benefit you or a child when it comes to treating and managing DCD.

DCD, commonly known as Dyspraxia, is a motor disorder that affects 1 in 20 children. DCD affects the child’s development of motor coordination skills. In turn, poor motor coordination affects the child’s ability to learn and perform everyday activities. Mastering activities such as dressing, cycling, using cutlery, handwriting, gross motor skills necessary for playing and organisational skills are challenging for the child with DCD. Difficulties with motor coordination can also affect the child’s emotional well-being if they are not addressed. While DCD is a motor disorder, individuals can experience significant emotional and mental health challenges with organisational skills, self-management and social skills.

In general, paediatricians, child psychiatrists and General Practitioners/Family Doctors can diagnose or identify DCD. They usually work as part of a team and consult with an Occupational Therapist to get a full report and assessment of the child. The medical professional may rule out any other medical causes for the child’s coordination difficulties before referring for an occupational therapy assessment.
If the occupational therapy assessment is completed first and there are definite signs of DCD, the occupational therapist will recommend that a full medical review is completed by a doctor to investigate and confirm the presence of DCD. As DCD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, the diagnosis must be confirmed by an appropriate medical professional.

Occupational Therapy assessment involves:

A comprehensive interview with parents/caregivers/teachers to explore the child/individual’s motor and cognitive abilities. The occupational therapist will ask questions about when the child achieved certain developmental milestones and when signs and symptoms began. The occupational therapist will ask questions about the child/individual’s engagement in daily activity at home, in school and the wider community to identify if the motor skill difficulties are affecting the child/individual’s involvement in everyday situations.
Next, a standardised motor and cognitive assessment will be carried out (for example, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, handwriting, perceptual, executive functioning and sensory assessment(s)) to identify the child abilities, strengths, and areas of skill difficulty.

Following the assessment, the OT will score all standardised assessments and formulate a comprehensive report based upon the assessment findings (including interview information). Once the report is complete, parents/caregivers engage in a consultation to discuss the findings and recommendations of the report.

Occupational therapy (OT) is one of the key treatments for DCD. Occupational therapy can help the child, young person or adult to gain confidence in the performance skills and activity competencies necessary for involvement in the chosen activities. Examples include cycling, dressing, handwriting, cutlery use, ball skills, swimming, money management, cooking, organisational skills and independence, etc. Occupational therapy can also help the child to understand how emotional regulation can affect their ability to engage and to be involved in activities with others. Occupational therapy can help the child/young person to identify a range of self-regulation strategies that help them to participate in daily activities and situations. In addition, occupational therapy can collaborate and work with the child’s school so that the correct supports and strategies are put in place.

One of the most important strategies to manage DCD is to recognise and understand how DCD affects you/your child. Research shows that when parents/caregivers/teachers understand and recognise the child’s difficulties then the child copes better and can manage their involvement in everyday situations. When the important adults in their life recognise and understand the child/young person’s needs, they experience better self-perceptions and feel more confident about their abilities.
Children/young people don’t “grow out of” their dyspraxia, but research evidence shows us that children and young people develop and use a wide range of coping skills such as a positive attitude, humour, practicing and persevering with activities that they enjoy, and better adapting to activities. Other factors such as the child and young person with DCD’s preferences towards activities and life situations, their sense of self, age, and insight into their health condition also influence their coping skills and their capacity to join in and be involved in everyday activities.

Occupational therapy can help children/young people/parents and teachers to recognise and understand DCD so that the individual enjoys a healthy and successful life.

Many young people/adults with undiagnosed conditions have developed a wide array of coping skills to help them to manage and get by. However, sometimes when life situations change or transitions occur, the challenges become evident. For example, studying or taking final exams, learning to drive, going to university, or starting a new job. The challenges with organisational skills, spatial awareness, fine motor skills, planning, management, and emotional regulation become more apparent in these new situations. Often an individual may seek out an assessment to understand why they are experiencing these difficulties and to access support and strategies that will help them to manage everyday situations.
Occupational therapy is an extremely helpful treatment to help children/young people/adults to learn to cope with, and manage, DCD effectively. Correct supports and accommodations can prevent people experiencing a mismatch between their abilities and the expectations of others. Without adequate support, people with DCD can be at risk of negative consequences including self-criticism, negative self-appraisal, bullying, victimisation, marginalisation, and exclusion by their peers.