Q. Are dyspraxia and developmental coordination disorder the same thing?
A. This is an important question on a topic that is confusing to many parents. Unfortunately, there’s no quick and easy way to answer it.
Some people use the terms dyspraxia and DCD interchangeably. But there’s a fundamental difference between them. DCD is a formal and defined condition. Dyspraxia is not.
Dyspraxia is a term you may hear when your child struggles with certain skills in development. These skills can include movement and coordination. But they might also include trouble with organization, speech, memory, social and emotional skills, sensory processing, and other skills.
Some professionals use this term when kids have trouble with a group of these skills. But it’s not a formal diagnosis.
The diagnosis for difficulty with movement and coordination is developmental coordination disorder (DCD). DCD is a disorder that’s defined as an impairment in the learning of coordination and motor skills.
The challenges of DCD impact many aspects of life. Having trouble with motor processing makes it hard to organize and sequence, for instance. Developing appropriate coordination and motor skills is a key part of development.
Kids with DCD struggle with everyday activities at home and at school. And that can have a social and emotional impact, as well.
A key difference between DCD and dyspraxia is that DCD is a well-defined and studied condition. There’s no international agreement on a definition for dyspraxia. There’s also no criteria for diagnosing it.
Since 1994, many researchers worldwide have only used the term DCD. Most professionals also refer to DCD now. That’s especially true when they’re talking about the diagnosis for movement issues. But some may still use the term dyspraxia, particularly in reference to young children.
People sometimes say that dyspraxia is a more common term in the U.K. than it is here in the United States. It’s true that the U.K. has a longer history of exploring these conditions than we do. When some people there use the term dyspraxia, they may be thinking of a broad set of symptoms. But the Dyspraxia Foundation of the U.K. uses the narrower, official definition of DCD that we do.
This all can be very confusing. If you’re wondering which term to use, I recommend DCD, especially if you’re looking for a recognition of and services for the condition. There are many supports and services your child’s school can provide to help with DCD. Occupational therapy and physical therapy can help improve movement and coordination skills, whether it’s done in school or privately. There are also ways to work with your child at home.
Keep in mind, too, that DCD commonly co-occurs with other learning and thinking differences, along with mental health issues like anxiety. So be sure to talk with your child’s doctor about your child’s unique struggles and how to treat them.
About the author
About the author
Priscila Tamplain, PhD is an associate professor in the department of kinesiology and the director of the Developmental Motor Cognition Lab at the University of Texas at Arlington.