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Diagnosis & Therapy

The Impact for DCD report found that 87% of parents reported that receiving a diagnosis was helpful to them. However, there are many challenges that families commonly face in the diagnostic pathway. Here, we try to address some of the common questions and provide some additional resources clarifying the role of commonly utilised medical and allied health professionals.

How is DCD diagnosed?

There are four criteria that must be met for a diagnosis of DCD (DSM-5, American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Criterion A

Movement skills are substantially below that expected for age and  opportunity for learning and use.

Criterion B

Movement difficulties identified significantly and persistently interfere with daily living and impact school productivity, prevocational and vocational activities, leisure and play.

Criterion C

Movement difficulties are present since early childhood.

Criterion D

Movement difficulties are not better explained by intellectual delay, visual impairment or other neurological conditions that affect movement (e.g., cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy).

We advocate for a team-based approach to the diagnosis of DCD, in line with international clinical guidelines (Blank et al., 2019). Typically, this would include, at a minimum:

1. A qualified health professional who can undertake an assessment of motor skill level (e.g. an occupational therapist, physiotherapist, neuropsychologist), and

2. A medical specialist (e.g., paediatrician), who can ensure there are no other explanations for the observed movement difficulties. A medical specialist can also work with other specialists to identify whether any other co-occurring conditions are evident.

Together, the diagnostic team can take sufficient patient history to ensure the impact and onset of any motor skill impairment meets the diagnostic guidelines.

It is important to note that DCD can be diagnosed alongside other neurodevelopmental conditions and learning disorders. DCD commonly co-occurs with speech disorders (e.g., childhood apraxia of speech), autism, ADHD, and dyslexia. Individuals presenting with these disorders should also have their motor skills evaluated.

Friendly pediatrician communicate with her child patient at doctor's office while pediatrician consultation. Kid health

Age of diagnosis

Diagnosis is often not formally given until children reach 5 years of age, because motor skill development prior to this is quite variable. However, parents often report noticing differences in development much earlier than this and a lack of diagnosis does not preclude families from seeking help from specialists, like occupational therapists. They can provide early intervention and support based on the child’s functional strengths and weaknesses at the time.

Most often, children are diagnosed at school age following the process described above. 

Adults can be diagnosed with DCD as well, though finding specialists to assist can be more difficult. You can read more about DCD in adults here.

Boy playing with his therapist

Specialists for diagnosis and therapy

A number of medical and allied health professionals are involved in making a diagnosis and the delivery of therapy. We are often asked about the role different professionals play. We have consulted with representatives from each of the professions below to provide you with an outline of the role each can play in diagnosis and/or therapy, how to find an appropriate professional and questions you might like to ask them.