Experiencing DCD

The following exercises will help you get a feel for what it’s like to have DCD.

  • Get a piece of paper and a pen
  • Print your first name with your non-dominant hand, using these letters:
Cutting Exercise
  • Get a piece of paper, a pen and a pair of scissors
  • Find another person to help out
  • Draw a heart on the paper
  • Have your assistant hold the paper while you cut out the heart shape
  • The assistant can move the paper to help you, but you cannot give them any instructions

While doing these exercises, you might have had experiences that are common for children with DCD:

Heavy reliance on vision

With the printing exercise, you may have moved your eyes back and forth from the screen to your hand. When learning a new motor task we rely heavily on vision until we get the ‘feel’ of the movement. Children with DCD continue to need vision to guide their movements long after they have been taught the task.

Stiff or floppy movements

You might have had to grip your pen very tightly and tense your arm muscles while drawing with your non-dominant hand. In a child with DCD, some movements will look stiff, while others will look very loose like the Scarecrow and Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. Both of these types of movements happen because children with DCD have trouble holding some joints (like their elbow) in a stable position, while moving other joints (like their fingers).

The “new learning” stage

While completing this challenging task, it might have felt like you were learning to write for the first time. A child with DCD will usually require much more teaching and practice to master a skill. Imagine if each new task you learned — like cutting with a knife and fork — were as challenging as this writing activity.

Difficulty applying motor skills in new tasks or environments

Although you already know how to write, your skills might not have transferred to this new writing task. Children with DCD will often not be able to make the connection between two activities to build on skills learned in the past. Additionally, they might not be able to use the motor skill that they learned in gym out on the playground.

Giving up quickly

You might have become frustrated with how time-consuming and difficult both of these tasks were and you might have given up before you were finished. Children with DCD lack strategies to help them learn and often do not feel confident that they can master a new skill. The goal can feel too hard and this can impact their motivation to keep trying.

Getting tired

The printing task likely took a lot of effort and, if your name is long, you were probably tired by the time you were finished. Perhaps you tried to find a shortcut, like shortening your name. Children with DCD use their muscles inefficiently so they often fatigue easily during motor tasks. Research also shows that children with DCD use more parts of their brain during these tasks, adding to their fatigue.

Difficulty coordinating both sides of the body

The cutting exercise helps you to imagine the difficulty children with DCD often have in getting both sides of their body to work together. Activities requiring the cooperation of two hands like catching a ball, cutting with scissors or holding paper while printing, are often especially challenging for a child with DCD because they are not able to get both sides of their body to communicate with each other.