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Marie Claire: Millions of Americans Have My “Invisible Disability.” You’ve Probably Never Heard of It

By Jenny Hollander

When I was 9, my teacher took my parents aside and suggested that they take me to see a specialist. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but there was something “off” about me. At the time, we couldn’t have known that London, our hometown, was one of the few places in the world that might recognize symptoms like mine (clumsiness, disorganization) in the ’90s. I submitted to a battery of tests—could I copy the shape of a kite onto a fresh piece of paper? throw a ball against the wall and catch it?—and, days later, we had an answer: I have a classic case of dyspraxia, known in the U.S. as developmental coordination disorder, or DCD.

Some things, the specialist told us, would always be harder for me: walking, talking, tying my shoelaces. Finagling my way from point A to point B, both in terms of physical terrain and in my own head. I’d probably struggle with my speech, my handwriting, physical or mental sequences—anything that involved motor skills, a term that refers to the brain-body mechanism that allows you to wave, run, chew, or speak without even thinking about it.

The phrase “motor disability” went right over my 9-year-old head, so the specialist explained: Not all the messages from your brain are seamlessly reaching your body.

Roughly 6 percent of people worldwide have DCD. That makes it more common than autism spectrum disorder, which is thought to affect 1 percent of the population, and close to being as common as dyslexia, which affects about one in ten people. 

“There are so many pieces to DCD,” explains Keith A. Coffman, the director of the Movement Disorders Program at the Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. “Breaking it down into individual symptoms, or a small group of symptoms, is challenging.”

Nobody knows what causes DCD, and there is no “cure.” Before it was labeled a neurodevelopmental disorder, it had been posited to be a psychiatric disorder, a sensory disorder, a social disorder, a variation of cerebral palsy, and even “minimal brain damage.”


Read the full story via Marie Claire

Learn about the Movement Disorders Clinic at Children's Mercy