Coordination acquisition disorder and autism

What is acquisition coordination disorder?

Coordination acquisition disorder is when a person has difficulty learning movements and performing them, and also has difficulty with performing series of gestures. Anyone can have a coordination acquisition disorder, but autistic people are more likely than others to live with this challenge.

What is coordination acquisition disorder?

Coordination acquisition disorder (CAD) affects the ability to learn and perform movements. The person has difficulty planning and sequencing movements. Those affected are often referred to as being clumsy. Or they may be considered to be lazy because, after directing all their attention in order to complete a task, they quickly become exhausted. This is a permanent disorder.


Symptoms vary from person to person.

Difficulties in :


Coordination acquisition disorders are present from birth and affect 6% of children, the majority of whom are boys (about two boys for every one girl).

The percentage of autistic people affected by motor coordination difficulties varies from 50% to 80% depending on the study, and may even be underestimated.

6% of children have a coordination disorder
50 to 80% of autistic people have a disorder of acquisition of coordination


Coordination acquisition disorder is a condition that is sometimes associated with autism, but it also affects many premature infants. It probably results from abnormalities in the brain’s neurological circuits. The causes are still poorly understood. Sometimes it is due to brain damage, stroke or head trauma.

Why seek consultations during childhood?

Children living with ACCD can get a lot of support at school, but they often need specialized accommodations to keep up in class. It’s important to get the diagnosis right, because without it, the child can quickly accumulate failures and/or difficulties at school. Once the diagnosis has been made, treatment can be individualized: for example, psychological help, speech therapy, special education, or psychomotor therapy may be offered. There may also be additional help available at school, such as personalized education plans, specialized assistance or electronic writing aids.

Further information

The term "motor dyspraxia" was used for many years to describe children who had difficulty with motor tasks, despite normal intelligence and the absence of underlying medical conditions. Terminology and understanding have evolved. The term "coordination acquisition disorder" more accurately describes the central problem of these children, namely difficulties in acquiring and automating motor skills, despite normal learning opportunities. The term "dyspraxia" has been used variably and sometimes contradictorily in the literature. For example, it has been used to describe specific motor planning problems, as well as more general coordination problems. Adopting the term TAC avoids this confusion. Although the term "coordination acquisition disorder" is more commonly used in professional literature and clinical settings, the term "dyspraxia" is still widely used in some countries and contexts. Both terms refer to similar problems of motor coordination and planning.

How to diagnose a coordination acquisition disorder?

Diagnosis is made by an occupational therapist, neurologist, or neuropsychologist, but often a member of the school system, such as a physical education teacher, psychologist, or doctor will alert the parent to the child’s difficulties. It can also be carried out by health professionals such as a pediatrician, psychomotor therapist, physiotherapist or ophthalmologist, depending on the individual’s difficulties.


Avoid double tasks. Dictation, for example, requires writing and attention to spelling, so the student may struggle with this, yet if they are asked to simply spell a word, they may perform well, since they only need to concentrate on spelling. What's more, with all the effort the child is putting into writing, there's the added stress of not being able to finish on time, which prevents them from concentrating. In these cases, providing extra time can be particularly useful. Instead of dictation, they can be given fill-in-the-blank text exercises, in which they will only have to write words that are already spelled out for them.

Tools for living better with coordination acquisition disorder

At school

Using a computer can really help them to keep up in class without burning out. Next, it’s important to simplify instructions at school and adapt them to the child’s level. Use visual aids to help them with learning to speak.

Private assistance

Home tutoring with a specialized teacher or providing help with homework can help children avoid falling behind.

Occupational therapy, physiotherapy, etc.

Working on the child’s posture can also help prevent them from developing posture-related pain in the future. It is therefore essential to give them breaks and allow them to move, in order to avoid complications.


Outdoor activities can promote the development of children with coordination disorders. Bicycling, for example, helps the child develop a sense of balance and body control. However, safety during exercise must be carefully planned. For example, the child should be in a situation where stress triggers are far away. The first step could be to walk alongside the bike and hold it, then they could run alongside the bike. Then finally they could sit on the saddle. It’s important to take the time and encourage the child at each stage, with a caring attitude and attentive listening.

Other tips

Limit distractions.

Use a pencil adapted to the child’s hand.

Use noise-cancelling headphones or musician’s earplugs to aid concentration.

It’s also possible to find a pencil sleeve adapted to the child’s needs – there’s a wide range to choose from – which will make it easier for the child to grip the pencil.


It's important to know that CAD symptoms worsen with fatigue, so there's no point blaming the person.

When I was younger, I used to take the stairs 3 to 5 times a week, I was always told in the morning that I looked like a zombie, unable to control my jaw and my body, I talked like an "alcoholic" when I didn't take my medication for concentration. In fact, I simply have TAC, and controlling my body is a difficulty for me. Still, I wanted to draw at all costs, so I worked as hard as I could and finally got my work displayed in a library. I've come a long way, and when I look back at how far I've come, I'm glad I did. Effort always pays off, and it's important to stay motivated!

Valérie Jessica Laporte