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What's up with their fine motor skills...

Fine motor skills are the ability to use the small, fine muscles within the fingers, hands, and wrists to complete small, fine activities, such as stringing small beads, using a pencil correctly, and having good scissor skills. These skills develop as the neurological system matures and with exposure.

For some children, fine motor skills are easily learned and develop at an appropriate pace. Usually with these children, art projects and paper/pencil activities are fun and rewarding.

To other children, their fine motor skills may not develop as quickly, making age level tasks such as coloring/writing difficult. I will have parents say to me “He really doesn’t like to color” or “She doesn’t like to write her name”. This usually pulls up a red flag to me, especially the children that are above the age level for these skills. I respond to the parents, saying “well, coloring and/or writing are usually preferred for children. Most kids that do not like coloring and/or writing are kids that are finding it difficult for some reason.” So our first step is to find out what is keeping them from enjoying fine motor play.

Developing fine motor skills is necessary for learning how to hold a pencil, write, and completing daily tasks such as buttoning your shirt.

Now, it may sound simple… ok, they need to learn to hold their pencil better so I’ll just teach them the correct way or get them a gripper, but there are a lot of underlying factors that could be the reason behind their difficulties.

FIRST, as an occupational therapist, my first question is always.. “Are they in day care or school?” This will tell me if there has been exposure to age level toys since most day cares/schools will engage in fine motor tasks throughout the day. If they are not in school, I usually have the parents give me a brief summary of their day so I can know if they are exposed to fine motor tasks daily.

SECOND,fine motor coordination doesn’t just start in the hands. Developmentally, we all need good core strength and stability to develop shoulder strength/stability. Without good shoulder strength/stability we wouldn’t be able to develop upper arm strength/stability. Once the upper arm strength/stability is improved, our lower arm and hands can start to get stronger and more stable. Makes sense right? Now, some kids with low tone and low strength in the core/shoulder/upper arms are still given fine motor materials to practice with, which in turn could result in atypical grasping patterns or immature fine motor coordination.

THIRD, even if a child is exposed to fine motor tasks and has appropriate developmental strength/tone, sometimes children need guidance on how to do fine motor tasks accurately. For example, some kids will just start using a “funky” grasp on their writing tool. These kids could benefit from someone showing them the correct way to hold it. Sometimes these things aren’t noticed and kids continue to use a “funky” grasp (because he is little and you don’t realize any issues) until he/she is older and in grade school and has poor handwriting. Sometimes children could just benefit from a little guidance with proper fine motor use.

Now these 3 things are the majority of reasons why some kids have a fine motor delay. Every child is different though. Contact us for a more personalized answer to any questions you may have.


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