Motor delays can occur in gross motor development, fine motor development, or a combination of the two. Children may demonstrate delays in their motor skills due to underlying muscle weakness, motor planning difficulties, or underlying sensory-based difficulties that may affect their proprioception or perceptual skills.
Gross motor control
Gross motor control refers to whole body movement and include activities such as walking, running, climbing and jumping. The difficulties vary from person to person and can include the following:
- Poor timing
- Poor balance
- Low endurance
- Poor core strength
- Difficulty combining movements into a controlled sequence
- Difficulty developing motor memory for movements
- Difficulty remembering the next movement in a sequence
- Problems with spatial awareness or proprioception
- Difficulty with bilateral coordination (the ability to use both sides of the body together in a coordinated way)
- Trouble picking up and holding onto simple objects such as pencils due to poor sequencing or proprioception
- Clumsiness to the point of knocking things over and bumping into people accidentally
- Difficulty in determining left from right
Children with delays in gross motor skills may appear clumsy and uncoordinated. They may have difficulty learning the motor movements to play sports e.g. ball skills (catching, throwing, kicking, hitting, dribbling etc.). Children experiencing difficulty in their gross motor development may dislike sports and avoid gross motor activities which further limits their skill development and their social participation. An occupational therapy program is designed to target the underlying deficits that may be limiting their gross motor development so they can successfully engage in a variety of activities.
Fine motor control
Fine-motor problems can cause difficulty with a wide variety of tasks such as learning to use a knife and fork, fastening buttons, zippers, and shoelaces, writing or drawing, completing crafts, using scissors, opening jars and packets, and manipulating small objects (coins, puzzle pieces, Legos). Children who experience deficits in their fine motor skills often avoid activities that utilize fine motor skills which further limits their fine motor development and participation.
Fine motor skills are important across the life span, especially during your child’s academic years, and early intervention is important.
Difficulties with fine motor co-ordination often lead to problems with handwriting.
Handwriting and Occupational Therapy
For children experiencing significant difficulty mastering the motor demands of handwriting, further evaluation of fine motor skills (grasp, strength, endurance, and motor planning) by one of our occupational therapists is typically recommended. It is important to determine if the student’s writing difficulty is stemming from deficits in fine motor control/planning or if the difficulty is a secondary consequence of a child’s language-based learning disorder. This will help determine the appropriate course of intervention. This distinction will also help determine if the child would benefit from working on writing as part of a multisensory-based approach to teaching reading and spelling or if specific work with an occupational therapist on fine motor development and coordination is needed.
Our occupational therapists are skilled in addressing fine motor concerns related to handwriting and implementing a sequential approach as well as selection of appropriate tools (pencil grips, slant boards, postural support, specialized writing paper etc.) for improving these skills. For older children, a keyboarding program is often recommended as part of their intervention program.
How we can help
The occupational therapist will formally assess your child’s gross and fine motor skills with attention to muscle tone, motor planning, as well as sensory and perceptual abilities. Once the assessment has been completed, the therapist will develop a treatment plan and develop goals with input from the child and family. Treatment will focus on improving your child’s motor abilities so they can perform motor tasks more easily, with improved confidence and self-esteem.
Treatment often includes a home program, which is an essential aspect of treatment. A school visit can also be helpful to assess your child in the classroom, provide advice on the environment, and make recommendations regarding accommodations or tools that may help your child perform more optimally.