Alongside gross motor skills such as crawling and walking, fine motor skills are also a crucial aspect of development in children. Developing fine motor skills can allow children to learn daily living skills such as eating, getting dressed, or writing. Some children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may experience motor development delays, leading to difficulties in learning how to do such everyday tasks.
Developing one’s fine motor skills requires complex hand-eye coordination and coordination between the brain and muscles. However, parents and caregivers can help children practice by integrating it into fun activities they can enjoy!
Playdough and Kinetic Sand
Playdough and kinetic sand are good options to practice and develop fine motor skills. Children would be required to use their finger and wrist strength to manipulate the playdough and kinetic sand in an appropriate way.
Additionally, these two toys have a unique texture (squishy and grainy) and can provide a sensory experience for children. As sensory issues are often present in children with ASD (Autism Speaks, n.d.), playdough and kinetic sand can be a helpful sensory medium for them.
Example: If your child is a more advanced learner, Integrate pretend play into the experience! Pretend that you are running a restaurant with your child, and you are making food out of playdough. Get your child to make some dumplings, where they will be required to roll out the playdough and use precise hand eye coordination to pinch the edges.
Arts and Crafts
There are many different types of arts and craft activities, and they can all be beneficial to practice fine motor skills and express creativity! Painting is one of many activities under this category. Compared to the mundane colour of the pencil, paint offers vivid colours that children may be more intrigued by. This activity would require the child to learn to hold the paintbrush correctly with their fingers. They would also need to learn to use the appropriate amount of force to brush the paintbrush against the paper.
Example: Paint a simple picture of something your child likes (e.g., a bus or a car), and get them to copy the same image! This will also help to train their visual processing and hand-eye coordination.
Playing with and stringing beads is another activity that can help with fine motor skills and using precision in fingers. Take a few beads of different sizes and a piece of string. When stringing the beads, the child is able to practice holding their hands still and using their fingers to hold the items (instead of grabbing with palms).
Puzzles and Blocks
Fixing puzzles and building blocks are fantastic activities to train fine motor skills as well as visual and cognitive skills. With puzzles, it would be preferable to get knob puzzles with simple shapes, animals, fruits or letters. The smaller the knob, the better! Children can practice their pincer grip to grab the puzzle pieces and use their hand-eye coordination to match and accurately fix the puzzle pieces.
The same goes for blocks – the smaller the pieces the better! Stacking and building blocks require a lot of precision and a firm pincer grip to stack and balance the blocks on top one another. Legos are a good example, as they are relatively small in size (be careful if your child is still young – it can be a choking hazard!) and require a greater amount of finger strength to push together and pull apart the pieces while building.
Example: If your child is more of an advanced learner, try integrating roleplay with building blocks! You and your child can build up a castle and use dolls or figurines to play out a scenario. Your child can also practice turn taking through conversation and taking turns to knock down the blocks.
It is relatively common for children with Autism to have motor skill delays (Wieder, 2018). However, this can be overcome through motivated learning and encouragement during activities. Remember to work at your child’s pace and match the activity to your child’s learning level. No matter how small or big the improvement, continue to encourage them and build their confidence!
Written by Ashely.
Autism Speaks. (n.d.). Sensory Issues. Retrieved from https://www.autismspeaks.org/sensory-issues
Wieder, S. (2018, April 18). Motor Development: How Autism Affects Motor Skills: Profectum Foundation: Autism Resources. Retrieved from https://profectum.org/motor-development-autism-affects-motor-skills/