Motor skills are essential for everyday living. They help a person move, manipulate objects, and interact with the environment. Motor skills are divided into two main domains; gross motor skills and fine motor skills.
Gross motor skills involve moving the large muscles of the body which, in infancy can be seen when the baby lifts his head when lying on his stomach and rolling over, and in the older child, when he is able to maintain his balance, walk, jump, reach, etc. Gross motor skills follow a pattern: large muscles develop before small muscles and are the foundation for development of other fine motor skills. The skills are developed in a top to bottom sequence. A person’s gross motor skill depends on the tone and strength of the muscles involved.
Fine motor skills involve using the small muscles of the hand with support from the larger muscles to manipulate objects and to transfer them from one hand to another, and to coordinate visual information with hand movements. Fine motor skills involve using precise hand movements to achieve results in threading beads, coloring, cutting, handwriting, etc. Fine motor skills are superimposed on gross motor skills. For example, a student’s ability to maintain upper body support will affect his ability to sit erect and interact in class, as well as his handwriting.
Motor skills are critical to complete activities of daily living (ADLs) such as dressing, feeding, grooming, and toileting. These are tasks that children and adults do every day that form the foundation of self-care. Children at different ages have varying abilities to independently accomplish ADLs, which is part of the natural developmental sequence of learning. For children who are not yet able to accomplish ADLs appropriate for their age, addressing these skills can lead to greater independence, confidence, and feelings of self-worth.
How do I know if my child has a problem?
Motor skills develop at different rates in all children. If your child has problems with balance, coordination and other gross motor milestones, he may have a gross motor, or coordination, disorder. If your child has problems with manipulating small objects, cutting, coloring, handwriting, and other fine motor milestones, he may have a fine motor disorder. Problems in acquisition of gross motor and fine motor skills hinder the child’s ability to interact with the environment, thus slowing the rate of learning. An assessment with an occupational therapist (OT) can help determine if your child’s motor skills are within an expected range of development for your child’s age or if further support is warranted.
How can occupational therapy help?
An occupational therapist (OT) can provide activities that can strengthen and help improve your child’s gross and/or fine motor skills. Occupational therapy for children is often crafted within play-based games and activities that also serve to target specific areas of need.
What can I do to help?
We encourage you to attend therapy sessions with your child to understand the skills that are being addressed and how to continue to support those developing skills at home within your daily routines. As you partner with your child’s occupational therapist (OT), together you can determine which skills will have the greatest positive impact for your child.