I would like to thank my guest blogger, Deni Weber, for sharing her ideas on autism fine motor skill activities for children. Deni is a “Christian Psychologist, Teacher, Writer, Artist, Homeschool Mom with Chronic Illnesses, Gluten Free since ’93 and ADD.” She also operates the Pathways for Change website
Developing Fine Motor Skills Can Equal FUN!!
Parents often wonder what they can do to help their autism child develop fine motor skills. Fine motor skills (sometimes referred to as manual dexterity) require hand-eye coordination that develops gradually over time. These skills begin to develop during infant and toddler years and are further refined during the preschool years. Development of these skills can vary tremendously. Some children have a lot of difficulty mastering these skills that are vital for learning good handwriting skills. Does your child have bad handwriting? That might be your clue that their motor skills are not well developed. So, what’s a parent to do?
There are many fine motor skills activities you can do with your autism child to help them acquire these necessary skills, and have fun along the way. Be patient. This is a skill that develops slowly so – emphasize the fun!
For autism children who like to use clay or play dough, simple activities such as rolling the material into balls, peas, or snakes can utilize different parts of the hand. Have the child use his/her palm to roll large balls or snakes. Show then how to make tiny pea sized balls using only their fingertips. (If your child is gluten free casein free – do NOT use regular play dough – it is NOT gluten free. Crayola has some gluten free modeling compounds and there are online recipes for GF doughs.)
Fine Motor Skills Activities
While you have the play dough or clay out, and if age appropriate, have them use toothpicks or pegs to make designs in the clay.
Use cookie cutters with the clay, or use a pizza cutter to cut the dough. You can engage their imagination as well as their fingers. (I’ve heard some folks say they use the cookie cutters to make designs on certain types of carpet … no mess to clean up!)
For squeaky-clean fun, try finger painting – with shaving cream. Have you child imitate the shapes you draw on the table. (You get a clean table as a bonus!)
If your child is one who hates the feel of clay or dough, don’t despair! There are many other activities that they will enjoy! Crumpling paper (newspaper works well) into balls, tearing paper into strips can be fun for them to try. For hand strengthening see if they can crumple one page of newspaper paper with one hand. (Try this one yourself!)
If your child uses scissors – try drawing lines on construction paper: curved lines, angles, and lines across the corners, or make fringe along the side and have them practice cutting. (Make sure they use a proper scissors grip and have scissors that cut and don’t chew, and fit their hand size.)
Most kids love sticker books! Help them place stickers in the proper place in the book matching up the outlines.
Remember the paper we were tearing up? Use tissue paper and let them glue (gotta love glue sticks!) the torn tissue pieces onto a sheet of construction paper and Viola! Instant Art! They won’t even know they are “exercising!”
Buttoning, lacing, snapping snaps, zipping, opening or closing jars, even sweeping the floor or vacuuming can all help with these necessary skills.
Many children’s toys are ideal for learning fine motor skills. Dress me dolls, or workbenches with screwdrivers and hammers help a child learn while they play!
Stacking blocks, playing with wooden train track sets all help children learn how to use their hand-eye coordination.
Lacing beads (you can be working on teaching colors and patterns at the same time) is an often-overlooked activity. If your family likes dice games, teach them how to hold the dice with two hands and shake the dice in the empty pocket their clasped hands form.
Acting out songs with finger motions (five little monkeys jumping on the bed) can help children learn how to coordinate finger movements.
While the concept of teaching “fine motor skills” may sound daunting, when it comes down to it – it’s child’s play!
deni weber, Psy.D.
Licensed Clincial Psychologist