Fine motor skills are the ability to make movements using the small muscles in our hands and wrists, to be able to coordinate these small muscle groups with competence and precision.
We consistently use our fine motor skills for daily activities as they aid in many of self-help tasks such as eating, dressing, cooking and brushing teeth. They are essential life skills that begin to develop as early as 1 to 2 months old.
Often children with Autism can face some coordination difficulties and these skills can be more challenging to master; they may develop later than that of their neurotypical peers. Difficulties stem from a difference in brain wiring, motor planning and sensory processing.
When working on fine motor activities for autism there are a few handy tips to keep in mind.
-Ensure the environment is free from distraction
-End with some sensory reinforcement
-Minimise noise and use noise cancellation headphones if required
-Keep sessions short
-Use materials that won’t cause frustration
-Try activities that they will have some success with
-Give their fingers and hands a stretch prior (deep pressure – create alertness and stimulation)
-Praise efforts rather than results
-Use a timer ‘Lets do this activity until the sand in the timer reaches the bottom’
-Give choices ‘would you like to do this activity or this activity first?’
-Use an activity board, take photos of a few activities to create a bit of a visual time-table and use language like ‘ Once we try this activity then we will try this activity’.
Fine motor activities for 3 year olds
Stickers are a great way to practice fine motor skill development and great for children with autism as you can use ones that are based on interests, plus what child doesn’t love stickers!
Stickers work on using a pincer grasp, which is an important fine motor milestone as this skill helps us to be able to pick things up, self feed, dress and develop an appropriate pencil grip.
There are so many ways that stickers can be used
-Stick on paper
-Use with drawings
-Line and name decorating
-Mark things off
-To use with reward charts
Another great thing about stickers is that they can be modified according to skill level - using smaller stickers for more developed skills or larger puffy ones when starting out. A trick that is useful for early development is to pull off the backing paper, this makes it easier to peel the stickers off but still works on that crucial fine motor practice.
The benefits of playdough are endless; it's calming, encourages creativity, stimulates the senses and it’s a great way to work on fine motor development.
So many different elements of play that enhance building up hand muscles and strength. Manipulating, rolling, flattening and moulding are all working on fine motor strength and control. It is so simple to make and the ingredients can all be found in your kitchen cupboard!
If the usual playdough tools aren’t motivating enough, think outside the box and get creative. It’s quite often that autistic children have interests that fascinate them so bring this into play.
-Making car tracks along the playdough
-Creating small words
-Counting how many balls they can roll
-Making crazy creatures
-Writing in playdough with toothpicks
-Kitchen items (cookie cutters, bowls, plastic knives)
Lacing and threading
Lacing and threading are a bit of a ‘’go to’ when you think of fine motor skills, they work on hand eye coordination, pincer grip and bimanual skills. What is great about lacing and threading is that the opportunities to incorporate it into play are endless. Think pasta and string, beads and feathers, buttons and pipe cleaners, there are an array of craft materials and everyday items that can be used.
Counting practice, colour sorting and making patterns are all ideas that can also be incorporated into lacing and threading.
Pool noodle pop
Pool noodles are great to use for home DIY activities! Think makeshift hurdles, bowling pins, boats for floating… they can literally be transformed into anything. However, one of my favourite activities just happens to be a fine motor one. I cut them up, add some toothpicks and just like that you have a motivating activity that works on fine motor development.
When the toothpicks are posted into the pool noodle it creates a bit of a popping sound which I think is the satisfying appeal, a great tactile sensory activity. More often than not children will keep going until they have inserted all of the tooth picks but there are other learning opportunities that can also be enticed.
-Have different coloured pool noodles with matching toothpicks to colour sort.
-Make hedgehogs or other creatures to enhance imagination
-Have a race by giving the same amount of toothpicks to see who uses all of theirs up first
-Simply count how many toothpicks then can fit
-Cut the pool noodles into smaller pieces and use the toothpicks to attach them together for building creations
There is something so enticing about sorting for children but it is also a great way to encourage grasping and hand eye coordination.
Adding tweezers is a way to further develop the strengthening of fine motor muscle development. So many ideas in which sorting can be carried out
-Sorting coloured counters into matching coloured bowls
-Sorting small animals
-Sorting money and posting it into boxes
-Using tweezers to sort items in a sensory bin
-Attaching coloured paper clips to their matching coloured paddle pop stick
-Sorting pegs according to colour to then peg onto coloured cardboard
When working on the development of any skills with children it is important to bring in a playful approach. Focus on their interests and base learning activities around that. Fine motor development is an essential and important life skill but there are so many fun and motivating ways in which it can be practiced.