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 ‘Let’s 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 timetable and use language like ‘Once we try this activity then we will try this activity’.
Fine motor activities for a 5-year-old
This is a great way to work on bimanual skills and fine motor control in a super playful way. Use old newspapers or magazines and encourage children to rip a page out, they then scrunch their page into a ball (basketball) to aim at a target/hoop. This can be played with siblings to add to the fun.
The ripping, the scrunching and throwing all work on different fine motor muscles and skills.
Competently being able to use scissors is a skill that is beneficial to be mastered by school age. It’s a more complex skill that involves a lot of fine motor control and coordination.
A great way to practice scissor skills is to use plastic ones with playdough, this is a fun and non-stressful way to get used to coordinating correct scissor movements. It's easier than cutting paper as there are no expectations to cut on a line and cutting is simpler in general. Cutting straws or cooked spaghetti is another great activity to assist in developing early cutting skills as it doesn’t require too much control but still works on those fine motor skills.
Building with Lego is a fun and motivating way to work on fine motor development through play. Picking up Lego pieces requires a lot of finger control as the pieces are so small and connecting the pieces requires slight, very precise movements that increase dexterity.
If playing with Lego isn’t particularly appealing, making up pattern creations to take a photo and laminate is a fun option too. The children choose a card and try to replicate the same creation. Another option is to write their name on a baseboard.
Tennis ball pacman
This is a super fun DIY game that will build up hand strength. All you need to do is cut a slit in the tennis ball for the mouth. Then get creative and use permanent markers to decorate a face (the mouth is the slit). The aim is to squeeze the tennis ball so the ‘mouth’ opens and then it can pick things up to eat. Pom poms are a great ‘eating’ tool, but any small objects or craft materials are also great.
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 children on the spectrum 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)
Any activity in which pegs are used is a great way to work on fine motor development and there is just something so appealing about pegs for kids.
The pinching action required from the thumb and finger is great for building up strength in those small finger muscles and assists in the development of a good finger grip.
An easy activity to set up is with a paper plate. Use coloured markers to colour in different coloured circles around the outside of the plate and match these colours with markings on the pegs (wooden pegs are most suitable for this activity). Children then match the pegs with their colours.
You could replicate this activity in so many different ways.
-Numbered dots on the plates and the numeral written on the pegs
-Different shapes written around the outside of the plate and the shape drawn on the pegs
-Lower case letters written around the outside of the plate and the upper-case letters on the pegs
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.