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 self-help tasks such as eating, dressing, cooking, brushing teeth etc. 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 crucial skills can be more difficult 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 creates alertness and stimulation)
-Praise efforts rather than results
-Use a timer ‘Lets do this activity until the sand in the sand 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 activity ideas for a 7-year-old
It can be a little more difficult to engage children in fine motor activities once they start to get a little bit older… the fun little tweezer and threading activities simply just don’t cut it for these cool dudes! But the good news is that there are still many motivating and fun ways to entice them in for some fine motor practice, you're just required to think outside the box a little more!
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 aim is to squeeze the tennis ball so the ‘mouth’ opens up and it can pick things up to eat. Pom poms are a great ‘eating’ tool, but any small craft objects or small materials will work. If there are siblings encourage them to have a race to see who can eat the most pom poms.
Paper plate faces
May not seem too exciting for a 7-year old but once you ask them to make a super crazy face to scare dad (brother, sister, nan, friends) they are usually all in.
Simply drawing is a great way to continue to work on pencil grip and control. Think about the materials that you provide too;
-Pencils are great to encourage pushing down rather than crayons or textas.
-Texta’s are great to encourage bimanual coordination.
-Stickers can be used to assist in creating facial features, they are fantastic for developing small intrinsic movements within the fingers.
-Glue and craft material to decorate with jewellery or to use as facial features. The glue stick use will practice bilateral skills and the craft materials will require the use of pincer grip.
-Scissors are great to practice mine motor coordination towards the end to create a haircut.
Sensory balls and fidget toys are the rage these days, so this is a super motivating activity for older children to practice their fine motor skills.
You will need some balloons, a funnel and filling materials (water, flour and water, rice, gel, dishwashing liquid). Simply fill the balloons with a mixture of choice for some sensory squish balloon creations. This requires a variety or different fine motor movements, including bilateral coordination.
Modelling clay has the same amazing fine motor benefits as playdough, but it requires the use of more hand strength due to it being harder to manipulate. Clay is often a bit more appealing to older children as it offers more variety and can be decorated after its air dried. Plus, their creations can be kept rather than stored away like playdough.
Building with Lego is a fun and motivating way to work on fine motor skills through play. Picking up Lego pieces requires a lot of finger control. The pieces are so small that connecting them requires slight, very precise movements that increase dexterity.
If playing with Lego isn’t very appealing, make up pattern creations. Take a photo of it and challenge them to replicate it. Another option is to write their name on a baseboard.
Water colours are fun for any age, using pipettes will further add to the fine motor challenge. Grab some paper towel, pipettes (or medicine syringes) and watercolor edicol paint (or food colouring mixed with water). Squeeze the colours all over the paper towel, the texture will ensure the colours mix and blend rather than run.
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 target different fine motor muscles and skills.
When working on the development of any skills with children it is important to bring 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 skills in which it can be practiced.