Gross motor skills are large movements that we perform with our whole body, the ability to move your arms, legs and torso in a functional manner. They are usually developed throughout a typical timeline of milestones in early childhood; siting, crawling, walking, jumping, running. Motor development is key when it comes to being able to physically navigate the world.
Studies have shown that sometimes there is a link between autism and a delay in gross motor skills, however they are not considered a trait as sometimes they can be linked with other conditions or disabilities. Autism may not be present in the first few years or life, but a later diagnosis may in fact show that the delay in early motor skills was relevant to autism. Difficulties with motor skills may involve anything that relies on balance, body awareness and motor control.
Differences in connectivity between brain regions could help explain some difficulties that may be present for those who have autism, such as;
-Having an uncoordinated gait
-Difficulty coordinating bilateral movements
-Struggle with spatial awareness
-Difficulty with motor planning skills
-Delayed compared to that of their peers
Gross motor skills are an important everyday skill that allows individuals to move and function. Moving our bodies can actually take a considerable amount of skill, especially when there are challenges involved. It’s important to work on gross motor skills consistently from a young age, the more we move the more we are able to coordinate both sides of the brain which improves overall coordination. Exercise and movement are important to lead a healthy life, to release happy endorphins and in particular for ASD to assist in adequate regulation.
Simple home DIY activity ideas
Milk carton hurdles
I love being able to recycle milk cartons, we go through so much milk in our household and it seems such a shame to just throw them out. A simple activity to encourage gross motor coordination is to use them as hurdles, line them up for your child to practice stepping over. They actually work great as if your child accidentally steps on them it’s no big deal.
Another simple gross motor activity could be to fill them up with water and add food colouring to each one “Can you go and kick the blue bottle down”, ``Now go and kick the yellow bottle down”.
Pool noodle launcher
This is a super fun activity that siblings will enjoy being a part of too. All you need are some tooth picks, pool noodles and balls (we use table tennis balls as they are light). Cut a small piece of the pool noodle and then a longer piece. Secure them together with toothpicks and have the small piece at the bottom. Make a small cut so the large noodle has a flat surface to sit the ball in. 3,2,1 launch... a great activity to practice foot isolation, stamping, balancing and weight shifting.
Balloons are always used in our house to encourage therapy play, such a cheap and simple way to come up with new motivating ideas. Here are some possible ideas to use to encourage moving.
-Balloon game. For this game you need some washing baskets and 2xpaper towel rolls. The aim is to hit the balloon with the rolls into your goal (washing basket), a lot of coordination and motor planning is needed, and many laughs will be had.
-Balloon punch. Hand the balloons from the ceiling from string or crepe paper and you have your own little punching bags
-Balloon walking. Place the balloon between your knees and encourage walking and running without letting it drop.
-Bell kick. Insert a small bell into the balloon and kick it around the house.
-Balloon bat. The aim of this is to not let the balloon touch the ground, keep batting the balloon with your hand and run after it to bat again so it doesn’t touch the ground.
For this activity cut up some circles using coloured paper, then stick to the ground with tape or blu-tac. Put some music on for your child to dance to and when you press pause you yell out a colour for them to run to and freeze on. Repeat over and over.
You could also use the circles to play a different movement game in which you ask them to put different body parts on a colour. For example, “Can you put one hand on a red circle and one foot on a yellow circle? “A great activity to work on bilateral coordination and motor planning.
Pool noodle bowling
Another material we often use for therapy play is pool noodles. They are so cheap and versatile and can be easily cut for different activities.
One fun option is to cut them into equal cylinders and place them on the ground like bowling pins. Grab a ball to roll to try to knock them down. You could also position them on a dining table and encourage your child to throw the ball to knock them down.
Home obstacle course
Obstacle courses are a great way to work on a range of gross motor skills, such as climbing, crawling, walking, jumping, running.
To make a DIY home obstacle course simply get creative and use items from around the home. Here are some ideas of options you could create for your own course.
-Crawling under the dining table
-Zig zagging between dining room chairs
-Using mattresses for a crash mat or to roll across
-Lounge cushions and pillows to crawl across
-Tape on the ground as a stepping ladder
-Hula hoops to jump into
-Post its on the ground to act as ‘stations’, each of them can have a different action
-Bear walks down the hallway
-Tape on the ground to balance across a line
There are endless ideas to incorporate activities into the day to encourage moving and it’s important to encourage your child to reach their gross motor milestones from an early age.