Gross motor skills are large movements that we perform with our whole body, the ability to move our 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
DIY sensory bags are super easy to make and are always a hit with kiddies. What is great about them is they are motivating to encourage a variety of different gross motor skills.
All you need is some large Ziplock bags, some heavy-duty tape and the fillings. For the fillings you can make an assortment of paint bags by simply adding different colours of paint to mix and swirl around, alternatively you can use sensory materials. Ensure you have a base (shaving foam, gel, dishwashing liquid, water + flour) and add some felt pieces, glitter, sequins or any other craft materials to mix into it.
Depending on the gross motor skills you are working on will determine where you will stick your bags – the window to encourage reaching and high kneeling, the floor to entice crawling, the dining table to develop side stepping skills. So many options to engage you little ones to move.
Milk carton shake
There are always so many fun ways to reuse materials. We often keep milk cartons in our house to use in therapy play. To encourage some dancing and shaking simply fill some empty (clean) milk cartons with a range of materials – Beads, rice, pasta, bells… anything that creates sound.
You could also use these to encourage moving in a variety of other ways, for example; perhaps you are wanting to encourage your little one to crawl. You could shake the milk cartons and then place them in a line a little bit of a distance away, they are sure to motivate your little one to move. Either to simply knock them down or shake.
Peek a boo post its
Any activities where things are hidden are sure to create excitement (proven facts by a mum of three)! For this gross motor activity all you need is post-its and pictures (or stickers). When I used to do this with my daughter to encourage moving, wiggles were the rage, so I made small laminated pictures of all of the characters to use for therapy play. One of the ideas I used them for was hiding them behind post-its. I would place them all around the house and would ask her questions to prompt her to move. “I wonder where Emma is?”, “Could Dorothy be hiding behind the pink post-it?”
Such a simple idea that can be used in a variety of ways time and time again to practice the development of different gross motor skills.
Balloon fly away
Balloons are so much fun! Another item we often use in therapy play.
For the purpose of encouraging gross motor movement in early development simply use them as a motivator to move towards. Blow the balloon up but don’t tie it. Once the child performs desired gross motor movement (crawls, walks, kneels) to reach to touch it, let it go so it fly’s away. Always causes excitement and can be done over and over again. You actually can’t get a cheaper, more motivating experience!
What is it about Tupperware and babies? You can put a colourful, light up, musical toy with all the fancy gadgets next to some Tupperware and 9 times out of 10 I assure you; they will go for the Tupperware.
So why not use it to your advantage. Over the years there have been so many ways that I have incorporated Tupperware into play.
-Build with it. This will encourage high kneeling and reaching
-Hide items underneath cups and containers. “Oh no! Everything is trapped let’s move around and save it all”
-Throwing balls into containers and bowls
-Make a tower and say, “Please don’t knock my tower over”, they are definitely getting to that tower quick smart to knock it down. The more you make it the quicker they are to demolish it!
-Bowling fun, use plastic cups as bowling pins
-Tower crash, make a tower on one side to encourage them to roll to and crash it down
Crepe paper pull
Something so satisfying about pulling things down! All you need for this activity is some blu-tac (make sure they don’t put it in their mouths) and crepe paper. Depending on what gross motor skill you are working on will determine where you hang the crepe paper from.
Hang it from the dining table, walls, window and encourage your child to kneel, reach, sidestep along to pull it all down. You could even hang it from the ceiling to dance under or to simply move through.
Perhaps you're working on crawling? You could hang the crepe paper from the ends of the table to crawl from one end to the other.
To encourage rolling you could make pom poms from it and wave it to the side you want them to roll too.
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.