The other factor to consider is desire. While Max saw no reason to catch a ball, he stood there and let it bounce off his body, he did desire to paint, draw, and cut paper. His desire to create art ensured that he learned these fine motor skills before things like zipping up his coat.
Early on we addressed Max’s difficulties with motor skill development by getting help from an occupational therapist. An occupational therapist (O.T.) helps individuals with disabilities learn how to perform both gross motor and fine motor movements in order to function in the day to day. For example our O.T. helped Max to learn to use utensils, sip from a straw, and sequence the steps needed to brush his teeth.
We were also given fun homework of helping Max to increase his muscle tone. Some children with autism or other special needs have low muscle tone and tend to be a bit floppy. This is what can cause the awkward gait, the inability to perform certain upper body or hand movements and general clumsiness. So we did things like have him hang from the monkey bars at the playground to increase his grasp and upper body strength. We had clothes pins and hard clay for him to squeeze to increase hand strength. We bought a therapy ball so he could improve his balance. A mini-trampoline would provide a means to increase his lower body agility and strength. We played tug of war, created obstacle courses throughout the house out of play tubes, we enrolled Max in therapeutic horseback riding, we swam, we helped integrate him into a gymnastics class, and we walked every nature trail we could find. This list just scratches the surface of all the activities we did together over the years.
It was our experience that providing opportunities for Max to experience the fun in movement not only helped him to develop motor skills but also had the extra added advantage of increasing his desire to communicate and engage with us. If you have a child with autism who may be a little clumsy and lacking in motor skills, don’t despair. There are a lot of fun ways you can teach your child coordination, agility, and most importantly, confidence in their body.
We would love to hear from you now. Do you have a child who is on the autism spectrum who has difficulty with motor skills? What has helped? Tell us your story. We are listening!
Hilton CL, Zhang Y, White, MR, Klohr CL, Constantino J. Motor impairment in sibling pairs concordant and discordant for autism spectrum disorders. Autism. Published Jan. 18, 2012.
You can find more about Max and Me on our blog: The Autism Express