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The Power of Movement

March 28, 2019

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; 

Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

~ Maimonides


And with that, the topic this month is motor skills! Although fishing may not be at the top of many of our lists when we think about teaching motor skills to kids with autism, the functional independence that comes from teaching a child certain motor skills (oh, and teaching a man to fish!) should be! It is very important that motor skills are properly trained and practised so that the kids are able to be independent with certain tasks in their daily lives, both in terms of, and out of the scope of autism.


Fine motor skills (mostly focused on movements of fingers, wrists and hands) can be especially challenging! Kids with autism may exhibit different levels of capability when it comes to performance, and we should first and foremost be aware and take note of this. Here at Autism Link, fine motor skills teaching surrounds necessary daily activities or tasks that children should be capable of performing independently! Here are some examples to shed some light on how some fine motor skills are so functional and necessary for their daily lives.  


Fine motor skill #1 - Pointing 


Oh how we take this for granted! If we were to break this skill down (in true ABA style!), there are a couple of components to this skill:

  • Forming the fist

  • Having with one finger extended to complete the 'pointing' motion 

Some kids may need this to be taught according to these components, and it may take time for them to be performed independently. 


Coming back to how this is a necessary skill for daily living, besides the fact that pointing is such an effective universal behaviour, imagine a non-verbal child with autism without the capability to indicate or communicate preferences in any way. Teaching this motor skill paired with teaching the connection between pointing and receiving desired items provides the child with a lifelong means of communication. 


Fine motor skill #2 - Gripping


Grip is something that is so important in so many different ways. The components to consider for grip are:

  • Positioning (hand-to-item)

  • Strength 

There are so many ways we can all imagine grip to be extremely important, but some examples of functional and basic skills involving grip are skills like pencil grip, toothbrush grip, scissors grip and cutlery grip. Teaching these grip skills is aimed towards training independence with schoolwork, and self-help (brushing teeth and eating appropriately). 


Without being able to demonstrate proper grip in these ways, the child would not be able to learn other related and more complex skills. For example, without a solid toothbrush grip, an entire 'brushing teeth routine' would not be able to be effectively learnt. Without a solid pencil grip, the child won't be able to most effectively pick up more complex cognitive and academic skills (i.e. completing different exercises on worksheets). 


Fine motor skill #3 - Tapping/Swiping


I'm sure this is pretty self-explanatory (but I will go ahead and explain anyway!). In this new world of technology and reliance on devices, we need to equip kids with the necessary motor skills to operate devices in a functional manner. Tapping is a skills that can be broken down to:

  • Pointing motion

  • Sufficient contact with targeted area on the screen 

And as for swiping: 

  • Tapping the screen with sufficient contact

  • Sustaining sufficient contact to drag the finger across the screen 

Although we always recommend that devices are used in moderation, we do have to acknowledge their value, especially the use of devices to communicate. There are many apps that facilitate communication where kids have to be able to swipe through different sections or categories and tap to select the things they wish to communicate. Without tapping and swiping skills, independent and true communication in this sense will be severely hindered. Tapping and swiping are also skills necessary for games on devices! In this sense, teaching tapping and swiping leads to meaningful and independent engagement in games such as puzzles or other stimulating and educational games. But of course, in moderation! 


Fine motor skill #4 - Pushing/Pulling


So these motions are definitely a couple of the most important motions a child should be able to perform independently. The components for these are:

  • Grip (positioning + strength)

  • Direction (left/right, out/in)

So in what ways do these motions play major roles in daily life? Skills like buttoning and unbuttoning, zipping and unzipping, putting on and removing shoes, just to name a few! We also see the necessity of the push/pull motion in a scenario such as a child perhaps being in need of the bathroom without anyone around to assist him/her, struggling with the removal of clothing because the push/pull motion is a skill that he/she cannot perform independently. A scenario such as this may result in a little accident- a little accident that can be prevented with effective fine motor skill training! Also, keeping modesty and social appropriateness in mind, training these skills to accuracy will also prevent the little dressing mishaps, such as improper fastening of zips or buttons out in public.


To sum up, it is of MUCH value to train fine motor skills to independence, as we want all our kiddos to be able to perform as independently as possible, fully equipped with the necessary skills in their tool belts!


Catch you guys next month! 







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