Written by Caroline Meyer
Ever noticed that your child has problems with basic ball skills such as kicking, throwing or catching? Do you find that your child battles to sit upright and may appear clumsy when standing or moving? This may be a problem with their motor skills. These are the skills that involve the core stabilising muscles of the body and also includes hand and eye coordination.
What is the importance of motor skills?
Motor skills come in to play every day for most children. These skills allow them to skip, run, climb, play with a ball and take part in sports. They even affect crucial skills essential for daily living such as getting dressed. They can affect posture and being able to sit upright. Poor motor skills can even effect fine skills such as using scissors, drawing, painting and writing. They can even impact on endurance such as sitting up for long periods or carrying around a school bag all day.
How can you spot a problem with motor skills?
Fine motor skill weaknesses can affect the movement of smaller muscle groups such as those in the hand. Gross motor skills affect larger muscle groups such as the legs. Problems with co-ordination can even affect being able to get dressed as tying laces and buttoning clothes may be difficult. It can even affect speech if the muscle groups in the mouth are affected by this problem.
What are the most common signs?
- Writes very slowly or refuses to write or draw
- Is unable to hold a pen or pencil correctly
- Has been unable to learn to ride a bike
- Has difficulty with throwing, catching, jumping, running etc.
- Is very clumsy and appears to have poor balance
- Drops things often
- Battles with basic skills used in grooming and dressing
- Has difficulty with feeding himself
- Slurs when speaking
- Has trouble when it comes to rhythm
- Has a bad sense of direction
- Slow in achieving milestones involving motor skills (sitting, crawling etc.)
- Battles to maintain posture for prolonged periods
- Prefers sedentary activities to taking part in sport or outdoor games
When do I need to be concerned?
If you have noted a number of these signs and they continue for at least 6 months, you need to consult a professional to discover the causes behind their motor skills and coordination problems. In babies, you may want to discuss issues such as missing developmental milestones even sooner.
What are some of the causes of motor skills and coordination issues?
Dyspraxia: This is a common condition where the brain and the muscles are not in synch and it can make even simple movements difficult to carry out. This affects the fine motor skills such as writing as well as gross motor skills used in running and playing ball. Dyspraxia can also cause problems with balance, coordination and even speech. A child may show some or all of these symptoms and the problem can be mild to severe. The condition can also change over time.
Dysgraphia: This is another condition which affects fine motor skills. Children with dysgraphia often struggle to hold writing implements properly and their handwriting is usually messy. They may also struggle to tie their laces and similar tasks.
Sensory Processing Issues: This condition affects eye and hand coordination in particular. Children with this condition may also be clumsy and fall a lot. They may battle to skip or walk. They may also exhibit extreme reactions to sound and touch.
How can I find more information?
The first step would be to talk to your doctor about having your child assessed. You may also want to share your concerns with your child’s teacher who may be able to give you more insight into the child’s problems at school as well as offer resources that can help. Your doctor may recommend ruling out any medical causes. If nothing comes up, he may then refer you to specialists such as an occupational therapist.
How can I help my child?
Whether or not your child has a condition which is causing the problem with motor skills, you can help improve his skills by encouraging play which improves balance and motor skills such as skipping. Stay positive and encourage your child. Understand that your child may be struggling and needs your compassion as well.
Connect with other parents who may be dealing with similar issues. Networking in this way may bring to light new strategies and ideas. It also gives you some support and makes you realise that you are not alone. Most children do not outgrow their problems with coordination and motor skills but their skills can be improved. Therapy and support from you can help your child gain more confidence in their abilities. Improved motor skills and coordination improves confidence and self-esteem as well. There will be plenty of challenges ahead, but with guidance and support, you and your child will get through them.