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In our October newsletter we are exploring how Physical Therapy can help with fine motor skill development in Children.

Physical and Developmental Delays Can Be Reduced by Working on Fine Motor Skills

If your child is coping with physical or developmental delays, you’ve probably worked with a number of specialists with a lot of different advice for how to minimize further delays and increase progress. One area that’s sometimes overlooked is the role that Physical Therapy can play in reducing these delays – and specifically, how working on fine motor skills can help.

Fine Motor Skills for Infants

The benefits of Physical Therapy in minimizing developmental delays can start as early as infancy.  A 2003 study of infants at risk of developmental delay showed that the infants who had sensory and fine motor training showed significant gains in just the first week – and the gap over the infants who weren’t treated continued to get larger throughout the twelve to twenty-four week study. 

Meanwhile, the at-risk infants who were not receiving treatment did not significantly improve – leaving them lagging behind in crucial skills.


Fine motor skills for infants include grasping objects and rolling over (3-6 months), sitting independently, reaching for objects, passing them from hand to hand and banging objects together (4-8 months), and “pincer grasp” abilities to pick up small objects (8-12 months). Parents can encourage the development of these skills through the following activities:

  • Place a toe ring on your child’s toe, or blow bubbles to encourage reaching
  • Use colorful wristbands with bells to encourage wrist movements
  • Offer cooked pasta or jello cubes to encourage picking up small objects
  • Let your baby paint with food such as yogurt or baby food.
  • Offer measuring cups in the tub to encourage pouring and two-handed interaction.

Fine Motor Skill Help for Older Children
Not all delays are discovered in infancy, but luckily, treatment can be immensely helpful later on as well. One study of preschoolers with fine motor delays found that regular Physical Therapy or occupational therapy improved the children’s motor skills, and they showed gains in other developmental measures as well!  The treatment was so beneficial that the treated preschoolers improved at a faster rate than their non-delayed peers during the same time period. Unsurprisingly, the more frequently the preschoolers were treated, the more they improved over the course of the study.

Older children can benefit from Physical Therapy, too. Fun fine motor exercises in the form of hand motions used to illustrate a song significantly help children ages 4-5 and ages 8-11 with their motor skills. Improved fine motor skills in childhood can have a major impact on overall well-being later in life, as motor skill deficits at age 5 have been linked with not only motor difficulty later in life, but also social and educational problems.

How to Get Started
The best way to determine how to work on fine motor skills with your child is to contact your Physical Therapist to discuss what exercises are most appropriate. Your Physical Therapist would be happy to work with you on a plan to help your child reduce his or her delays and work towards a healthier, happier future.

References

  • Howard CH. Effects of a fine motor and sensory motor intervention on the motor development of infants who are at-risk of developmental delays. Dissertation, Auburn University, 2003.
  • Case-Smith J, Heaphy T, Marr D, Galvin B, Koch V, Ellis MG, Perez I. Fine Motor and Functional Performance Outcomes in Preschool Children. Am J Occ Ther 1998; 52(10):788-796
  • Brown CG. Improving fine motor skills in young children: an intervention study. Ed Psych in Practice 2010; 26(3):269-278
  • Cantell MH, Smyth M, Ahonen TP. Clumsiness in adolescence: Educational, motor and social outcomes of motor delay detected at 5 years. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly 1994; 11:115–129
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