Improving Gross Motor Skills for Your Autistic Child

Improving Gross Motor Skills for Your Autistic Child

By Kevin Cleary

Children affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) develop differently than other children. ASD is a disorder that affects the brain’s development and varies widely from child to child. While one child may be nonverbal while another may have trouble with auditory input. Another way a child may be affected by autism is in their development of motor skills. These are physical movements made by child and are broken down into fine and gross motor skills. A child affected by ASD may not develop these motor skills at the proper pace. Through therapy and play these motor skills may be learned.

Gross Motor Skills vs. Fine Motor Skills

As a child “normally” develops he or she learns how to use the muscles in the body to get around. The website healthofchildren.com defines fine motor skills as the smaller actions such as using fingers to grab something or the ability to use lips and tongue to taste. Gross motor skills are the larger movements that the body makes utilizing larger muscles and the entire body. These larger movements may include legs, arms, and the larger muscles in the body. Activities such as crawling, walking, and running are examples of gross motor skills. Most gross motor skills are developed early in childhood and therefore can be affected negatively by autism.

Developing Gross Motor Skills

Through the use of safe play and therapy, parents can foster an environment in which goals are set, larger muscles strengthened, and motor skills can be achieved. According to healthofchildren.com, head to toe development starts at the head and works its way to the lower extremities. For children with autism, this may not happen and may require patience and practice to develop these skills. In an article written by Ella Rain for autism.lovetoknow.com, she identifies 10 gross motor activities for autistic children that will strengthen muscles and develop valuable skills. As she states, some of these activities are challenging while some can be fun!! Marching is a fun activity that can help develop many skills, while jumping on a trampoline might be the best activity for kids with autism. Playing ball (rolling, kickball, bouncing, and catching) can be simple fun for a child with autism. Also, balancing can be challenging for a child with autism and can be incorporated into writing bicycles and tricycles. Dance and pretend play are two other activities which foster motor skills and social skills. Stepping in and out of a small box can be a great way to develop large muscles, while a tunnel crawl or obstacle course can be an excellent way to develop gross motor skills.

What Tools Are at Your Disposal?

Identifying the correct therapy tools to help your child develop their gross motor skills is not as hard as you think. Once a specific activity is targeted, the key is to make that activity as fun as possible. To help encourage balance the Carpeted Rocker Balance Square or the Kinsman Handheld Rotation Board are two great options. They both encourage coordination and upper body strengthening and are simple to use. Parents might also want to consider the UCS Vestibular Dome for toddlers and preschoolers. It creates a soft area to help encourage balance, timing, and coordination. It easily converts into rocker mushrooms and is easy to move around and is latex free. T-Stools are another simple option to help young children develop coordination.

Another great way to develop gross motor skills is jumping on a trampoline. Gonge Baby Trampoline is an effective and fun way to help young children develop their core muscles. It is meant for children between 1.5-4 years old and up to 50 pounds. It is tensioned so even small children get a springing effect. Its rubber cover protects children from its metal frame and the handles are covered in foam to protect little faces and teeth. They also offer the Gonge Mono Trampoline which also has a padded handle and can support children up to 130 pounds. Both of these create a safe play environment and are specifically made for children.

Climbing can be an extremely effective method for helping children develop their core muscles and gross motor skills. The Sammons Preston Indoor Activity Fun Gym combines all the classic favorites found in the playground and moves them indoors. It has ladders, a climbing wall, monkey bars, and a ramp and roll system which will keep children entertained for hours while making therapy a fun time. The Sammons Preston Climbing Wall allows children to improve motor skills while planning the next move on the wall. It can build strength, improve confidence and balance, and encourages lateral movement which requires the use of both hands simultaneously. Foam Steps are ideal for toddlers and preschoolers. They are firm enough to step on but padded enough to cushion any fall. They are filled with high density compression foam and covered in 22 oz. vinyl. The Corner Climber with Slide fits into the corner of any room and helps children gain confidence and improve motor skills while playing on a safe pliable apparatus. It includes a padded slide, platform, steps, and a safety side wall. Children can also have fun climbing the Gonge Mountain. It’s four plateaus accommodate different levels of daring and is fitted with nonslip feet.

Tunnels can be another creative and fun way to help children develop their gross motor skills. Crawling helps develop core muscles and coordination. Pacific Play Tents offers the Super Enormous II Connecting Tunnel and the Institutional Tunnel. Both are made from durable polyester and our flame retardant for hours of entertainment. Melissa & Doug manufacture the Happy Giddy Tunnel. It allows children to crawl through a rainbow of color while improving their core muscles. It is recommended for children over three years of age. A great option for parents is the Yellowtails Crawling Tunnel which can be utilized in numerous ways. It can be used as a crawl inside treadmill, turned on its side and filled with balls as a ball pit, or used as a moving target. It’s made of high density foam and can be disassembled into three pieces easily. While these tunnels are used to improve motor skills they also create a safe and fun environment for children to play in.