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Autistic Children, Fine Motor Skills and Independence

Posted on: February 17th, 2012

Parents strive diligently to give their children “wings and a compass” – the gifts of independence and life direction.  Parents of children with autism are no different.  However, they also recognize that their children will experience developmental delays and skill deficits that make uncertain the degree of independence that their child is capable of reaching.Between 18 and 24 months, a typically developing baby’s fine motor skills become more finely tuned.  They use their motor skills to explore their world, engage in play, initiate social interaction and, eventually, develop basic academic skills.

However, it is at this age that the developmental trajectory of children who will later be diagnosed with autism begins to noticeably diverge from that of typically developing children.  Fine motor skill delays directly impact an autistic child’s ability to perform activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, eating and toileting.  As a result, their ability to independently function in a day care or school setting is impaired.  Further, the social implication of not keeping up with their peers in these areas is significant.  Therefore, early and continual fine motor skill practice is critical to establishing a foundation from which later milestones might be reached.

Arts and crafts activities exercise the small muscles in his hands and, perhaps more importantly, let him begin to make his own creatively unique mark on our world.  Large size crayons, markers and paint brushes as well as knobbed ink stamps are perfect for little hands.  A multi-surface, adjustable easel allows him to work in the medium of his choice while keeping his head and trunk erect giving him gross motor benefits, too.

Threading beads (with large holes) or penne noodles onto a shoelace exercises the small hand muscles and practices hand-eye coordination.  So does stringing Cheerios© on thin licorice – YUM!  Don’t forget to tie a knot at the end of the shoelace or licorice to keep the threaded items from falling off.

(Warning:  This is an OUTSIDE activity!)  At this age, my daughter’s Godmother introduced her to the wonders of cornstarch and water.  She poured corn starch then cool water into a disposable aluminum pan and let Katie experiment with the resulting semi-solid.  Katie loved it!  Then, she added dried lima beans for Katie to find – and count.  (I really like those multi-skill learning activities!)  At the end of the play time, she let Katie dip her hands and feet into the mixture and make prints on the sidewalk.  Wonderful stuff!

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