Motor Planning in Autism
What you Need to Know?
You may be familiar with the concept of ‘fine motor skills’ which helps us move smaller muscles such as fingers, wrists, toes to help perform activities like grasping a pencil or tying shoe laces. Gross motor skills on the other hand help with larger movements like jumping, balancing and walking.
But what is motor planning? Here is an example: When we learned to wash our hands as young children, someone showed us how to do it. Eventually, our brain had to figure out how our body would physically do what we had been shown.
How would we move our arms and fingers to get the soap? How would we hold the soap in order to rub our hands on it? How far would we stand from the sink so that water didn’t splash everywhere? We also had to think about the order of all of these steps.
In the beginning, it was very hard. We had to do things very slowly. We had to constantly adjust what we were doing—scrub for longer or get closer to the sink. We paid a lot of attention to the process. And with corrections and help, we eventually were able to do it on our own.
Two things change dramatically once we really know how to wash our hands. We move much faster and are much more precise. We don’t need to pay as much attention to our actions. They become automatic. Our planning for the whole task is quick and efficient. And if we need to make corrections, we can do it easily.
Therefore the important skill is key to planning motor movement. It let us know, remember and perform small steps that make a particular movement or task happen.
Activities that Improve Motor Planning
When our children wander aimlessly, not knowing what to do next, or having play that doesn’t seem purposeful (such as knocking things over, throwing everything, etc.) it could be an indication that they have challenges with motor planning and sequencing.
Motor planning is tricky and involves 3 parts:
1. Ideation- Having an idea of what to do
2. Planning- Creating a course of action on how to do
3. Execution- carrying out the cognitive plan
So what do we do to target motor planning?
One area to strengthen is the ability to cross the midline. Crossing the midline refers to the ability of one side of the body to cross over to the other side of the body (i.e., using your right hand to reach over and pick something up off the floor on your left side). If your child is not able to effectively cross the midline, you may see challenges with scanning a room, reading a story and handwriting.
Activities that Focus on Crossing the Midline
Participating in a tug of warA fun game of tug of war encourages hands to midline, hands to cross the midline which is an excellent proprioceptive input.
Play with toy cars Draw a big road on a flattened cardboard box. The child can sit on the floor and drive the car along the road crossing the midline.
Relay racesLine up children shoulder to shoulder and pass the ball down the line from child to child or Line up children back to back. Pass the ball to each other keeping your backs touching.
Play cricket. Holding onto a bat and swinging at a ball, encourage the hands to cross the midline.
Participate in musical circle games. Certain musical games encourage children to maintain rhythm and cross the midline. Play hot potato but encourage to hold the ball with two hands at all times. Dance the hokey pokey.
Play clapping games. Clap tap is an interesting game which basically involves rhythm at the same time focuses on crossing midline.
Dig in the dirt or sandHave the child sit down, kneel or squat. Place a bucket on one side of the child and the shovel on the other side. Have the child dig and then rotate to place the dirt in the bucket. Do not let the child switch hands with the shovel when going to put the dirt in the bucket.
Play Simon Says. Use instructions and movement such as “put your right hand on your left shoulder” or “touch your left knee with your right hand”.
Another area to target is bilateral coordination.
Bilateral coordination is the ability to use both sides of the body at the same time in a controlled and organized manner.
If your child has difficulty with bilateral coordination, you may see challenges with gross motor tasks such as walking, climbing and running and challenges with fine motor tasks such as dressing, eating and writing.
Activities That focus on Bilateral Coordination:
◘Roll play doh with a rolling pin
◘Catching and throwing a ball
◘Completing an obstacle course
◘Beating a drum
◘Using a knife and fork
◘Cutting with scissors
◘Doing up buttons
◘Using a ruler to draw a line
Lastly, and most importantly – we need integrated sensory input.
In order to have effective motor planning, we need to ensure that our sensory systems are working together. If the child’s vestibular system was over responsive, perhaps he would have difficulty moving his head in various positions to locate a toy or person because it would be too overwhelming for his sensory system.
◘Play dough, Foam painting
◘Heavy Work Activities: jumping, bouncing, rocking, pushing, pulling, being squished, ◘Sand and Water Play
◘Free play with mud
◘Tasting food activities