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Fine & Gross Motor Skill Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will differentiate between fine and gross motor skills and identify ways teachers can help students with learning disabilities develop these skills to assist with their writing and other classroom activities.

Types of Motor Skills

What is the difference between fine and gross motor skills? Fine motor skills are small muscle movements that are used to write, talk, and grasp things. Gross motor skills are the large muscle movements that are used to walk, run, jump, and skip. Both fine and gross motor skills are necessary to go about your daily activities and to perform in the classroom.

There are certain learning disabilities, such as dyspraxia or dysgraphia, that can affect motor skills and interfere with a student's ability to succeed in school. Let's examine some ways that teachers can help these students.

Learning Disabilities that Affect Motor Skills

Dysgraphia is a learning disability that often interferes with the student's ability to form letters and words when writing. Students with dysgraphia may produce illegible writing, misspell words, inaccurately copy words and letters, and write in incoherent sentences.

Dyspraxia is a learning disability that affects a student's ability to coordinate movement. Dyspraxia can interfere with fine motor movements, such as writing or cutting, or it can interfere with gross motor movements, such as running or jumping. Students with coordination disorders have difficulty communicating signals from the brain to the parts of the body that need to move. Children who have trouble dressing themselves or feeding themselves may be displaying signs of dyspraxia.

Other learning disabilities and disorders may also have an effect on a student's ability to perform fine or gross motor skills. If a preschool student is unable to hold a crayon, color within the lines, cut with scissors, or manipulate buttons or snaps, the child may need to be evaluated to make sure he or she receives the help needed to meet these milestones.

Fine Motor Skill Instruction

While the majority of instruction to improve fine and grow motor skills will come from the classroom teacher, there are experts available in many schools that can assist. The occupational therapist is part of a team of professionals that help people with disabilities become more independent by altering tasks, improving their environments, or providing tools to help the disabled person accomplish otherwise difficult tasks.

An occupational therapist may be able to provide assistive technology, which refers to technological devices, such as word processing software, that help those with disabilities perform tasks that would otherwise be difficult. And there are even simple assistive devices, such as pencil grips, that can enable students to write independently.

Teachers may also provide accommodations or modifications to assignments. Paired writing activities partner a student who struggles with the physical act of writing with another student who can scribe for him or her. Teachers may also provide copies of notes, use large-lined paper, or teach keyboarding to those who struggle to write by hand. Providing extra time to complete assignments or scribing for students reduces the stress associated with dysgraphia. And stress balls, clay, and other art activities may also be used to strengthen and relax hands, which will help improve motor skills.

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