Identifying Motor Skill Difficulties in Children

Instructor: Jennifer Kacerek

Jennifer has taught K-12 general and special education and has a master's degree in education.

Find out what motor skills are and the differences between fine and gross skills. Learn about motor skills development and indicators of motor skill dificulties in children.

What Are Motor Skills?

Walking down the stairs, writing your name, catching a ball and tying your shoes all involve motor skills, which are voluntary actions that involve the use of muscles. These are learned skills that use the head, body and or limb movement to achieve movement or position. Motor skills are used throughout daily life from infancy to death.

Fine vs. Gross

Motor skills are classified into two major categories: fine and gross. Fine motor skills are those that produce small movements. Examples are holding a pencil, wiggling toes and picking up small toys. Fine motor skills usually involve fingers, toes, wrists, lips, and tongue. Fine motor skills can be lost or can decrease after a period of non-use due to injury or disease.

Gross motor skills are those that involve larger movements. These movements involve the use of feet, legs, arms and trunk. Examples of gross motor skills are sitting up, walking and skipping, kicking, catching and throwing a ball. Gross motor skills influence posture and require balance and strength.

Indicators of Difficulties

As children begin to develop and grow, there can be signs of possible motor skill difficulties. These can be corrected, though with early intervention by professionals including occupational therapists, physical therapists and doctors.

The following are scenarios showcasing possible motor difficulties in children:

Developmental Delay

Sam is a ten-month child. He currently can lie on his belly and back but is unable to sit up independently. He needs to prop himself up against furniture or needs to be held or placed in a chair in order for him to remain upright while in a seated position.

Sam is showing a developmental delay in a gross motor milestone, which is an early indicator of possible gross motor difficulties in later development. Sitting up is the first milestone, which comes between the ages of zero to six months. If delayed, this could indicate poor muscle development. The next milestone is crawling which occurs between six to twelve months. When this milestone is delayed it could mean sensory delays and poor motor development. This milestone, along with delayed walking can act as an early indicator of gross motor difficulties in children, as they are precursors for running, climbing and other locomotive skills.

Excessive Clumsiness

Jane is a five-year-old kindergartner who is described as being clumsy. She seems to trip over her feet daily and has difficulty walking or running in a straight line. She falls down a lot in PE class and struggles participating in the activities. This clumsiness has been reported since preschool and is not improving.

Although periods clumsiness are normal and occur for everyone from children to adults, excessive clumsiness like Jane's can be a sign of a gross motor difficulty. When children have poor trunk support and muscle definition they often have difficulty sitting up and will fall out of chairs, run into objects and trip over their own feet. These children have an underlining cause for their excessive clumsiness which could be an indicator of more difficulties in advanced gross motor skills, including skipping, throwing and bilateral movements.

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