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November 23, 2022

Is My Child Just Clumsy, or Are They Experiencing Motor Incoordination?

Clumsiness in children is natural, but if it’s excessive, it could signal motor incoordination. Here is how to tell and what can help. 

Key takeaways:

  • Children are naturally clumsy, but motor incoordination could be at play.
  • Fine and gross motor skills are required to move naturally.
  • Motor skills usually develop on a timeline.
  • Several activities and exercises can help with motor incoordination.
  • Occupational therapy can help children develop motor coordination.

As a parent who wants the best for your child, you may get concerned when they are too “clumsy.” Most young children naturally exhibit clumsiness when they’re in the process of gaining motor skills. If you find that your child is struggling with core strength, balance, body awareness of other motor coordination skills, though, they could be experiencing motor incoordination that would be helped by interventions such as occupational therapy. Here is everything you need to know about motor incoordination, the difference between gross and fine motor skills, and how occupational therapy helps.

The basics of motor coordination

Motor coordination refers to using several body parts for specific actions. For example, motor coordination allows a child to hold a piece of paper in one hand and cut it with the other. A child that’s experiencing motor incoordination will struggle to cut the piece of paper with scissors since they cannot coordinate both hands at once (one hand holding the piece of paper and the other a pair of scissors).

To get a firm grasp of motor coordination, kids first need to learn motor planning skills. Motor planning helps us remember and perform body movements to perform tasks. Motor planning skills are not innate, meaning kids aren’t born with them – they are acquired with time and practice.

The difference between fine and gross motor skills

Motor skills can be fine or gross. Gross motor skills involve using large muscles in controlled movement patterns for activities such as running, walking, independent sitting, and crawling. Fine motor skills, on the other hand, involve using small muscles for activities such as drawing or grasping objects.

Children’s gross motor skills develop before their fine motor skills. Expect to see your child bring their arms together before passing a toy from one hand to another. As your child ages, their gross and fine motor skills should improve, allowing them to begin to do activities independently.

Motor coordination at different ages

As a child grows, their muscles become more developed, and they can start to do various activities. Here are typical milestones of different motor stages of a child’s growth.

  • 4 months – Holds head steady without support and brings hands to mouth
  • 6 months – Rolls from tummy to back and can begin to sit without support
  • 9 months – Sits without support and transfers things from one hand to another
  • 12 months – May stand alone or throw a ball with a forward motion

Fine motor skills usually develop when a child is three to four years old and ready to start preschool. These skills raise their level of independence in self-care activities like feeding, dressing, and toileting. Children can usually zip and unzip their clothes, open lunch boxes, and tie shoelaces with help at these ages. At this stage, a child may be able to hold a pencil for a sustained period so they can engage in activities such as writing and drawing.

Signs of motor incoordination

Parents hope that their children are accomplishing specific physical milestones related to their age. If your child is experiencing excessive clumsiness or challenges with their development, some signs might demonstrate motor incoordination. They include:

  • Trouble releasing and grasping objects
  • Lacks eye coordination
  • Does not use both hands for a two-handed task
  • Fails to bring their fingers to their mouth

Below are signs of motor incoordination in preschool-aged children:

  • Can’t manipulate blocks
  • Struggles to scribble on a paper
  • Sticks out their tongue to taste food
  • Avoids activities such as writing or drawing
  • Struggles to zip or unzip their clothes

Daily routine activities to improve motor coordination 

If you suspect a motor incoordination issue in your child, you should consult their pediatrician. Once you do that, play and other activities can help your child improve their motor coordination. Start to implement daily activities that require them to move their muscles, like:

  • Dance moves – You can use YouTube to find dance videos you and your child can follow along to together. Try freeze dancing and dancing to animal sounds.
  • Climbing exercises – Let your child climb stairs or a ladder to a bunk bed
  • Jumping rope – Jump rope with your child to show them how

Occupational therapy for motor incoordination 

If you’ve reached out to your pediatrician about suspected motor incoordination, they may instruct you to start occupational therapy. This therapy can help your child gain strength and improve their gross and fine motor skills.

Occupational therapy uses exercise and assistive devices to make various tasks more manageable. Occupational therapists assess your child to determine their abilities and needs. They create a therapy plan that meets the child’s needs and works on strengthening their capabilities. This plan uses different activities to improve your child’s:

  • Motor planning
  • Strength and motor coordination
  • Visual perception skills
  • Visual-motor integration
  • Daily self-care skills
  • Sensory processing
  • Handwriting
  • Body awareness

At Lumiere Children’s Therapy, we offer occupational therapy through play that focuses on helping a child meet individualized goals to become as independent as possible. Through a collaborative plan with parents, we work on skills like handwriting, daily self-care skills, motor planning, and much more. To learn more about our approach and how we can help, contact us today.

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