October 7, 2020

Occupational Therapy: Understanding Fine Motor Delay in Children

Signs of fine motor delay and what you can do

Children develop on their own timelines – just because a child exhibits delayed fine motor skills doesn’t mean there is automatically a problem. However, there are times when early intervention is necessary. How do you know the difference, and what can you do if you suspect a fine motor delay?

In this guide, we will help you make that determination and provide some answers about what to do, such as Occupational Therapy.

What is fine motor delay?

Children use fine motor skills to make small (“fine”) movements with their fingers, toes, and other parts of their body, like their hands, tongue, and lips. Fine motor delay occurs when a child has difficulty with the movement of their small muscle groups. Fine motor skills require hand-eye coordination so a child can respond with the right movements. They also help children speak by coordinating the movement of their facial muscles, lips, and tongue.

Fine motor skills allow children to grasp a crayon, use a spoon, or pick up a toy. They also allow them to form words as they get older.

Fine motor skills develop at different stages. Babies should begin to develop them as early as 2 months and exhibit progress throughout their lives. If these skills seem to be developing slowly or there is little progress, it may be a sign of fine motor delay.

Signs of fine motor delay

There are certain physical milestones a child should accomplish related to his/her age. If your child is having difficulty with his or her development, there are signs that can point to fine motor delay, such as:

Young child/toddler:

  • Has trouble grasping or releasing objects
  • Lacks hand-eye coordination
  • Appears clumsy
  • Doesn’t use both hands together

Older/preschool-aged child:

  • Avoids activities, like drawing, writing, and using utensils at meals
  • Has trouble picking up and manipulating blocks
  • Has issues scribbling on paper
  • Sticks his/her tongue out to taste food

Here is a timeline of some fine motor milestones you should be observing in your child:

  • 4 months – Opens hands from fist, brings fingers to mouth, swings at dangling toys
  • 6 months – Reaches for objects, moves objects from one hand to the other
  • 9 months – Picks up small objects with three fingers, claps hands
  • 12 months – Puts objects in a cup, bangs objects together, uses thumb/finger to pick up objects (pincer grasp)
  • 2 years – Stacks blocks, puts blocks in rows
  • 3 years – Is able to copy you drawing a circle, cuts paper with scissors
  • 4 years – Draws person with body parts, able to manipulate buttons

Causes of fine motor delay

In some cases, fine motor delay could be a sign of autism or some other physical, cognitive, or developmental condition. Premature babies often exhibit fine motor delay, as well as children with Down syndrome, muscular dystrophy, or cerebral palsy. Delays could also be due to vision problems, dyspraxia, or other issues. Still, in other cases, the child may just need some help from an occupational therapist in order to meet age-appropriate milestones. Your pediatrician can check for these milestones at regularly scheduled intervals; consult with him or her to see if an occupational therapy evaluation would be appropriate.

Help for fine motor delay

Often, fine motor delay can be overcome through practice. A daily routine with fun activities can encourage your child to develop skills like grasping and manipulating, drawing, and working with buttons. Try engaging in active experiences with your child, such as kneading Play-Doh, mixing cookie dough, and putting spoonfuls of batter on a pan.

You can also start Occupational Therapy, along with Physical Therapy, to really help your child gain strength and master fine motor skills.

Occupational Therapy at Lumiere Children’s Therapy is an individualized, personal experience that focuses on a child becoming as independent as possible in their daily life. Sessions are play-based and center on the development of cognitive, physical and fine motor skills for your child. Physical Therapy is incorporated into treatment, as well. We will also teach you how to recognize your child’s behavior and continue working with him/her at home.

Through a collaborative plan with you, we will work on:

  • Handwriting
  • Daily self-care skills
  • Visual motor integration
  • Visual perceptual skills
  • Social and peer interaction skills
  • Feeding
  • Self-regulation and attention
  • Sensory processing
  • Strength and coordination
  • Motor planning
  • Early development with infants

We provide comprehensive therapies so children with a wide range of physical, emotional, and developmental conditions can achieve mile markers.

Our services include:

  • Developmental therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • ABA (behavior) therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Social work
  • Augmentative alternative communication
  • Early intervention
  • Teletherapy
  • Summer camps

Lumiere Children’s Therapy is a full-service, multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice located in Chicago that serves the developmental needs of children from birth to 18 years of age. Learn more about how our team of clinicians works to improve the lives of children and their families.

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