Some children with autism are agile, well coordinated and nimble (ask a mum whose child climbs the fence and walks on the neighbour’s roof!) whilst others have problems with their gross motor skills and can be clumsy or awkward in their movements and generally poorly coordinated.
Why are gross motor skills important?
Gross motor skills are those that require the larger muscle groups for function: running, jumping, hopping, climbing and ball skills etc.
As a child develops gross motor skills, other skill areas are also developing, such as eye-hand/foot coordination, sensory functioning (visual, tactile, kinaesthetic, auditory modalities), the skills to work and play within a team and sporting environment, and the development of self-confidence and a positive self image.
|Josh Playing Rugby League|
- proprioception problems (awareness of body in space)
- lack of motivation to participate in and therefore practice these activities
- avoidance because of the social nature of many of these activities (e.g. sports)
- limited strength or muscle endurance
- lack of confidence or a fear of moving equipment
- difficulty problem solving in order to develop skills
How can we help gross motor skill development?
It is important to encourage children with autism to participate in gross motor activities in a gradual and supportive way. The activities presented also need to be appropriate to the child’s developmental level to ensure comfortable participation with minimal fear/anxiety, and to increase the likelihood of success in these activities.
If a child with autism is fearful of movement activities, the key to improving their skills will be to increase their confidence in a range of balance and movement activities. To build up confidence, activities need to be graded, starting with those that are least threatening and gradually introducing activities requiring a higher level of skill and confidence.
Always remember the child’s developmental level when choosing activities.
The following is a list of fun, motivating activities to develop a child’s gross motor skills, strength and confidence. Keep the activities short, simple and fun!
Scooter board fun 1:Ask the child to lie, sit or kneel (more difficult), on a skateboard and encourage him to propel himself around the floor using his hands.
Scooter board fun 2:
Alternatively, ask the child to sit/kneel/lie on the scooter board/skateboard and pull on a suspended rope (or you can hold it) to move around the room
Raise knees as high as possible with each step – a nice activity when done to marching band music
Make your own. Climb through, under, over objects, walk on lines, footprints, planks, rough ground, etc.
Simon says be as small/tall as you can, stretch out, be stiff/floppy, be happy/sad, be still/wriggly, roll up/stretch out
Throwing beanbags in sequence:
Throw beanbags into 3 containers 1,2,3, and then 1,2,3 again. Repeat and do it as fast as possible.
Balls up Jumper:
Place ping pong balls up his jumper and see if he can get them out without looking.
Walk on a line, a beam, backwards on a beam, stand still with eyes shut, on all fours and take same leg and arm off ground, stand on one leg and then with eyes shut.
Carry things (blocks, puzzle pieces, etc.) from one side of the see-saw to the other, trying to keep your balance as you complete your task. You may like to sing “Jack and Jill”, as the child carries a bucket of water, trying not to spill it as he walks.
Tell the child you are going to pretend that he is dirty washing, and that you’re going to put him in your pretend washing machine. Roll him up in a blanket, and then add some balls or beanbags as the detergent. Swing the blanket from side to side and wiggle it around as you “wash” him (for as long as he’s enjoying it). Tell the child it’s time to rinse off. This is when you spin him, by moving the blanket around in a circular motion (rather than side-to-side). Now he can get out of the machine, but you roll him up in a different blanket nice and tight to dry him off. If you have monkey bars, or something he can hang from easily enough, you might like to get him to hang from the “washing line” for as long as he can.
Swing and Kick:
Set up some empty bottles like skittles in front of a swing. Ask the child to try to swing over to the bottles and kick as many of them over as possible. Alternatively, he can lay on his tummy on the swing, and try to knock the bottles over with his hands as he swings.
• Shop ‘til you drop:
Give the child a “shopping list” of different pictures they are to find hidden around the room. Use a laundry basket for the trolley, that he is required to push around the room as he goes. Make the items that you hide different weights, so the basket gets heavier as he goes along (rice bags, pumpkins, laundry powder, juice containers are all good heavy items). You may like to give him some clues to work on prepositions (under, behind, in, on, etc.), or just leave him to his own devices.
Shoe box path:
Keep boxes of different sizes. Ask the child to line them up or make a road with them. Tell him that they are stepping stones in the “water”, and to see if he can make it from one side of the room to the other only using the boxes, or “stepping stones” to stand in.
Movement activities in the preschool environment
Some children have difficulty with their movement development because they need more movement than other children, and seek movement in inappropriate ways and at inappropriate times.
The following activities can be helpful for a child who seeks movement at inappropriate times and in inappropriate ways in the preschool environment. By providing activities such as these interspersed throughout the child’s day, it is likely the child will not feel the need to move around in ways that disturb other children (and staff):
Use a chair on wheels or a chair the child can rotate on whilst focusing on the task at hand
Provide a “sit-n-move” malleable cushion for ongoing movement input whilst completing seated work.
• Break up seated tasks with some movement, e.g. table top activities interspersed with physical activities (dress-ups or a chance to run around to collect items from outside to use in indoor activities).
• Ask the child to collect an item from across the room when becoming fidgety on the mat at group times (a tissue for the teacher, the book to read, show and tell items, etc.).
• Include songs during mat time where the children will have the opportunity to get up and wriggle around, particularly bending over and changing speeds.
• Ask the child to be the “helper” to pass out items or pack them away during seated group times.
• Engage in physical activity before a seated task.
• Introduce some outdoor equipment (mini-trampoline, climbing frames, tunnels, etc.) into the indoor environment.
• Encourage the child to select the heavier items when packing away toys.
• Introduce an obstacle course. This provides some structure to the child’s movements when outside. Climb through, under, over objects, walk on lines, footprints, planks, rough ground, etc.
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