Motor skills for children with Intellectual Disability

All children continue to develop their motor skills through the school years. In the early years of primary school, children are exposed to a variety of activities that develop their fine and gross motor skills and this continues throughout primary school. For your primary aged child with an Intellectual Disability(ID) this could be a particular area of challenge. Regardless of the degree of disability this is generally an area in which most children with ID could be referred to as ‘clumsy’. Further to this, those children with a severe ID will possibly have significant challenges in this area.


Fine Motor Skills

Development of fine motor skills for young children with an ID will take time and many opportunities to practice. If your child has a severe ID they may require the support of a physiotherapist or occupational therapist to support skill acquisition. The following are some ways in which you can support your child to develop fine motor dexterity at home:

  • Dressing- assist your child to attempt using fastenings- zips, buttons, velcro and gradually withdraw your support so they can reach a level of independence
  • In the kitchen- give your child responsibilities to set the table – grasping cutlery and placing it at a table setting will help develop pincer grasp and eye hand coordination
  • Play- engage in play situations with your child where they pick up items and stack or connect eg. building blocks and Lego
  • Leisure- by reading a book with your child and having them turn the pages they can engage in the reading activity more fully

Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills involve the larger and stronger muscle groups that are responsible for us being able to hold our head up, sit, crawl, stand, walk, run, jump, hop and skip. Your child with ID may be able to do many of these things without difficulty however, if the ID is more severe your child’s ability in this area may be compromised. To encourage skill develop and independence try some of the following:

  • Ball games- rolling balls back and forth, throwing and catching balls, bouncing balls back and forth and kicking balls to one another
  • Walking and running- walking in a straight line, walking in a zigzag, walking up and down steps, running fast and slow
  • Playgrounds- exploring playground equipment by climbing, moving through, over and under, sliding
  • Building strength- carrying different weights and items eg. buckets of water at the beach, helping carry shopping from the car to house, carrying sports equipment and carrying their own school bag

As your child progresses through primary school you should see motor skill development. Handwriting may be an issue but with technology easily accessible in schools this could be a recommended method of recording information. The use of and access to technology needs to be explicitly taught so that when at school your child understands that it’s use is for educational purposes not for example, playing games. This could be an topic of discussion at your child’s planning meeting.

The development of gross motor activities such as walking, running, bike riding, swimming, jumping are important for your child’s fitness. It also helps your child to engage in activities with others and to understand the rules of games and events.  Further benefits are the behavioural understandings they will develop; safety in environment, independence, social skills and possible future leisure activities that they would like to continue with.

If your child has an associated learning disability such as Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD) this may have a further effect on your child’s motor skill development during primary school years. Remember to provide as many opportunities as possible for your child to be involved in motor skill activities as they will need to ‘learn, learn and over learn’ to grasp and maintain these skills.

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