What are Motor Skills?

Motor skills are any skills that are associated with muscle activity and which provide the body with Motor Skillsmovement commands. These are learned skills which combine to produce purposeful, efficient action. Motor skills can be broken down as such: fine motor skills are skills that involve the use of smaller muscle groups to produce tasks like cutting and writing; and gross motor skills are skills that involve the use of large muscle groups to produce whole body movements such as crawling, balancing and walking.

How do I know if my child suffers from dysfunctional motor skills?

Dysfunction in motor skills can be caused by a number of issues–a prominent one being nervous system disorders. If your child exhibits clumsy movements, is poorly coordinated or often trips and falls, it may be a result of motor skill dysfunction. When basic muscle tone is too low or too high, one’s motor skills can also become impaired. A baby whose muscular tone is too low (also known as hypotonic) may present a ‘rag doll’ appearance, lacking in movement, body structure and energy. Young children with low muscle tone may often prefer sitting, and may have poor posture–they may also prefer to lean against something, rather than support their own body weight.

By contrast, when muscular tone is too high (also known as hypertonic) children may appear somewhat stiff and may have trouble moving in a natural way. They may also have difficulty demonstrating smooth movements. Children who have difficulty performing certain motor tasks may become discouraged and express their frustration verbally. Parents might consider keeping a closer eye on their child’s reaction to physical activity, and notice if their child uses language like “I hate to draw” or “I hate sports.” This may be a sign of an underlying dysfunction in motor skills.


How do motor skills develop and progress in a child?

Motor skills develop in stages, often first strengthening in the top of the child’s body and working downward. A child first gains eye and face control, followed by the strengthening of neck muscles in order to hold the head up. Once the body establishes neck strength, the shoulders, upper arms and hands begin gaining muscle strength. The torso then strengthens, followed by the hips, pelvis and legs.

How do I treat my child’s dysfunctional motor skills?

Practice and repetition are the most useful tools when helping a child improve his motor skills. Practicing simple tasks such as handwriting and coloring are important. If needed, assistive devices such as pencil grippers or shoe orthotics can help the child along his rehabilitative process. Low-impact athletic activities like swimming, walking and yoga are helpful ways to incorporate exercise into your child’s daily routine.

Our approach to dysfunctional motor skills at North Shore Pediatric Therapy

North Shore Pediatric Therapy uses a multi-disciplinary approach in which both a physical and occupational therapist works with your child if you or your pediatrician suspect a dysfunction in motor skills. A physical and occupational therapy examination usually includes the Bruininks-Osereysky Test of Motor Proficiency (BOT). This is a standardized instrument that is used to measure both gross and fine motor skills in children. Once an assessment is completed, the physical or occupational therapist will create goals and a home exercise program for your child in order to ensure that any newly learned motor skills carry over into the home and school environments as well.