How does OT help children?

Occupational therapy (OT) can help children improve their independence and performance in a wide range of skills needed for daily living. Occupational therapists commonly work with children with various cognitive and physical disabilities and medical conditions, and can help them improve their self-care skills, social interaction, performance at school or work (for older children), money management skills or travel training. Another important area OTs often work with children to improve are gross motor skills.

Why are gross motor skills important?

Physical skills such as gross motor skills are vital for movement of one’s entire body. These skills generally evolve with repetition and practice as a child matures, thus making it vital that children have experience in situations that enable them to move freely and explore their body’s physical capabilities. Gross motor skills affect the core areas of the body that are responsible for functions such as hand-eye coordination (involving catching, throwing etc), walking, running, skipping, sitting and standing. As is evident, these movements are essential in the physical development of children, as they are commonly involved in everyday functioning, such as basic self-care skills such as dressing one’s self, or posture and upper body support. Gross motor skills also directly influence fine motor skills (e.g. adequate upper body support strength can affect ability to sit upright at a table or carrying a school bag), and is elemental for children to optimally perform and engage at school, home or other social and recreational activities.

How OT helps gross motor skills

OTs will use an array of strategies which focus on different areas to address issues with motor skills. They can include:

  • Using exercises to strengthen core muscles (i.e. trunk) and improve stability, such as working on endurance and strength, coordination and balance, attention, awareness of body and space, praxis (movement planning).
  • Breaking physical tasks down, gradually combining each basic activity to structure the larger task
  • Boost sensory modulation to enhance attention/arousal to better complete activities
  • Using a graded approach to intensity and duration of tasks to develop stamina and tolerance
  • Strategies to improve the child’s ability to plan and anticipate tasks (e.g. asking the child to verbally state a required action before performing it)

Some common physical exercises and activities that OTs use to build gross motor skills are:

  • Playing games like ‘Simon Says’ – to increase awareness of space, movement and one’s body
  • Hop scotch or skipping
  • Climbing over uneven or unstable surfaces (e.g. walking on large objects) to improve body strength and balance
  • Balance and catching e.g. catching an object while trying to balance on one foot
  • Swimming

How do I know if my child has issues with gross motor skills?

Deficits in the development of gross motor skills may be difficult to recognise, as children progress differently, and the severity of the issue may vary. Below are some frequent signs that parents may notice that raise their concerns:

  • Delayed developmental milestones such as being able to crawl, walk, run or sit up independently
  • Trying to avoid playing games or other physical tasks
  • Poor endurance when engaging in sports or physical tasks
  • Poor posture when sitting at a table
  • Struggling to perform physical activities or movements, particularly those involving sequences (e.g. obstacle course)
  • Clumsy or graceless movements, which may lead to increased accidental incidents