Child works on her fine motor skills by writing on a notepad.

As soon as your baby emerges from the womb, they begin to grow and develop exponentially. As soon as early infancy, your baby will start to explore their surroundings. While exploring a new curiosity for their environment, their development continues, and they begin to learn new skills. From starting to grab and reach to holding their head up, one of the first new skills a baby begins to learn is their gross motor skills.

Gross motor skills are a stepping stone to other fine motor skills. These skills are one of the first and most critical parts of a child’s growth and development. If your child is spending adequate time doing gross motor activities and experiencing noticeable issues with their gross motor skills, it’s time to seek help from an occupational therapist. Occupational therapy can get your child back on the right track with their gross motor skills and even assist in other critical development areas.

We’ll dive into ABA therapy more and how this type of program can complement occupational therapy. Let’s learn more about gross motor skills, why they are essential, and how you can help your child hone their skills and raise their confidence.

What Are Gross Motor Skills?

Gross motor skills are the basic building blocks to movement. These skills involve using the main massive muscle groups to move around. Gross motor skills are the ability to use these muscle movements for intentionally coordinated movements. These motor skills use major body parts such as the arms, legs, torso, feet, or the entire body. Children begin to practice these gross motor skills from early infancy. Think about the importance of tummy time in strengthening a child’s core. Developing the strength to hold their head up builds to crawling, then walking, and then more advanced movements.

Children continue to hone these movements and gross motor skills even as toddlers. Gross motor skills can include any of the following significant movements:

  • Sitting
  • Standing
  • Walking
  • Jumping
  • Balancing
  • Running
  • Lifting

These gross motor activities help teach a child more about their body, muscle control, coordination, and balance. From a young age, children need to experience gross motor activities, where they can utilize their muscles for movement, such as free play, swimming, and jumping around. Let’s learn why gross motor activities are essential to a child’s daily tasks and activities, so you know when to seek professional help for any developmental delays.

Why Gross Motor Skills are Important for Children with Autism

Gross motor skills are essential for childhood development in that these skills serve as the framework for more advanced fine motor skills. Fine motor skills require more detailed smaller movements, like using the hands to paint. A strong basis of gross motor skills can hint that your child will have an easier time learning fine motor skills, though each child is different. When there is a delay in these gross motor activities and necessary skills, it can hurt everyday tasks, like self-dressing

When children do not have well-developed gross motor skills, other areas of their natural development can suffer, leading to these common issues:

  • Physical troubles
  • Low confidence
  • Poor concentration
  • Avoiding social interactions

Delays in gross motor skills can have a long-term impact on your child. You can work to get ahead of these delays by proactively encouraging gross motor activities to improve muscle movement. If your child is exhibiting signs of delayed gross motor skills or other movement issues, it is best to consult a doctor or occupational therapist as early as possible. Let’s learn more about what occupational therapy is and how it can help your child’s movement by teaching gross motor activities and more.

Child playing with games to work on motor skills.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is a very diverse profession in that therapists work with children, teenagers, and adults who may have various deficiencies or disorders. This type of therapy treatment focuses on a person’s ability to work on their cognitive, physical, social, and motor skills. Occupational therapy sessions work to set individuals up for success in so many different areas of their life, such as learning, regulation, concentration, and sensory processing skills. Blossom Children’s Center occupational therapy program focuses on treatment interventions for these areas and more.

Occupational therapy is a huge benefit to children experiencing issues, such as developmental delays related to the previously mentioned skills. With intervention from occupational therapy, your child will increase their self-confidence. Gross motor skill activities and other developmental exercises will give children a sense of accomplishment, no matter how big or small the feat. If you’re looking for more information on occupational therapy, let us help you get started – learn more about the role of an occupational therapist.

When to Seek Occupational Therapy for Gross Motor Skills

Don’t be alarmed if your young child is a bit uncoordinated and a little clumsy – this behavior is expected with infants and even toddlers, as children are still honing their gross motor skills. Talking with your doctor and paying attention to developmental milestones will help to act as a benchmark for your child. These developmental milestones are only categorized as delays when achieved outside a one to three-month window of the outlined task. Developmental milestone delays are one way to tell if it’s time to seek occupational therapy for your child’s gross motor skills.

Here are some examples of different conditions that can affect a developing child’s gross motor skills:

  • Neurological impairment or disorder
  • Delay in Development
  • Developmental coordination disorder
  • Abnormal muscle tone
  • Loss of muscle control

Occupational therapy can assist with more areas than just motor skills. With gross motor skills and other developmental delays, early intervention is critical. Occupational therapy programs will cater to your child’s individual needs and help teach them these skills positively and in a fun way. There is so much importance to the role occupational therapy plays in early intervention.

Gross Motor Activities in Occupational Therapy

With the guidance of a professional, your child can begin their journey to rehabilitating any delays through the practice of gross motor activities. An occupational therapist’s work will start in a therapy session but continue long after the child has left their visit. Gross motor activities do not need to be done only in the presence of a therapist.

If you are working to better your child’s movement, consider seeking an occupational therapist’s professional guidance. In occupational therapy, practicing these skills will be made fun, and your child will engage in a variety of gross motor activities, including:

  • Hand-eye coordination games
  • Obstacle courses
  • Circles of interaction
  • Therapy balls
  • Tactile play

Our occupational therapy program is customized to support each specific child’s needs at Blossom Children’s Center. By working together, we can develop a strategy to increase gross motor activities and get your child back on track and move the way they intended. Through gross motor activities and other treatments, occupational therapy provides more skill practice than just assistance with motor skills. Learn more about our occupational therapy program and offerings.

At-Home Gross Motor Activities

Your child does not need to be in an occupational therapy session to improve their gross motor skills. Gross motor activities don’t have to be planned since they are a natural part of everyday movements and tasks. However, it’s important to observe children and provide them with opportunities to practice these skills. Children efficiently practice their gross motor activities at home, with and without adult-guided activities.

Whether your child is experiencing delays or not, you can encourage muscle movement at home with these gross motor activities:

  • Sports – Even a simple game of catch will encourage hand-eye coordination.
  • Hopscotch – Encourages jumping and balance.
  • Simon says – This game promotes concentration and appeals to other areas of development, including gross motor skills.

Any time a child is engaging in play, they are naturally working on their gross motor skills. One common enemy against gross motor activities is the increased use of electronic devices. Limiting your child’s screen time encourages them to play outside and do the simple gross motor activities that kids indulge in and enjoy. If you’re looking for ways to incorporate larger movements and muscle exercise into your child’s life, there is no shortage of gross motor activities for children.

Occupational Therapy and ABA Therapy for Autism Disorder

Occupational therapy can help children with autism focus on learning, playing, caring for themselves, and even managing sensory issues. This type of therapy improves the quality of life in those with autism disorder by teaching and strengthening various skills that were most likely lacking due to developmental delays.

Occupational therapy can pair well with Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA therapy, as a practical and complementary approach to improving life quality for those with autism. The occupational therapy treatments that can improve a child with autism’s life include balancing, improving muscle strength, and building coordination skills. The treatments from these multidisciplinary collaborations have positive effects and are more effective than ABA therapy alone.

Child playing with sensory toys.

Early Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children

Developmental delays don’t explicitly point to autism spectrum disorder, though they can be an early tell. The signs of autism disorder can come in many shapes and forms, with gross motor skills delays being only one aspect. Early signs of autism in infants may come in communication differences, social differences, or behavioral differences. Signs of autism in toddlers can be an extension of these differences but can show themselves in the form of acceptable motor skill delays or language delays.

ABA therapy includes a broader group of treatments and therapies that reinforce skills by encouraging and rewarding children. In ABA therapy, children will exercise all of the skills that may have been fully practiced during their age-specific development. If any of the previously mentioned signs sounds like your child, consider scheduling an ABA therapy session.

Who Should Diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorder?

A speech pathologist or occupational therapist may notice signs of autism spectrum disorder, but a diagnosis can be given only by a qualified specialist. A qualified specialist, such as a pediatrician or psychologist, will perform a comprehensive assessment based on specific criteria before delivering a diagnosis. A comprehensive assessment may include the following types of tests:

  • Ages and Stages Questionnaires (ASQ)
  • Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales (CSBS)
  • Parents’ Evaluation of Developmental Status (PEDS)
  • Modified Check for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT)
  • Screening Tool for Autism in Toddlers and Young Children (STAT)

Working with other therapists on developmental delays or abnormalities can help point to autism disorder if applicable. Once your doctor provides an autism diagnosis, ABA therapy, as well as other treatments, can begin. Treatment plans through ABA therapy can cover several different social, behavioral, and other categories. Autism disorder should not be self-diagnosed based on developmental delays alone. If you are working with an occupational therapist, ask questions about a combined approach with ABA therapy. Let’s learn more about how ABA therapy can help individuals.

Learning More About ABA Therapy

ABA therapy studies an individual’s behavior and learns to increase positive behaviors and decrease detrimental or harmful behaviors. Children and adults who engage in ABA therapy and are encouraged through positive reinforcement. They practice a variety of skills that apply to real-world tasks. ABA therapy is specialized to each individual’s needs with specific treatments and goals.

While children are undergoing ABA therapy, these sessions can begin to impact parents as well. Understand that there is a link between mindfulness and autism. By understanding mindfulness-based strategies through the help of ABA therapy, your child can begin to implement these into their everyday life and see the positive effects they bring.

By taking an active role in your child’s development and well-being, you can learn the early signs of autism that can lead you to a possible diagnosis. If your child is experiencing any development delays, act quickly, and reach out to a professional.

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