Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills refer to the use of small muscles in the fingers and hands that are responsible for exploring and manipulating objects. These skills are essential for helping kids eat, drink, dress themselves, draw, write, build and play. Activities include doing up buttons, using scissors, brushing their teeth and opening lunchboxes. As children grow, they will develop strength and dexterity to perform more complex tasks.

Children with fine motor difficulties may present with:

  • Avoidance of fine motor tasks

  • No identified dominant hand

  • Reduced strength and poor control in the hands

  • Poor coordination or unable to use both hands together

  • Reduced independence with self-care tasks and requesting others to help them constantly

  • Poor prewriting, drawing and writing skills

Gross Motor Skills

These refer to the larger muscles of the body including our arms, legs and core which help us coordinate all our muscles together to complete everyday tasks such as standing, walking, running and jumping. Through developing these skills children are able to ride a bike, kick a ball, participate in sports, maintain upright posture and balance. Children learn how to move and control these larger muscles before being able to move and control the smaller muscles of the body (fine motor skills). If a child has trouble trying to keep their upper body upright or with appropriate posture, this will have an impact on their ability to complete fine motor tasks such as writing or cutting.

Children with gross motor difficulties may present with:

  • Avoidance of physical activities

  • Delays in developmental milestones such as sitting, crawling and walking

  • Poor coordination or clumsiness

  • Challenges with climbing or avoiding playground equipment

  • Finds it difficult to maintain a sitting position or good posture

  • Fatigue easily

Play & Social Skills

Play is the main occupation of a child. It is essential for children to play to help them develop everyday skills such as communication, motor skills, cognition and social skills. Through the use of play, children are better able to develop their attention span on a task, navigate social situations including sharing and understanding social cues and developing problem solving skills. 

Children with play and social difficulties may present with:

  • Preference to play on their own or engage in solitary play

  • Reduced awareness of others around them including not reacting to when others attempt to play and communicate

  • Repetitive play patterns

  • Challenges with communication skills and asking another to play

  • Difficulty forming and maintaining friendships

  • Frequent meltdowns or withdrawing from play activities

Sensory Processing

Sensory processing is the way our bodies take information in through our senses. We take in sensory information from the environment through our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hands and feet and our brain is responsible for registering, organising and modulating all different kinds of sensations at the same time. We rely on our brain to be able to attend to important or relevant information and inhibit other irrelevant information. 

Sensory processing occurs over our entire life span and we are constantly engaging with our environment and exploring new opportunities. The most intense period of our sensory development occurs between 0-6 years of age. Most people are aware of the main five senses (touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight) however there are actually 3 more. These include proprioception, vestibular and interoception. 

Children who have sensory processing challenges may present with:

  • High activity levels, always seeming to be ‘on the go’

  • Difficulty paying attention and staying on one particular task

  • Oversensitive to noises such as a vacuum or sirens

  • Avoid grooming tasks such as washing and cutting hair

  • Fussy with their eating

  • Missing instructions or not noticing when someone calls their name

  • Poor sleep patterns

  • Poor emotional and behavioural responses to sensory stimulation 

    Attention % Self-Regulation

    Attention and concentration is what allows us to focus on one thing at a time, and block out other irrelevant information. As we grow, we learn to develop the amount of time we are able to pay attention and this can be influenced by motivation, sensory processing, language challenges, self-esteem and practice. Having a good attention span allows children to be alert, resist distractions from their environment and to engage in a task for an extended period of time.  Without the capacity to attend to relevant stimuli and block out other information, children have trouble regulating their state of arousal to match the task or the environment.

    Children who may have challenges with attention and regulation may present with:

        • Become easily distracted by things or people around them

        • Miss details or steps in instructions

        • Increased energy levels or arousal level

        • Finding it difficult to ‘wake up’ to complete the task as they appear sleepy or lethargic

        • Appear disinterested or swap between tasks quickly

        • Difficulty knowing what to focus their attention on

        • Behavioural challenges including meltdowns or outbursts


    Self-care skills are those everyday tasks that you need to do in order to get ready for the day.   These include dressing, toileting, brushing teeth, eating and packing their bag. Self-care skills provide a foundation or many school related tasks as well as general life skills. It all depends on the age of the child as to what level of independence is appropriate but Occupational Therapists are able to break the task down into manageable sections to develop their skills. Self-care skills are one of the first ways that a child will need to plan and sequence a task, (i.e. pulling pants down and then sitting on the toilet) as well as organising the necessary materials needed (using toilet paper). 

    Children with difficulties with self-care skills may demonstrate:

    • Difficulties with toilet training

    • Heavy reliance on others to complete tasks for them 

    • No interest in developing independence

    • Needing adult support for daily tasks such as dressing and eating beyond what is expected for their age 


    Behaviour is how we react and function in response to everyday situations. Challenging behaviour can often be used as a term to describe a behaviour that limits a child’s ability to engage in any given activity or participate in daily life.   When looking at a behaviour, it is important to be aware that these may be occurring due to difficulties or delays in other areas such as sensory processing, self-regulation, social skills, executive functioning and planning, as well as receptive and/or expressive language difficulties. An Occupational Therapist may support you with analysing this behaviour through observation and information gathering, to then being able to help children build their skills in areas they find challenging.  

    If a child is having difficulties with behaviour, they may:

    • Become frustrated easily

    • Have frequent outbursts or tantrums, or those that last a long time

    • Display opposition to parent or adult requests

    • Withdraw from challenging tasks

    • Be violent or unsafe including kicking, hitting or biting

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