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Fine Motor and Dexterity Exercises

Updated on November 18, 2011

Many children with ASD have fine motor problems

If your child with autism has trouble doing up buttons, writing, picking up small items, cutting with scissors or any other fine motor skills they should be receiving occupational therapy services. The services can be private (referred through a doctor and paid for by your insurance or you pay cash) or the services can be through a public school district.

Some children receive both public and private therapy. If the therapy does not seem to be enough, there are plenty of activities that you can do to encourage fine motor skill development as "homework"- many of these exercises are fun and can also be used to help prevent regression if you or your child's therapist is on vacation for a week or so.

Please!!!! Remember that children with special needs are at greater risk for choking- even if they are a bit older than the age listed by the manufacturer. The recommended age is a general recommendation, the safety of these products really depends upon the individual child's development and personality and all of these activities require a responsible adult to ensure that the child is not left alone with something they are not ready for!

Many of the activities below are either inexpensive, or potentially free if you already have the necessary items (many of which are common items in households with children!). The product links go directly to reputable businesses whom I personally shop from as well (I would not recommend them if I did not trust them) -I do receive a small commission should you decide to purchase-but my sole purpose is providing you with information and ideas.

I am not a doctor or therapist, I am a full time Mom to a little boy who has Autism, SID and Fine Motor problems. I have been heavily involved in his full time therapy since he was 18 months old. The exercises on these page are NOT therapy- they are simply activities which encourage fine motor development. These are NOT intended to replace therapy, but are an excellent addition to professional therapy- consider these exercises "homework".

Please consult your child's physician or therapist.

Please also remember that you should try to make these activities FUN for your child and praise their efforts!

Classic Games Like Lite Brite

Lite Brite LED Flatscreen - GIRLS
Lite Brite LED Flatscreen - GIRLS

Lite Brite has long been known to encourage fine motor development because of the small pegs that must be picked up and carefully placed in the pegs. This game is also great for encouraging creativity and improving hand eye coordination!

The lite brite is available in multiple shapes, colors and styles and is an excellent addition to the toy collection of anyone seeking to improve their child's fine motor skills with a fun activity.

Please not that the pieces are very small and pose a choking hazard. This toy is not for kids under 3 years old.

 

Hiding treasures

Fun, yet can be frustrating! Thank you to Cutie's OT for this- it was SO effective!!!!

This was an activity that drove my son crazy in the beginning. Hide some small objects like beads (different shapes are the best) in the putty. Smoosh it around a bit. Have the child use one hand to pick out the beads with their thumb and forefinger. As they improve, have them roll the bead that they have retrieved across their fingers with their thumb and hold it with the pinky, ring and middle fingers as they continue to hunt for treasures with their index and thumb. They will naturally try to use their other hand and will try to put down the beads to use more fingers (this is when they become frustrated). Try to offer rewards per bead so that there is greater incentive to find them all!

See the photos below- the bead being held by the ring finger and pinky should be held tightly and not visible- I had to hold it more loosely and so it was visible for the photo so that you can see where it is!

This activity is fairly inexpensive and does not require much storage space. This activity should only be done when the child is directly supervised on on one as it is a choking hazard. Also the beads tend to go in ears and noses.

Beads and Putty

Crazy Aaron's Thinking Putty, 3.2 Ounce, Hypercolor Sunburst
Crazy Aaron's Thinking Putty, 3.2 Ounce, Hypercolor Sunburst

This is actually the one we use at home it really is pretty cool because it DOES change color!

 
Crazy Aaron's Thinking Putty, 3.2 Ounce, Glow In The Dark Krypton
Crazy Aaron's Thinking Putty, 3.2 Ounce, Glow In The Dark Krypton

A cool glow in the dark putty that you can use in dim light to help your child improve their fine motor skills!

 
Original Silly Putty; Ages 3 & Up; No. Bin080102
Original Silly Putty; Ages 3 & Up; No. Bin080102

Classic putty, this is very affordable and works extremely well for this exercise.

 
Darice Mega Critter Kits, Pearl
Darice Mega Critter Kits, Pearl

Lots of different beads! Your child will have fun finding these in the putty!

 
Creative Arts by Charles Leonard Heart Shaped Beads, Assorted Neon Colors, 115/Bag (59020)
Creative Arts by Charles Leonard Heart Shaped Beads, Assorted Neon Colors, 115/Bag (59020)

It is good to include varying shapes of beads so that they can really have a challenge!

 

Pick a bead out with thumb and index finger.

Pick a bead out with thumb and index finger.
Pick a bead out with thumb and index finger.

Roll the bead to pinky and ring fingers and hold it there.

Roll the bead to pinky and ring fingers and hold it there.
Roll the bead to pinky and ring fingers and hold it there.

Pick another bead out with thumb and index finger while holding the other bead tightly

Pick another bead out with thumb and index finger while holding the other bead tightly
Pick another bead out with thumb and index finger while holding the other bead tightly

Lacing

Some kids love it, others find it boring, you can make it more fun!

The best lacing kits come with a book demonstrating different stitch patterns, you can go around or through, forward two and back one etc. Cutie was not really interested in lacing although he really needed to do it. To help him like it better, I found pictures of his favorite characters online and then I cut a piece of poster board to fit in my printer and printed it out. Then I poked holes in the outer lines of the character and had him lace it. We also save the box that his toy came in as it had large fun images on it, we then cut those out and poked holes in it. You can use regular shoelaces.

Remember to supervise because they can get tangled up and are at greater risk for strangulation- Cutie used to try to tie up his hand, cutting off circulation.

Beading

Cutie despised this one until he was 5, now he likes it!

Start of with simple strings of beads! Depending upon your child's skill level you may start with extremely large beads (palm sized) so that they can focus on getting the string through the hole and learn the idea of stringing them together, one after another. As their skill improves, the beads become smaller and eventually they can try patterned bead kits to make shapes!

With the larger beads, do not tie the ends- this is a reusable kit (it would be far too expensive otherwise). When they are using regular pony beads they can create little items such as key chains, necklaces and bracelets etc.

This activity should only be done when the child is directly supervised on on one as it is a choking hazard. Also the beads tend to go in ears and noses.

PLEASE REMEMBER

These activities are NOT meant to replace therapies. These are activities that many therapists recommend to SUPPLEMENT regular therapy or to encourage growth while on a wait list for therapy.

Buttons

A huge challenge for many kids with special needs

You can purchase practice boards or make your own. An old shirt on a pillow is a good start, but the pillow can get in the way. If you have an old shirt that you can cut up and glue then you can make this for free. Cut a piece of cardboard to the desired size, I recommend cutting 2 or 3 pieces to the same size and sandwiching them together for durability. cut the shirt at the sides (along the seams) wrap the board in the back of the shirt and secure with glue or duct tape. With the buttons CLOSED, place the front of the shirt over the board and secure the sides only to the back of the board with glue! They may need to practice this for years- Cutie has been working with button boards and practice vests since he was 2 1/2 years old (started early as it was clear that this would be a challenge for him) and although he has improved his skills greatly, he still can not do them on his clothes (except for one shirt)- he is now 7.

There are also snap boards and zipper boards. I strongly recommend all for children with special needs.

This activity should only be done when the child is directly supervised on on one if the child is under 3 as it can be a choking hazard- buttons can fall off and a frustrated child may rip them off.

Puzzles

Great for spatial reasoning, problem solving AND dexterity!

Puzzles come with a variety of "handles" and shapes to sort. Depending upon your child's skill level, you may need to start with a simple shape sorter with palm sized pieces. As the child develops their skill, I recommend wooden shape matching puzzles (with the little knobs). The little knobs help to develop pincer grips and matching the shapes is a very important skill. I strongly recommend finding puzzles with your child's favorite animal or character - especially with ASD or other disorders with "narrow range of interests" when you start. If you start with one of their favorites, they are more likely to want to complete the puzzle- once they complete a few with their favorite characters they learn to enjoy the feeling of pride having completed it and you can work in other puzzles gradually.

You can find boxes of puzzles (with cool characters) at most dollar stores! There are also some printable ones online, but they rarely last more than one or two uses- even when laminated.

This one can be a choking hazard with the knobs or with cardboard puzzles (toddlers suck and chew on them until large chunks fall off) so I recommend not leaving them alone for long periods of time, do not leave them alone with it at all if the child is under 3.

Lego

Ow, stepped on another one!

Lego is great for dexterity, creativity, logic and many other important developmental factors! If your child is ready for lego, then you can use methods similar to the treasure game (top of page) to improve dexterity further. Have the child hold 3 pieces of lego- two in the pinky, ring and middle fingers and one with the thumb and index finger. Have them place the one in their index and thumb where they want it and then roll one of the others across to the thumb and index... repeat! They may use their other hand to hold the lego that they are adding on to but they may not use it to touch the legos in their other hand!

I STRONGLY recommend getting some sort of storage for them- they somehow get everywhere! The dollar stores usually have little plastic shoeboxes that work fairly well.

BIG choking hazard- 3 and up, put away when done if your older child still puts things in their mouth!

Hold two pieces with the pinky, ring and middle fingers, one with the index and thumb.

Hold two pieces with the pinky, ring and middle fingers, one with the index and thumb.
Hold two pieces with the pinky, ring and middle fingers, one with the index and thumb.

Place the one in the index and thumb where you want it.

Place the one in the index and thumb where you want it.
Place the one in the index and thumb where you want it.

Roll a piece from the pinky, ring and middle fingers to the thumb and index while holding the third with the pinky and ring

Roll a piece from the pinky, ring and middle fingers to the thumb and index while holding the third with the pinky and ring
Roll a piece from the pinky, ring and middle fingers to the thumb and index while holding the third with the pinky and ring

CHOKING HAZARD

These activities are great for improving fine motor skills and dexterity when properly supervised...

Please remember that children with special needs are at greater risk of choking. Take the appropriate steps to ensure that your child is always supervised when using these items.

Older Kids may enjoy Operation

Play a game of operation! It really is great for fine motor skills and pretty simple to understand- we changed the rules for Cutie's extra practice time- we just see if he can get them all without making it buzz and if he buzzes 3 times we put all the pieces back in and start over. This is a wonderful way to practice fine motor skills, but please use caution with kids who put things in various orifices - they may choke or get pieces stuck in their nose or ears.

It also comes in special editions with characters like Shrek!

Connect Four can be used to work on pincer grip - and hand-eye coordination!

Connect four is a fun and easy way to practice pincer grip and hand-eye coordination. You can change the rules to suit the abilities of your child or to make it more interesting if they do it A LOT. We try to make patterns or pictures and Cutie loves it! The ASD obsessions with order and patterns may either be a benefit or a challenge- traditional Connect four is a challenge for Cutie because he hates to see the chaos- he MUST make patterns- but since we use it for fine motor- why not?

For it to help with pincer grip- you must make sure that the child is picking up the piece with their thumb and forefinger- not their entire hand. Remember to reward them each time!

Because the pieces are so large, they are often ok for the younger crowd.

Thank you for taking the time to visit! I hope that you found this page helpful and that even if you did not find what you were looking for you at least found some helpful information!

If you did find something you liked and wish to purchase it through any of the links on this page I want to let you know that I will earn a small commission. All of the money that I earn here on Squidoo and through affiliate programs goes directly to help pay for some of my son's expenses and some household expenses- anything not used for him goes into a special savings account for him to use as an adult. Thank you so much for visiting.

I am not in any way affiliated with Lowes and therefore receive NO commission for referring you to them- I simply recommend their building kits and we use them ourselves in my home.

All images on this page are my own work unless otherwise noted.

Copyright Sidther 2011

Other fine motor toys or exercises?

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    • MisterJeremy profile image

      Jeremy 5 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      I love this page! There are so many resources out there for fine motor activities for small kids but a major lack for older kids who still need help.

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 5 years ago

      Came back to google +1 this gem. I did find a new toy (it's on my 'Four months until Christmas . . . Yikes!' lens) known as: Perplexus Maze Game by PlaSmart, Inc. (for ages 6 - 14) and is an enclosed sphere with marbles that run an obstacle course. This nice thing is that it is self-contained, no set-up, no mess and no batteries. Plus, it is a useful solitary toy (good for developing fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and spatial intelligence). There is no danger of losing parts, nor any choking hazards with it. Might be good for holiday travel too (I won't lose my marbles this way, at least - ha)!

    • catherinelovestv profile image

      catherinelovestv 6 years ago

      good idea for a lens, we think my little boy has dyspraxia these ideas will help us too!

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 6 years ago

      You've have really done an excellent job of covering how to develop fine motor skills in any child. Great work, as always. Sincerely, Rose

    • Paul Ward profile image

      Paul 6 years ago from Liverpool, England

      Fine motor exercises for children with ASD covers things, simple and complex, that wouldn't occur to many of us who've never needed to know these things - but perhaps we should all have an appreciation of them - well explained.

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 6 years ago

      I love reading about your little Cutie. What an awesome mom you are! He's one lucky little boy. Thanks for sharing so much wonderful info on autism and related issues.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      A great way of engaging kids in exercises through various methods outline in the lens. Along with therapy, they will be very effective.