Gross motor skills are abilities that let us do tasks that involve large muscles in our torso, legs, and arms. They involve whole-body movements. We use gross motor skills for all sorts of physical activities, from running to raking leaves.
Fine motor skills are the ability to make movements using the small muscles in our hands and wrists. We rely on these skills to do key tasks in school, at work, and in everyday life.
Kids with sensory processing issues have trouble organizing information the brain receives from the senses. When we talk about senses, we usually mean the five traditional ones: sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. But there are actually two other senses. These sixth and seventh senses control body awareness (proprioception) and balance and spatial orientation (the vestibular sense).
Having sensory processing issues can affect kids’ motor skills in several ways. If kids are uncomfortable touching things, they may be reluctant to play with and manipulate objects. This can slow down the development of some motor skills.
However, it’s far more common for trouble with the sixth and seventh senses to affect gross and fine motor skills. Here’s why.
We all have receptors in our muscles that tell us where our body parts are. For example, if you raise your hand, you know that your arm is over your head. You don’t have to think about it or look in a mirror. But kids with poor proprioception may think their arm is over their head when it’s really straight out in front of them.
The vestibular system includes the parts of the inner ear and brain that help control balance, eye movement and spatial orientation. It helps keep you stable and upright. Children with vestibular issues may not know where their body is in space. This can make them feel off balance and out of control.
Kids who have trouble with proprioception or the vestibular sense could struggle with motor skills in a number of ways.
If you suspect your child has sensory processing issues, consider having him evaluated by a physical or occupational therapist who specializes in sensory integration. One-on-one therapy can make a big difference.
There are lots of way to help at home at home, too. A therapist may suggest activities that give your child opportunities to use his arms and legs at the same time. These might include making a home obstacle course, showing him how to do a push-up or just having him help rake leaves and carry groceries.
The point is to give your child the sensory input that he needs to feel in control of his body. When he gets this information, it will help him feel more stable and focused. Over time, most kids will figure out their own strategies to work around their weaknesses and play to their strengths.