The mommy therapist
Like many autistic kids, my son has poor fine motor skills and it affects his everyday life a great deal. Getting into occupational therapy has been nothing short of a feat. You first need to almost invariable stand by in a 3-6 month waiting list. Once you get in, you get an hour a week and if your stars are all aligned right, maybe twice a week. Then comes the insurance which , in most cases, believes my child does not really need this therapy and if I use all the powers of the universe to convince them that he does, I get covered for maybe 12-15 sessions a year. So, in between the waiting, the long gaps between sessions, the power play with insurance and the rest, I was left with a lot of time on my hand that I decided to utilize for therapies that we could do at home.
There are 100s of articles over the internet, so why another one you ask? As a mom, I give a lot of weight to another mom’s personal experience. It has a perspective that I find missing otherwise. So, in this article what you will find is a list of activities that have worked for my son, activities with which I’ve seen real success and those that are easy to setup and fun to do.
With my son I’ve always noticed that if there is a function attached to an activity, he does better. He can then make sense of why he is being made to do something so it helps to have a purpose. Following are some of the activities we had success with:
What you need- (option 1) pipe cleaner, cheerios (option 2) play doh, shoe lace
The activity - This is one of the most common OT activity. It helps with pincer grasp and hand eye co-ordination. All you need to do is help your child push cheerios onto a pipe cleaner. Several websites suggested sticking raw spaghetti pasta onto balls of play dough but it’s easy to break the pasta if you have a child who wants to fiddle with it first. Pipe cleaners work better. Once my son mastered this, we moved on to a more challenging lacing exercise. I made beads out of play dough - roll grape sized play dough balls and poke holes in them with a skewer. Let them dry overnight and your beads are ready. I used shoe lace with a knot tied at one end to stop the beads from falling off and then helped my son lace the beads through it. It took some sessions of frustration but he learnt eventually. Now he’s a pro !!!
Make it fun - To make this task more interesting, you can use multicolored fruit loops and make bracelets out of it. The shoe lace with chunky play doh beads look like a tribal neckpiece and these could also be a great incentive to work for.
What you need - tweezers/tongs/straws, popcorns
The activity - If in between your trip to the beautician you are taking care of your eyebrows at home , chances are you have a pair of tweezers lying around. Time to put them to some more use. Pop some popcorns, put them in a bowl and help your child serve each of you a small portion with the help of those tweezers. For those who don’t have tweezers, a straw bent from the middle works just fine. However, when you switch to picking heavier stuff than a popcorn you might want to get one of those kids tongs for this exercise.
Make it fun - Set a timer and race against each other for who gets the most popcorns within the set time.
What you need - Old magazines, trash can
The activity - This is another fun activity. Grab a few old magazines...promotional magazines that come in your mailbox and go directly in your trash is a good option. Sit next to your child and place a trash can in front of you, not too far . Take turns ripping off paper from the magazine, crumpling it into a ball and throwing it into the can. Though it sounds like it does not have much of a merit to it but this activity actually has three components- tearing, which requires finger manipulation, crumpling paper into a tight ball increases hand strength and aiming at the basket is a good hand-eye coordination exercise. Also, tearing paper is a precursor to acquiring skills for a ton of daily activities like writing, opening sealed bags, or shredding pieces of food and many more.
Make it fun - Start a 2 person match , keeping score of who baskets the most paper balls.
Sponge squeeze :
What you need - clean sponge, water, cup
The activity - This is another hand strengthening exercise that my son loves especially because it involves water. Soak a clean dish washing sponge in water and let your child squeeze the water out of the sponge into a glass.
Make it fun- bring out a few bowls of water and add different food colors to those. Now together with your kid , set up a fake slush or juice bar by squeezing out the colored water in different glasses.
What you need - cereal/shoe box, coins
The activity - My son loved going to Chuck-e-cheese and he needed our help everytime he had to insert the tokens in. That’s when we realized how important it was to work on this skill. Take a cereal box, I used a Quaker’s oatmeal box. Make a small vertical slit on one of it’s side and a horizontal one on the other side - big enough for a coin to go through and you are done. I began this activity by placing the box such that the slit was on top, switching between dropping the coin through a vertical and a horizontal slits . Since it’s easy to push through a slit that’s on top than the one that’s on the side, I waited until he mastered the top slits. I then flipped the box so that the slit now faced the side. This one took some time to master but my son is now an expert (if he is paying attention :) ) .
To make things further challenging, you can let your child pick up the coins on his own. Once they’ve mastered this skill, add another level of challenge by giving them a couple of coins in their hands and letting them use the same hand to push the coins into the slit . Bothe of these will encourage in-hand manipulation skills.
Make it fun - Create a play zone for your kid with his favorite toys lined up. Now allocate different coin counts for each toy. Let your child “deposit” coins in the box for any toy he wants to play with.
Pipe cleaner & colander:
What you need - colander, pipe cleaners, bamboo skewers
The activity - This one is similar to lacing beads and works on grasping and similar fine motor skills. Turn a colander upside down and help your child insert pipe cleaners through its holes. You could then move on to bamboo skewers. Try selecting the skewers that fit snugly through the colander holes. I find these more challenging because they require a little more strength to push through the holes and that would additionally help with the hand strength. Pulling these skewers out is just as challenging because they need to hold down the colander and then pull out the skewers. It really helps with their motor strengthening skills.
Make it fun - once you have all the pipe cleaners on the colander, loop those back into another hole or twist those around in different shapes and make crazy hats out of the colander. You could make porcupines out of the bamboo skewers too but be careful, they are prickly :)
There can be several other games that can help your child acquire fine motor skills they are struggling with. Everyday activities present us with several opportunities to do so. Besides, they provide a meaningful goal for an activity than just sitting at a table and doing a list of tasks.
Activities like peeling fruits like oranges and banana are great for finger manipulation.
Ask your kids to help you with pouring water or juice in glasses and this could help with hand eye coordination.
Asking your kids to help carry groceries with you is another wonderful motor exercise and the kids feel proud doing “adult activities”.
When you whisk an egg or whip up a batch of cookies ask your child to help. It’s another great hand exercise.
Store their favorite treat in a container with a screw-on lid and everytime they ask for one, help them open the container on their own. They will need this skill everyday and it’s a great idea to work on it.
Don’t just hand them a candy, ask them to unwrap it or open that M&M bag themselves. Motivation is a big driving force for learning :)
Get a wind up toy that your child likes and watch them build their hand manipulation skills as they crank those toys up.
Next time when a package for your online order arrives, don’t throw those bubble wrap away. Have a blast popping those with your child. This is a great finger exercise.
Last week I needed a LOT of butter for something that I was cooking and I asked my son to unwrap all the butter sticks for me. He struggled initially and got a little frustrated but we finally worked our way through all 16 sticks and by the time we finished, he was already unwrapping on his own. Yay!!
My personal experience says, making an activity fun and purposeful is an important factor in learning. Our homes are filled with opportunities to teach and learn. We just need to think outside the box a little bit. Also, the more chances we give out kids to do chores around the house, the more skills they are going to acquire. In Spite of their challenges , it is important to give them as much independence as we can for them to learn and grow.
Have fun being a mommy-therapist !