Fine Motor Delay: Is Your Child’s Development on Track?

Fine motor involves movement in the small muscle groups, which include hands, fingers, face, tongue and eyes. Fine motor skills are skill sets developed over the first few years of a child’s growth. Some examples of fine motor skills include a child learning to use his/her eyes to track the things around him/her and learning to pick up cereals to self-feed. In occupational therapy, the emphasis of fine motor skill development is usually placed on the hands and fingers (i.e. grasp/grip control, pre-writing and handwriting abilities).

As children grow, they would need to utilise their fine motor skills in different activities of daily living such as feeding self, learning to write and buttoning their own shirt. Their competence level in the fine motor skills is crucial for their progression from pre-school to primary school.

A child’s self-confidence and emotional maturity get better as he/she becomes more capable in performing age-appropriate skills independently. If a child shows weakness in his/her fine motor skills, such as handwriting, he/she would face frustration and lack of motivation to continue the writing task. Many times, a smart child’s potential in academics is being masked due to the struggles and frustration he/she faces when doing the handwriting tasks. Thus, good fine motor skills are essential in helping a child perform his/her school and self-care tasks with ease, motivation and confidence.

Why do some children struggle with their fine motor skills development?

The following fundamental skills are crucial for efficient fine motor skill development:

  • Tactile Feedback – Use of our sense of touch to learn more about the environment and the objects around us
  • Postural Stability – Use of strong and stable core muscles (i.e. muscles of the trunk and shoulder areas) to move smaller muscles of body parts such as hands, fingers and eyes
  • Bilateral Coordination – The ability to use both sides of the body at the same time in a controlled and organised manner (e.g. using both hands in cutting task with scissors)
  • Hand Function – Use of the tactile feedback and/or hand and finger muscles to manipulate objects and facilitate use of hand of motor tasks, such as holding a pencil for writing and lifting a cup off the table

If the abovementioned areas are being compromised, such as weak tactile processing or poor core muscle strength, the child may experience delay in the development of fine motor skills.

Some studies have shown that genetic and environmental causes may also bring about fine motor skill concerns. If a pregnant mother is exposed to smoking, alcohol and drugs, the probability of having healthy development of the unborn child’s brain neurons can be greatly reduced. This probability can also be observed in premature babies. The disturbance in the development and connection of the brain neurons can cause difficulties in fine motor development and other areas such as attention and focus.


What are the signs of fine motor delay in children, and who can treat this condition? More details on the next page…


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