Jane van der Merwe, an Occupational Therapist, answers some common questions.
Parents want to see their children do well and have similar abilities to their peers. When children start mixing formally with others, we see that they may have different strengths and abilities. Professionals who work with children know there is a wide range of ‘normal’ ability. However, sometimes it appears that a child may have a specific area of difficulty, and may need extra support and/or therapy to help them develop their skills.
Parents often ask:
What is meant by low muscle tone?
If a child has a weak core or low muscle tone, they may find it difficult to: maintain seated posture on a chair or on the floor; swing on monkey bars or play sport. This can also affect a child’s concentration and ability to carry out tasks requiring these abilities.
Low tone can be improved by specific fun activities and exercises, which help to normalise and strengthen tone as well as improving core strength.
How can fine motor skills be improved?
Fine motor skills are movements which involve refined use of the small muscles which control the hand, fingers and thumb. These skills start developing as babies and progress through childhood.
Activities which require lots of manipulation and control such as, playing with and manipulating toys, playdough, scribbling, colouring, drawing, cutting and using construction toys, will greatly assist their development.
What are spatial problems?
Children with poor spatial awareness may have visual perceptual difficulties which can affect their ability to organise and plan themselves and their school work. They may have difficulty doing puzzles, and toys which have to fit together. Most children will get “left” and “right” mixed up until they are about seven years old, but given the proper opportunities, will begin to identify the right and left sides of their bodies and apply this to daily tasks and school work.
It is important to practice these skills using left and right sides of their body and using two and three-dimensional toys, and objects.
How can I help my left-handed child?
Please allow them to be left handed as their bodies are ‘wired’ to be left-handed. Set up a workspace that accommodates left-handed tasks. For most left-handed children, writing is the biggest hurdle. The number one rule in teaching leftie kids is that the rules for righties don’t apply.
Let your child write in a way which comes naturally; use left-hand friendly school supplies (leftie pencil grips, tri-tip crayons, and scissors). These tools offer optimal control and pressure. Remember left-handed children may be right eye and ear dominant and vice versa. It is useful to find this out when they are under 7 years old so that the child can be seated in the best position in their class.
Parents are encouraged to seek professional help if in any doubt regarding their child’s physical growth and development.