Helping children with ASD refine their motor skills helps them improve their body awareness, making it easier for them to navigate their environment and appear less clumsy. Children can also work on skills such as running, climbing, or kicking a ball. Improving these skills helps children bolster their self-confidence and build social and communication skills that will help them participate in activities with other children on the playground or in other settings where they may have difficulty interacting and where even the tiniest differences in someone’s behavior can be cause for teasing, says Evan Schermer, president at the Center for Social Enrichment and Educational Development in Stamford, CT.
“Children with difficulties with motor skills may be perceived as less popular by their peers and less likely to develop friendships,” Schermer says. But working on motor skills doesn’t have to be a time-intensive activity. Instead, it’s easy to incorporate many of the skills on a daily basis.
Parents can set up craft tables to ensure that their child with ASD and siblings can work on motor skills together. Coloring, painting, and stringing beads can be fun for any child. Playing with sand art, play dough, pegboards, or assembling small models are also great indoor activities to build fine motor skills, Schermer suggests.
For outdoor activities, Pollack recommends activities such as walking, running, or riding a bike. There are also organized sports like soccer, basketball, baseball or football. During the winter, children who are looking for similar pursuits can try various dance classes, from jazz to ballet, or gymnastics to help the child build his or her gross motor skills.
More research is needed to clarify the link between motor skills and adaptive behavior. “Motor skills are known to be associated with cognitive abilities,” Bishop says. “Thus, this link may be at least partially explained by the fact that children with poor motor skills also had lower cognitive abilities, which, in turn, were related to lower adaptive behavior skills.” Nonetheless, this study—and the daily work of many area experts—firmly suggests that impaired motor skills in many children with ASD may be associated with poorer adaptive behavior in the areas of communication and socialization.