Motor Skills​


Although many students with ASD have normally developing or even advanced motor skills, there are some individuals who have differences in various aspects of their motor planning and functioning. In some cases, this is due to the presence of an additional disability such as Cerebral Palsy or Down syndrome. Challenges with gross, fine, and/or visual motor skills can make many tasks even more difficult for these individuals. Terms that often describe poor motor skill development for children on the autism spectrum are dyspraxia (difficulty with motor planning) and dysgraphia (difficulty with handwriting).
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A movement difference is a difference, interference, or shift in the efficient, effective use of movement. It is a disruption in the organization and regulation of perception, action, posture, language, speech, thought, emotion, and/ or memory. Movement difference is not caused by paralysis or weakness, but by difficulties in the regulation of movement.

Where problems may ensue is when others have difficulty interpreting or responding to a person who moves differently, or when others are intolerant and non-accepting of differences. If students are unable to organize, control, or move their bodies at will, they may be unable to let us know in typical ways that they can think, listen, understand, and feel. Symptoms of movement differences can create an impression of limited capacity and lack of interest.

Movement differences are manifested in a wide range of behaviors, including the more easily identifiable activities such as unusual gait and posture, constant physical movement, or repetitive unusual rocking. Consider how a simple movement such as hand shaking can go awry. As the arm rises and straightens, movement is inhibited and activated to control the speed and direction of the rise. If the inhibiting muscles were to speed exert more force than the activating muscles, the arm would not rise as expected but might bend and drop. If the activating muscles were stronger, the arm might shoot out and could be misinterpreted as an aggressive act. Or, if the movement were unimpaired but the reaction too slow, the attempt to shake hands might be missed and interpreted as a lack of interest. Other movement differences may include:
  • Starting (difficulty initiating movements): not being able to start a familiar song unless someone gives us the first couple of words;
  • Executing (difficulty with the rate, rhythm, target, etc. of movement): realizing that you have stepped on your dance partner’s foot and then not being able to dance well from that point on;
  • Stopping (difficulty terminating a movement; the tendency to “perseverate;” getting “stuck” in one sensory mode like staring into space): getting that same familiar song out of our minds;
  • Combining (difficulty adding a sensory mode or a movement): having a hard time listening to the radio while attempting to drive to an unfamiliar street address.

Accommodations that address these issues must often be made within the environment, as well as within specific tasks.

No Tech Tools and Strategies

  • Modeling by the teacher or peers - if verbal directions only are given, the student with ASD may miss important steps while trying to process the auditory information or be so distracted by sounds that s/he misses important directions
  • Abbreviations for writing notes. The student can develop a repertoire of abbreviations (like b/c for because) A "cheat sheet" Wordle_abbreviations.pngcan be placed on the student's desk.
  • Self talk can provide valuable auditory feedback to the student. Encourage the student to talk aloud as they write.
  • The student can dictate some assignments or test responses to a 'scribe.' Train the 'scribe' to write what the student says verbatim and then allow the student to make changes without assistance from the 'scribe.' This is good for younger children but work towards more independence using computers and software for additional support. Scribing should not be an accommodation for a child in middle and high school.

Light Tech Tools and Strategies

  • Have areas of the classroom or work site clearly delineated by using a neutral color tape to indicate a space as "off limits" or where a work area is.
  • Drawing boxes on an answer line helps students to know where and how big to write. Simple lines are often too ambiguous for some students.
  • Have a variety of writing tools available so that students can choose what works best. Try
    • markers with both wide and narrow tips
    • markers, pens and pencils with both narrow and wide grips
    • pencils with softer and harder 'lead' to provide different sensory feedback
    • pens with different tips to provide different sensory feedback (rollerball, ballpoint, felt,etc.)
    • writing tools in a variety of colored inks
  • Have a variety of writing grips that can be added to pens and pencils to encourage an efficient grasp
  • Writing paper can make a difference for some students. Raised line writing paper gives tactile feedback, graph paper provides visual feedback for letter and number placement, higher bond (greater than 20 pound bond) does not rip easily when erased and can decrease frustration, colored paper can reduce glare and provide a sensory 'calmness' for some.
    • do a Google search for "lined paper templates"
  • Alternate writing surfaces may increase the willingness of students to write
    • sand or shaving cream on a cookie sheet
    • hair gel (Dep) in a sealed baggie
    • Magna Doodle
    • dry erase boards (come in a variety of colors and sizes)
      • make your own using white or dry erase Contact™ paperslant_board.jpg
    • slant boards
      • make one out of a 1"-, 2"- or 3"-inch binder. You can cover the binder with bulletin board paper or use a bulldog clip or other large paper clip to secure paper to the binder
  • High interest pictures, red dots / green dots, Boardmaker™ pictures as the starting and stopping points for writing
  • An adult can place their hand inside an acrylic easel to make the motions or marks for a student to follow when writing. Because the easel is transparent, the student can see the movement and the adult can easily monitor the student's response
  • Picture cards with the expected sequence of movements or actions can be especially helpful to the student in understanding complex motor activities
  • Prewritten words and phrases enable the student to produce written work without having to have the necessary motor skills to adequately do so in a traditional paper and pencil manner. The student places the words or phrases in sentences and paragraphs. This can be accomplished using adhesive backed magnetic labels or strips or Velcro™. The student can arrange the magnetic words on a metal surface and those backed with Velcro™ on a carpet square or felt board.

Mid Tech Tools and Strategies

  • Use a word shapes font for 'spelling boxes' to assist students with spelling
  • Have students dictate their ideas into a tape recorder or other recording device and then listen to their ideas and write them down later
  • Use an old electric typewriter, or a newer portable word processor (i.e., Neo, Alphasmart, Dana, Writer) to practice keyboarding skills
  • Label makers are a low cost alternative for those students who still find the formation of letters difficult but are at a level where they are required or want to write. An electronic label maker allows the student to type in answers and print, peel and stick them to worksheets, workbooks, etc. Label makers come in a variety of sizes with features including size of keys, memory, different fonts, font sizes, tape sizes and automatic or manual cutting
  • Have students use a portable word processor such as the Fusion or CalcuScribe, to take notes or complete written assignments

High Tech Tools and Strategies

  • Microsoft Word has many options for reducing the physical load on students with fine motor difficulties.
  • Any computer-based word processing program allows the student to produce a rough draft that can be revised and later evaluated without extra typing
  • A talking word processor (Write:Outloud, Intellitalk, Read & Write Gold, etc.) allows the student to hear what they type. These software programs allow the user to change the voice, rate of speech, and background and font colors, They have built-in dictionaries that are speech-enabled and allow for spelling options for the weakest speller.
    • Free talking word processors (remember that as Free programs they are WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get)
  • A word prediction program (Word Q, Aurora, Co:Writer, etc.) offers added support for poor spelling and sentence formation. Once the student has become accustomed to using such a program, his/her writing will be produced much faster and, of course, much more legible than handwriting.
  • For students where dictation is a good alternative, try voice recognition. Voice recognition is in the VISTA operating system. If you use XP, Microsoft Office 2000 or higher supports voice recognition. Directions here
  • There are software programs that facilitate writing with words and phrases before the student is ready to spell individual words or to use a keyboard. Programs that pair symbols with text include:
  • Alternate input methods may assist some students with fine motor difficulties
    • Intellikeys gives the student a much larger physical keyboard and Overlay Maker(software for creating Intellikeys overlays) allows the teacher to create writing templates with words and phrases
    • The Discover:Board by Madentec Ltd. comes with software for controlling the mouse and keyboard plus speech and customization software for flexible computer access
    • An onscreen keyboard decreases the physical space between the keyboard and the monitor, thus eliminating some distracters. The Windows operating system has a simple one in Accessories which can be accessed from the Programs menu.