Motor planning is using the brain to direct the body to be able to sequence and perform goal-directed motor tasks. Learning to ride a bike, tie shoelaces, and learning karate or dance moves are all examples of learning new motor tasks. Whereas most children can learn these tasks with relatively few repetitions, children with autism and sensory processing issues often require an excessive amount of practice to be able to learn these tasks. This is because the ability to motor plan depends on adequate functioning of the sensory systems including the vestibular, tactile, and proprioceptive senses. Without proper functioning of these systems, children have a hard time knowing where their bodies are in relation to other objects in the environment. When they do finally learn how to perform these tasks, the movements are often uncoordinated and awkward.
Difficulty with motor planning not only affects the child’s ability to learn new motor tasks, but also impairs his ability to sequence and plan motor actions. This can impact many areas of functioning including organization of materials, organization of space and time, and even organization of thought. When I worked in schools, I could usually identify the child with motor planning issues pretty quickly by the state his desk was in. Papers, pens, and books would be all jammed in together; the desk would be cluttered and it was impossible for him to find anything or get anything done. If not addressed, as the child with motor planning issues gets older, home organization and even sequencing daily activities can be a real challenge, sometimes overwhelming.
To improve motor planning abilities, I often recommend that a child participate in yoga, gymnastics, karate, or swimming because these activities use all of the senses simultaneously (vestibular, tactile, and proprioceptive input) and help to process the information more efficiently. Keep in mind that children with motor planning issues may require one on one attention to be able to learn these activities and they will probably need a lot of patience. They may seem to ignore directions given to them, but they are most likely not doing the requested activity because it is really, really hard for them. They have difficulty getting the message from their brains to their bodies to perform the requested activity. However, through participating in the above suggested activities, the child will learn how to motor plan new tasks more efficiently, which can have a huge impact on his ability to not only learn new motor activities, but can improve his ability to organize, complete academic activities, and even socialize with other children.
By: Andrea De Marino, MHS, OTR/L
Bio: Andrea is an occupational therapist who earned her Master’s Degree in Health Sciences from the Medical College of Georgia in 2006. Her areas of expertise include autism and sensory processing disorder (SPD). She currently owns her own private home-based practice in the North County San Diego area and is passionate about providing humane, effective treatment based on the most current research and treatment practices. For helpful techniques, tips, and information, follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. To find out information about how to qualify for services with her, visit her website at www.sensorysolutionsinc.com.