Areas of difficulty that may contribute to obvious motor challenges include deficits in motor planning, gross or fine motor coordination, or visual spatial processing. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Motor planning includes planning and fluidly executing motor movements. Fine motor refers to small movements of the hands, handwriting, beading, unwrapping. Gross motor refers to big body movements. Visual Spatial Processing is visually interpreting how things go together. Skills like reading and map, packing a car or visually tracking and ball through the air involve visual spatial skills. Not all children have the motor coordination required to excel at sports. Maybe your child’s hand eye coordination is not going to earn her a spot on the Olympic softball team. In this section we are focusing in challenges in motor and visual domains that cause impairment. Handwriting that is illegible may cause impairment in writing tasks a school. Gross motor skill deficits may impact your child’s ability to run fluidly without falling and getting hurt. The inability to complete a puzzle or read a map or graph may impair school performance in geography or math. It is when these symptoms take over and impact day-to-day activities requiring movement and visual processing that it is important to intervene. Challenges will most likely be evident in school and at home. These problems may be evident early in motor milestones like crawling, walking, running, jumping, and climbing stairs during toddler development.
When motor challenges cause significant distress there may be a diagnosis that could explain the problem. Children with Learning Disabilities, Cognitive Deficits, Developmental Coordination Disorder, or Autism Spectrum Disorder may be struggling with “moving.” All of these manifestations would be different and understanding why there are challenges can help determine the best course of treatment or support for visual spatial and motor challenges. Learning Disabilities like dyslexia, dysgraphia or dyscalculia may involve visual processing or motor planning deficits that impact academics in reading, writing or math. Cognitive Deficits like Intellectual Disabilities include cognitive and adaptive deficits that may include challenges in motor skills, visual spatial processing or processing speed. Cognition includes aspects of visual and motor processing, though verbal and nonverbal reasoning abilities are most central to cognitive development. Developmental Coordination Disorder includes challenges in visual motor integration and motor coordination that impact fine motor tasks like handwriting. Autism Spectrum Disorder includes sensory processing differences as well as differences in motor planning. Some children with Autism have restricted and repetitive behaviors some of which include motor overflow resulting in repetitive body or hand movements. Often children with ASD have coordination challenges.
Some children’s neurological systems are wired differently resulting in sensory processing differences. Many people have some sensory sensitivities. For example, when people say ‘it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard;’ this is a sensory sensitivity. Often people are annoyed by certain textures such as velvet fabrics. It is when these sensory sensitivities get in the way of the child’s happiness or day-to-day functioning, that intervention is required. Sensory issues may include sensitivity to certain sights or bright lights; smell sensitivities to certain foods, products, or perfumes. Sound sensitivities tend to be evident when a child becomes very irritated in a noisy room; often covering ears, hiding, or screeching in response. Taste and texture sensitivities may be the culprit when a child is an extremely picky eater. Tactile sensitivities may be present if a child cannot wear socks; can’t stand a belt or waistband, or must have all tags removed from clothing. Some children have difficulties with balance and motion (aka. Vestibular processing). Children with such sensitivities may become ill from swinging on the playground or riding the merry-go-round, and may not be able to ride a bike due to difficulties with balance. Muscle and joint sensitivities may be evident when a child avoids physical activities; or alternatively, seeks out sensory input by jumping off of high places, rolling, or running into walls.
Sensory regulation occurs in the somatosensory cortex of the brain and in the nervous system. This is the reason for the popular phrase, ‘that’s getting on my nerves.’ Sensory sensitivities are a sign that this system is not as well-regulated as it should be. On this site, we believe, in accordance with the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association, that ‘Sensory Processing’ is not a disorder in itself. Rather, sensory needs tend to occur as a symptom of a disability. Some disabilities that have sensory processing symptoms include AD/HD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Developmental Coordination Disorder and anxiety disorders. Often sensory and motor challenges may go together.
Moving and Sensing
Sensorimotor development begins in early childhood as children use their senses to explore the world around them. Considering the information provided in these articles may help you determine whether sensorimotor symptoms such as difficulty catching a ball, awkward gait, poor handwriting, difficulty drawing, poor depth perception, clumsiness, sensation seeking, sensitivity to touch or sound, difficulty with balance or texture, trouble with puzzles, maps or graphs, poor visual memory, trouble with nonverbal cues, or poor attention to visual detail are interfering with your child’s day to day life. It may be important to consider whether extra practice and modification of tasks or expectations will be enough or whether your concern will require more support for your child from a professional like an occupational therapist, physical therapist, behavioral therapist, tutor, school psychologist or counselor.