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Gross Motor Skills Children With Autism

Explore the unique journey of children with autism as they develop gross motor skills, filled with triumphs, challenges, and the unwavering support of caregivers.

mark elias
Mark Elias
February 29, 2024

Gross Motor Skills and Autism

Understanding the relationship between gross motor skills and autism is crucial for effectively supporting the development of these skills in children on the autism spectrum. Let's explore what gross motor skills are and how autism can impact their development.

Understanding Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills refer to the abilities that involve the use of large muscle groups and the coordination of movements. These skills are essential for activities such as running, jumping, climbing, and balancing. Gross motor skills contribute to overall physical development, coordination, and body awareness.

Examples of Gross Motor Skills:

  • Walking and running
  • Jumping and hopping
  • Climbing stairs and playground equipment
  • Throwing and catching a ball
  • Riding a bike or scooter

How Autism Can Impact Gross Motor Skills Development

Children with autism may experience challenges in the development of gross motor skills. The impact can vary from mild to significant, depending on the individual. Some factors that can affect gross motor skills development in children with autism include:

  • Sensory Processing Differences: Many children with autism have sensory processing differences, which can affect their ability to process and respond to sensory stimuli. This can impact their coordination, balance, and motor planning abilities.
  • Motor Planning and Praxis Difficulties: Motor planning refers to the ability to plan and execute coordinated movements. Children with autism may experience difficulties with motor planning and praxis, which can affect their ability to perform complex gross motor tasks.
  • Hypotonia or Hypertonia: Some children with autism may have differences in muscle tone. Hypotonia refers to low muscle tone, which can make it challenging to maintain posture and perform gross motor movements. On the other hand, hypertonia refers to increased muscle tone, which can impact flexibility and fluidity of movements.
  • Stereotyped or Repetitive Behaviors: Children with autism may engage in stereotyped or repetitive behaviors, such as hand flapping or rocking. These behaviors can interfere with gross motor skills development by diverting attention away from other activities or hindering the exploration of new movements.

Understanding how autism can impact gross motor skills development is crucial for developing effective strategies and interventions to support children on the autism spectrum. By addressing the specific challenges faced by individuals with autism, we can help them improve their gross motor skills and enhance their overall physical well-being.

Importance of Supporting Gross Motor Skills in Children with Autism

When it comes to children with autism, supporting the development of gross motor skills is of utmost importance. Gross motor skills refer to the ability to control and coordinate the large muscles of the body to perform various physical activities. These skills play a crucial role in a child's overall development and can significantly impact their daily life and interactions with others.

Benefits of Developing Gross Motor Skills

Developing gross motor skills in children with autism offers a wide range of benefits. These skills are not only essential for physical health but also contribute to their cognitive, social, and emotional well-being. Some key benefits of supporting gross motor skills development include:

  • Physical Fitness: Engaging in gross motor activities helps children with autism improve their overall physical fitness, strength, balance, and coordination. Regular physical activity can lead to better cardiovascular health, improved muscle tone, and increased endurance.
  • Independence and Daily Living: Developing gross motor skills enables children to perform essential daily activities independently. Skills such as walking, running, climbing stairs, and dressing themselves contribute to their sense of autonomy and self-confidence.
  • Social Interaction: Gross motor activities often involve interaction with peers, siblings, or caregivers. Participating in group activities promotes socialization, cooperation, and turn-taking skills, helping children with autism develop relationships and enhance their social interactions.
  • Cognitive Development: Engaging in gross motor activities stimulates cognitive development by enhancing attention, focus, problem-solving, and spatial awareness. These activities also provide opportunities for children to practice following instructions and sequencing movements.

Challenges Faced by Children with Autism

Children with autism may face unique challenges when it comes to developing gross motor skills. Some common challenges include:

  • Motor Planning and Coordination: Children with autism may experience difficulties with motor planning and coordination, making it challenging to execute complex movements and sequences.
  • Sensory Sensitivities: Sensory sensitivities are common in individuals with autism. Certain sensory stimuli, such as loud noises, bright lights, or certain textures, may be overwhelming and affect their engagement in gross motor activities.
  • Social and Communication Difficulties: Children with autism may struggle with social and communication skills, which can impact their ability to participate in group activities or follow verbal instructions during gross motor tasks.

Understanding the importance of supporting gross motor skills in children with autism and being aware of the challenges they may face is crucial for providing the necessary support and interventions. By addressing these challenges and providing appropriate opportunities for gross motor skill development, we can help children with autism reach their full potential and enhance their overall well-being.

Strategies for Supporting Gross Motor Skills Development

To promote the development of gross motor skills in children with autism, several strategies can be employed. These strategies focus on early intervention and therapy, creating a supportive environment, and utilizing adaptive equipment and tools.

Early Intervention and Therapy

Early intervention plays a crucial role in supporting the development of gross motor skills in children with autism. It involves identifying and addressing any delays or challenges in motor development at an early stage. Early intervention programs may include occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy, depending on the specific needs of the child.

These therapy sessions are designed to target specific motor skills, such as balance, coordination, and strength. Therapists use a variety of techniques and exercises to engage children in purposeful movement, helping them improve their motor skills and overall physical abilities.

Creating a Supportive Environment

Creating a supportive environment is key to fostering the development of gross motor skills in children with autism. An environment that is safe, structured, and sensory-friendly can positively impact a child's engagement and participation in physical activities.

Here are some strategies to create a supportive environment:

  • Clear and consistent schedules: Establishing a predictable routine helps children with autism feel secure and comfortable in their surroundings. This predictability allows them to anticipate and prepare for physical activities.
  • Visual supports: Visual schedules, visual timers, and visual prompts can help children with autism better understand and follow instructions during physical activities. Visual supports provide a visual representation of the task or activity, enhancing comprehension and reducing anxiety.
  • Sensory considerations: Sensory sensitivities are common in children with autism. It's important to create an environment that takes into account their sensory needs. This may involve providing sensory breaks, using adaptive equipment to address sensory sensitivities, or modifying the environment to reduce sensory overload.

Adaptive Equipment and Tools

Adaptive equipment and tools can significantly support the development of gross motor skills in children with autism. These tools are designed to provide additional support, safety, and accessibility during physical activities. They can help children with autism overcome challenges and engage in activities that may otherwise be difficult for them.

Here are some examples of adaptive equipment and tools:

Equipment/Tool and Purpose

  • Balance boards: Improve balance and coordination.
  • Therapy balls: Enhance core strength and stability.
  • Weighted vests: Provide deep pressure input to promote body awareness.
  • Scooters or tricycles with support: Assist with mobility and strengthen leg muscles.
  • Visual cues or pictorial instructions: Aid in task completion and sequencing.

By incorporating these strategies into the daily routines of children with autism, caregivers and therapists can provide the necessary support to enhance gross motor skills development. It's important to tailor these strategies to each child's individual needs and abilities, ensuring a holistic approach that promotes growth, progress, and enjoyment in physical activities.

Activities to Promote Gross Motor Skills in Children with Autism

Engaging in activities that promote gross motor skills development is crucial for children with autism. These activities help improve coordination, balance, strength, and overall physical abilities. In this section, we will explore three types of activities that can be beneficial for children with autism: balancing and coordination activities, strength and endurance building exercises, and active play and recreation.

Balancing and Coordination Activities

Balancing and coordination activities can enhance a child's ability to control their body movements and maintain stability. These activities help improve posture, spatial awareness, and overall motor control. Here are some examples of balancing and coordination activities that can be incorporated into a child's routine:

  • Walking along a balance beam
  • Standing on one leg
  • Playing games that involve hopping or skipping
  • Using a therapy ball for sitting and balance exercises
  • Participating in yoga or tai chi sessions

By engaging in these activities, children with autism can develop a sense of body awareness and improve their balance and coordination skills.

Strength and Endurance Building Exercises

Strength and endurance building exercises are crucial for developing the muscles needed for various physical tasks. These activities help improve overall strength, stamina, and body control. Here are some examples of strength and endurance building exercises suitable for children with autism:

  • Push-ups and modified push-ups
  • Planks or modified planks
  • Jumping jacks
  • Swimming or water exercises
  • Riding a bike or scooter
  • Climbing on playground equipment

Engaging in these exercises can help children with autism build muscle strength, improve endurance, and enhance their overall physical capabilities.

Active Play and Recreation

Active play and recreation are important for promoting gross motor skills development while ensuring children with autism have fun and enjoy physical activities. Encouraging children to take part in active play not only supports their physical well-being but also provides opportunities for social interaction and sensory exploration. Here are some examples of active play and recreational activities:

  • Playing tag or other running games
  • Participating in team sports like soccer or basketball
  • Dancing or taking part in movement-based activities
  • Jumping on a trampoline
  • Engaging in outdoor activities like hiking or nature walks

These activities can help children with autism improve their gross motor skills while fostering social connections and sensory experiences.

By incorporating these activities into the daily routine of children with autism, caregivers and educators can provide opportunities for them to develop and enhance their gross motor skills. It's important to ensure that the activities are age-appropriate, tailored to individual abilities, and supervised to ensure safety. Celebrate each child's progress, no matter how small, and provide a supportive and encouraging environment to facilitate their growth and development.

Tips for Success

Supporting the gross motor skills development of children with autism requires a thoughtful and individualized approach. Here are some tips to help caregivers and educators create a supportive environment for their children:

Individualized Approach

Every child with autism is unique, and their gross motor skills development should be approached with an individualized plan. Understand and consider the specific needs, strengths, and challenges of the child. Collaborate with therapists, educators, and healthcare professionals to develop a tailored program that addresses their specific goals and abilities.

Tips for an Individualized Approach

  • Conduct a thorough assessment of the child's current gross motor skills
  • Set realistic and achievable goals based on their abilities
  • Modify activities and exercises to suit their specific needs and interests
  • Keep track of their progress and make adjustments as needed

Patience and Persistence

Patience and persistence are essential when supporting children with autism in developing their gross motor skills. Progress may be gradual, and it's important to provide a supportive and non-judgmental environment. Celebrate small victories and remain patient during setbacks.

Tips for Patience and Persistence

  • Break down activities into smaller, manageable steps
  • Allow the child to move at their own pace
  • Provide verbal and visual cues to reinforce instructions
  • Offer positive reinforcement and encouragement for their efforts

Celebrating Progress

Recognizing and celebrating the progress made by children with autism in their gross motor skills development is crucial for boosting their self-confidence and motivation. Celebrate both big and small achievements, as each step forward is a significant accomplishment.

Tips for Celebrating Progress

  • Acknowledge and praise their efforts and improvements
  • Use positive reinforcement techniques, such as verbal praise or rewards
  • Involve family members, friends, and educators in celebrating milestones
  • Keep a record of their progress to reflect on their journey

By adopting an individualized approach, practicing patience and persistence, and celebrating the progress made, caregivers and educators can support children with autism in their gross motor skills development. Remember that each child's journey is unique, and with the right support and guidance, they can achieve their full potential.


The journey of developing gross motor skills in children with autism is a deeply personal and often challenging one. Yet, within the struggles lie moments of incredible triumph and resilience.

With patience, support, and understanding, these children can overcome obstacles and achieve milestones, showcasing their remarkable strength and determination. As we continue to walk alongside them, celebrating each step forward, let us never underestimate the power of love and encouragement in helping them reach their full potential.