By: Nina Chesno
At the Therapy Place, our Occupational Therapists specialize in hand strengthening exercises to develop or improve children’s hand skills to enable fine motor skills for daily living skills. The goal of this kind of Occupational therapy is to create hand strengthening activities for children who struggle with fine motor skills.
Who Needs Hand Strengthening Exercises?
This can be used with children who have developmental delays, children with autism, those with learning difficulties, or anyone with other disabilities such as cerebral palsy. It can also be used for children who have been injured, for example in a motor vehicle accident or cut their hand on glass would need a hand splint followed by hand occupational therapy to rehabilitate their hand skills. This can involve their upper body, extremities as well as hand movements.
The Occupational Therapist encourages children to experience success in therapy and for them to become more confident and attempt new tasks. This is achieved by making occupational hand therapy exciting and motivating them by giving praise and rewards in the form of stars, treats, or fun games.
Your child’s feelings of disappointment or frustration may result in them refusing to attempt difficult hand strengthening exercises. Occupational therapists have training in psychology and are acutely aware when a child is feeling frustrated are anxious.
Signs Your Child Could Benefit From Occupational Hand Therapy
Parents often ask how they will know if their child needs occupational therapy for strengthening and improving their hand skills. Below are some telltale signs that your child could benefit from occupational hand therapy:
- A baby’s inability to hold a parent’s finger.
- An inability to reach for toys, grasp them and use their fine motor hand skills to put toys in a pegboard or blocks on top of each other.
- Children whose motor milestones of sitting and crawling are delayed.
- Children who avoid fine motor hand tasks, such as drawing, painting, or manipulating fine motor hand movements.
- Incorrect pencil control results in difficulty tracing, formulating letters, and writing.
- Difficulty using both hands at the same time to play video games.
- Difficulty manipulating the small keys of a cell phone.
In an ideal situation, hand strengthening exercises will be provided to children early on in their development. This is referred to as early intervention, and it is often considered the best way to ensure your child gets the help they need.
It may seem odd to have an occupational therapist providing your baby with hand exercises, but they are trained to know a variety of exercises that can work for any child. So even if your child is young, if you think they may be presenting signs of developmental delays, it’s important to intervene as early as possible and speak with an occupational therapist.
The hand exercises the therapist will provide are vital for the baby’s development, as, without the ability to grasp and manipulate toys, their abilities with functional tasks, such as learning to pick up cheerios for eating, using a spoon and a fork will be severely limited.
Parents are usually given a home program so that they know what hand and finger exercises. The occupational therapist has taught their child and for them as a parent to reinforce at home to achieve carry-over of skills for functional daily living.
A common task is when parents will be encouraged to put their babies on their tummies to strengthen their core muscles and to place toys in a position where they need to extend their hands and fingers to pick them up. This is referred to as “Tummy time”, and it must be done many times a day.
Often the Occupational therapist will do a home visit and demonstrate fun activities to the parents as well as to older siblings. This empowers them to help their younger sibling improve their hand skills and upper body movements.
A parent often gets overwhelmed in juggling time to care for their child with delayed development or a disability. Help is always at hand and there are many resources available to help parents to provide additional care if necessary.
Your first port of call should be your primary healthcare practitioner who will refer you to the best appropriate resources required for early intervention which may include a Pediatrician, Occupational, Speech, and Physical Therapists. There are also wonderful parent support groups so you don’t have to go it alone!
In The Classroom
The precision of movements required for fine motor hand skills will be developed in occupational therapy to enable a child to cope in the classroom. These fine motor tasks include holding a crayon and pencil correctly for drawing and handwriting. Several of these activities require the child to perform different hand movements at the same time in a coordinated way. This is called Bilateral Integration.
In Occupational hand therapy, the therapist will teach the child how to use the non-dominant hand to assist by holding and stabilizing objects. This frees up and enables the dominant hand to perform more precise functional movements.
These hand therapy exercises are relevant for all children, particularly in the classroom where children must learn to hold the paper with the non-dominant hand and write with the dominant.
Cutting is a skill that requires bilateral motor coordination as well as fine motor hand movements. Some children require smaller scissors or left-handed scissors.
Finger painting or painting with different-sized brushes gives the child opportunities to practice different hand grips required to develop their fine motor hand skills.
Shoulder Girdle Stability
Occupational therapists also work on achieving good shoulder girdle stability, as this enables children to control the smaller movements of the hands and fingers. Many gross motor activities help strengthen their shoulder girdle as well as their other core muscles.
The occupational therapist will provide parents with gross motor activity exercises to develop the child’s fine motor hand skills. Encourage your child to play outside running, throwing, and catching balls.Physical therapists also work on shoulder girdle stability. This involves the upper body of the shoulder and back muscles. They work in a team with the Occupational therapist and parents to achieve maximum progress. Teachers can play a game where all the children sit on their chairs and push down to strengthen their hand and shoulder stability.
What You Can Do At Home
Even without an occupational therapist present, you as a parent can work on certain skills with your child. The following occupational therapy exercises can be used to improve children’s fine motor hand and upper body skills at home:
This involves the child lifting themselves with their hands behind their back and walking backward for a few minutes with their back up. It can be helpful to give your child a demonstration of how it should be done since it might be confusing to them at first. If you have multiple children, you can even turn this into a fun game, and the children will never know they’re doing therapy exercises!
Encourage your child to play outside, walk, run and play sports. These all help to strengthen their core muscles which affect the child’s ability to sit upright on a chair in the classroom for an extended time.
This is when the child lies on his tummy and pulls themselves along with their elbows on a mat. It’s also sometimes referred to as army crawling. This not only creates good hand patterns but also increases core motor skills for better shoulder stability.
Pushing Against Something
Another way you can work with your child to strengthen their hands is to have them push against something solid. This can be your own hands, against a wall, or pushing a ball up against a wall. This will improve strength in their hands and will encourage them to work on stability.
In conclusion, remember to enjoy your child despite the difficulties he may be experiencing. Our therapists at The Therapy Place are here to assist you with any concerns you may have regarding your children’s development.
Front. Neurol., 06 January 2015 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2014.00281