Signs & Symptoms

Motor Planning

Is your child unable to catch a ball?

Some children struggle with their coordination and may have more difficulty with athletics than others do. These problems may become evident to you while watching your child play at the park. Your child may be unsteady on the play structure, have trouble climbing the ladder of the slide, or struggle getting onto the swings. Your child might not like hopscotch, or he may struggle to catch a ball.

Coordination may be a problem if your child’s skills are outside the typical developmental trajectory. For example, a child who is 24 months old may be able to catch a beach ball but would likely struggle with a smaller ball like a tennis ball. Coordination should become more fluid as your child ages.

If your child continues to watch peers mature, while he or she stays behind, an issue with motor development could be the cause. Your child may be feeling tired of being ‘the last one picked’ for the team in baseball. It may be that your child is failing P.E. class. You may have tried to introduce your child to multiple sports, finding that he does not enjoy them and drops out.

This struggle is only a problem when it starts ‘getting in the way.’ If your child feels socially isolated and left out of things due to poor motor skills, it is worthwhile to look into the issue further. However, some children may shy away from sports but find other activities they enjoy instead.

Maybe P.E. class is not their favorite activity, but they are not experiencing distress over it. In that case, a cause for concern may not be present. If, however, your child is feeling very frustrated and discouraged by poor motor skills, treatments are available that may be helpful.

What do challenges with Motor Planning look like?

  • Missing the Ball?
  • Demonstrating poor hand-eye coordination?
  • Having trouble catching a ball or throwing a ball?
  • Not showing interest in sports or struggling to participate in P.E. class?
  • Earning high grades in many subjects while failing P.E.?
  • Avoiding physical activity for fear of falling down, or being laughed at for lack of athleticism?
  • Not learning how to do jumping jacks?
  • Appearing inefficient with movement during dressing tasks?
  • Having difficulty picking what do on at the playground?
  • Appearing clumsy and slow when doing puzzles, writing, or cutting?

Why is Motor Planning happening?

If a child has deficits in motor planning, the parts of the brain (parietal lobe and basal ganglia) responsible for planning and executing gross motor movements may not be working smoothly. Gross motor planning is the ability to visually make these judgments and then to direct one’s body toward the intended goal.The first aspect to consider with the inability to catch a ball is the typical developmental course. A simple guide is provided here to help you. If your child is a tad behind, it is quite possible he or she will catch up. 

A typical course is as follows (Linder, 2008, p.59-60):

  • 24 months (2 years): Can toss a ball toward a larger target; can kick a ball forward
  • 36 months (3 years): Can catch a ten-inch ball against chest
  • 42 months: Can throw a ball 5-7 feet
  • 60 months (5 years): Can throw smoothly, aimed at target; can line up body with ball to catch with elbows at sides; can hit a baseball using a bat

Gross motor planning problems are only concerning if they “get in the way” of goals and activities.

How can I manage Motor Planning at home?

Consider whether your child may benefit from therapy like Occupational Therapy (OT) or Physical Therapy (PT).

Occupational therapy: OT helps to strengthen fine motor skills like writing, drawing, beading, etc. OT can also help to provide sensory input or modifications, work to strengthen the core, and address bilateral coordination (using both sides of the body) during everyday tasks.

Physical therapy: PT is recommended for challenges with ambulation and gait, such as running, walking, and movement. If your child has significant impact from a genetic condition, such as Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, Spina Bifida, Rett syndrome, and other genetic conditions, a full treatment plan would include physical therapy and other types of therapies to address his or her cognitive, social-emotional, or speech delays.

At home: Encourage participation in sports that do not have as much emphasis on these areas. Perhaps avoiding team softball or soccer will take away the pressure to be well coordinated. Meanwhile, sports like running, swimming, yoga, dance, and martial arts may allow your child to improve his or her confidence and to strengthen his or her body. Coordination can improve with strengthening and activity. Work with your child to find a sport that fits his or her interest. Getting into the rhythm of being active will form good fitness habits that can continue throughout your child’s life.

Additional ideas to help improve your child’s motor planning skills

  • breaking down the task and practicing step by step
  • playing balloon tap back and forth with your hands or rackets
  • making a fun game out of being statues and having the child copy the exact pose you are in (can make it harder by copying a series of motion) or follow the leader
  • engaging in proprioceptive input prior to completing gross motor tasks can help increase coordination and body awareness, such as wall-push ups, crab walking, or carrying heavy objects (e.g., books, weighted stuffed animals, or laundry)
  • having the child plan and complete an obstacle course
  • encouraging the child to plan a craft activity from start to finish and complete it
  • board games such as Don’t Break the Ice, Feed the Woozle, or Jenga
  • completing dot to dots and mazes
  • lacing cards
  • stacking legos and blocks
  • climbing through hula hoops in various positions

How can Clear Child Psychology help with Motor Planning?

If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his or her learning, relationships, or happiness, it’s time to seek professional help.

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