Unlocking the Mystery of Fine Motor Skills in Autism

, , Leave a comment

Fine motor skills, nope, never had those!

Well, it could look like this, and it still does.. lacking fine motor skills is one of my every day struggle.

My Swedish teacher was convinced I was pulling her leg when I handed in a handwritten book review with my chicken scratch lookalike handwriting in 8th grade. “The language is okay, but reading what you’ve written is very difficult when you don’t focus on handwriting.” I did concentrate, but the letters in my head and those that came out on paper with the pencil aren’t the same. With a lot of imagination, you can make out what it’s supposed to say. The words aren’t lined up neatly either but more like a roller coaster, some on the line, others below, and a few floating like an airplane somewhere above the line marking the row above.

Many individuals with autism struggle with fine motor skills, such as writing, using utensils, buttons, and zippers. These difficulties can impact their ability to perform daily activities and affect their social interactions. It’s important to note that difficulties with fine motor skills and coordination vary from person to person within the autism spectrum, and some individuals with autism don’t experience any difficulties at all. Through training and repetition, fine motor skills and movement coordination can be improved in individuals with autism.

Fine motor skills can be trained through various activities such as:

  • Crafts: For example, painting, paper and pencil drawings, scrapbooking, and pattern cutting can help practice fine motor skills.
  • Sculpting or modeling with clay or playdough can help practice fine motor skills.
  • Cooking and baking: For example, chopping vegetables, measuring and mixing ingredients, are good exercises for fine motor skills.
  • Toys such as beads, dice, Lego blocks, etc., can help practice fine motor skills.
  • Some computer games, such as games where you click with the mouse, can help practice fine motor skills.

I find most of the exercises I’ve been doing over the years to be the most frustrating. Having a creative brain and seeing images and figures that you want to create and then not even being close to producing what you thought is very demoralizing for my troll brain. In school, I found the most boring subjects to be Art and Crafts. With my diagnosis in hand, I understand that it’s because I was just frustrated that the picture of a sailboat only represented a crooked triangle nestled in a ball blanket. And I don’t even want to think about how many times I had to rip up that knitting in 4th grade when we were supposed to knit a ball. Not two stitches in a row were equally tight.

It’s important to find activities that the individual with autism enjoys and is comfortable with so that they see training as a positive and enjoyable experience. As a child, I built with Lego and similar things. I thought that was fun and realize that it’s the security that the pieces only stick in one way that made me like the plastic puzzle. Every building block on the wall landed directly on top of the one below. Incredibly satisfying for my Autistic brain. But it’s also important to vary the exercises and change them now and then to keep the training interesting. Today, I mainly practice my motor skills with things I feel comfortable with. I’ve started typing on the keyboard. I do crafts in various materials, and I’ve become the one who fixes intricate things. These are things that suit me; the difficulty is finding your exercises.

I accepted long ago that I will never learn to write by hand. I can write legibly with large letters in large size. but it will never be more advanced than that. That’s why I’m glad the same Swedish teacher was right when I was in high school. “You may never need to write by hand, computers will help you there.” And yes, it’s my tool that has helped me the most. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been quick to adopt new IT solutions. Being able to file taxes with the help of the computer is a good example. I submitted my first “computer-written” tax return as early as 1995. Long before E-identification and other smart solutions.

Training yields results, but more important than training, I would argue, are aids. You must be able to find a way to manage tasks even before you manage to train your ability. My dad, who had tremendous problems with fine motor skills during his last years, had grips for fork and knife to be able to eat. Some may need an adapted keyboard or a large mouse to use a computer. I find great help in a thick marker when I need to write something on, for example, a package. What’s important is to understand that needs vary greatly from person to person. What works for Sven may not work for Mattias. You must consider the individual.

Aids for you.

Utencils with special grips.

There are some aids that I have personal experience with and that I recommend. My aids have come to me when I discovered the need, with one difference, and that’s the office chair with armrests. There I discovered the need when the aid was there.

My pencil “Bic for kids” is just one of the things that I use to help me navigate my everyday obsticles lacking fine motor skills.
  • Office chair with armrests. If you only knew the difference it made for me when I started using armrests at the desk. I’ve gained precision when clicking with the mouse, something I didn’t perceive as a problem until the problem was solved.
  • Tape measure, I who have been working as a carpenters and so on. Being able to mark with precision is a necessity. The graduations on the tape measure are an incredibly good aid. Using a pen or similar to mark sometimes works, but my markings never end up where I want them, nor are they straight. It becomes annoying when all the pieces I’ve cut are a few millimeters too long… even more so when they’re 2-3 millimeters too short. I love my hultafors marking tape measure, it just makes the day so much easyer.(https://amzn.to/3JELdHc)
  • Bic kids Learner. A pencil that I discovered a few years ago. I live with the awful pink or purple color on my pencil, but it works. I used it daily when I needed to take notes and make markings, and my handwriting becomes at least readable to me. You might think a kids’ pencil is embarrassing, and I did, but it works https://amzn.to/44nm79A. Me and Donald Trump have one thing in common. We like Sharpies. I especially appreciate my pen, which is a bit thicker, oval in shape, and for some reason, what I write turns out much better right away https://amzn.to/3WirCEb. When I’m in my hobby workshop, I’m about to be something of an expert at using jigs and clamps. This to keep the things I work with still. Having support for the small things is considerably more important than you think. If I free up one hand, I can use both hands for what I’m doing, incredibly important.
  • Magnets and magnetizers. I don’t really understand myself how I could get small screws in place before. The last time I praised this gadget was when I used an instrument screwdriver to change the control sticks on my son’s Nintendo Switch controller. I now almost always have a magnetized screwdriver, and in my toolbox, there are always a few small neodymium magnets that I attach to the extension, the screwdriver or wrench when the screw doesn’t want to go where I want it to. https://amzn.to/3QpnsqC
  • The electric toothbrush. It took me a few years of use before I really began to appreciate how good it really is. I, who have always had poor dental health, have gone from bad to having no new cavities in the past five years. A life-changing aid that I wish I had discovered much earlier. https://amzn.to/44gyofP
  • My dad, who had major problems with fine motor skills, had a multitude of different grips. There were utensils, toothbrushes, etc. I have tested some of these grips that you pull on like a sock on the things you need help with, but for me, it feels more like a last resort when nothing else works. If I can find a pen with an ergonomic grip that’s right, it will work much better than putting a “sock” on the pencil. I found a set of cutlery with thick plastic handles for my dad a year before he passed away, and he expressed himself that it worked better than those rubber caps.

Train your motor skills, it gets better but it takes time. And in the meantime, don’t be afraid to search for aids.

I was born in 1977. I have a diagnosis of high-functioning autism and understand the world in a different way than others. My Autism blog helps me, who received an autism diagnosis when I was 41 years old, to try to understand myself and my surroundings from a different perspective. I have been writing on my blog since January 2023.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.