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Spring 99 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Fine Motor Development

Reprinted with permission from Awareness, Spring 1996
Published by the National Association of Parents of the Visually Impaired

Editor's note: These materials were prepared by the Early Childhood Unit of the Overbrook School for the Blind especially for use by parents in the home with young children who are blind or visually impaired.

Your baby's fine motor development is crucial. He/she needs to learn to use his/her hands well in order to manipulate toys and to acquire self-help skills such as feeding and dressing.

Babies who have good vision explore their environments from the very beginning by using their sight. They learn to coordinate their eye and hand movements so that they can soon manipulate a variety of toys and use their hands well. The beginning of "reaching" occurs with a baby's eyes. Babies who are blind or visually impaired must learn to coordinate the movements of their hands and arms with their hearing. They need to learn to use their hands in ways which will be functional, motivating and enjoyable. Your baby will need extra practice and many, many opportunities to learn to use his/her hands. Babies who do not use their hands for motivating and useful activities may begin to develop behaviors such as hand or finger flicking or tapping on a surface. Hands which are "busy" playing with toys are less likely to be used for self-stimulatory behaviors.

Play is a child's "work." Babies and young children need to have plenty of opportunities to play. Those who are blind or visually impaired need to be shown how to play with toys; they need to get satisfaction from their play so that they will be motivated to continue to explore and play. The goal is for them to get as much information as possible through their hands and to take that information and use it in meaningful ways.

All fine motor activities (i.e., braille, writing, hand writing, eating, dressing, etc.) are built upon four important skills. These four skills must be learned before a child can go on to more complicated tasks. They are:

The connection between weight bearing and learning to use one's hands is very important. Weight bearing gives the kind of feedback that makes the baby aware of his/her arms and hands, and shows him/her how he/she can use them. Weight bearing causes a baby to open his/her hands, straighten out his/her arms, and raise his/her head and trunk.

Reaching and Grasping

Grasping is the ability to hold onto objects and use them for specific purposes. Young babies have a reflexive grasp; their hands automatically close tightly when pressure or stimulation is applied to their palms. As a baby becomes more aware of his/her hands, he/she is able to open them voluntarily and develop a "true" grasp. The reflexive grasp is inhibited as a baby takes more and more weight on his/her hands. It is replaces by a series of different holding methods which, over time, involve more thumb participation. You cannot teach your child to grasp, but by observing the type of grasp your child shows, you can provide toys and activities that will help him/her move along to the next developmental step.

Some Ideas

Bilateral Coordination

Bilateral coordination is the ability to use both hands together to manipulate an object. This begins at an early age where an infant is observed to hold objects using two hands (in midline), progressing through transferring objects from hand to hand, to where each hand is used for different functions.

It is very important that children who are visually impaired or blind learn to manipulate toys well with their hands. When their hands are "busy" playing appropriately with toys, they are taking in a lot of information and learning from their environment. They are also less likely to use their hands for self-stimulatory behaviors such as eye poking or tapping. Following are some suggestions to help your child to use his/her two hands in a coordinated fashion:

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Last Revision: September 4, 2003