Delayed Fine Motor Skills in Children

By Amy Sutton
Fine motor skills are what enable children to hold a pencil or a crayon properly.
Fine motor skills are what enable children to hold a pencil or a crayon properly.

Motor skills are movements your body makes using muscles. There are two types of motor skills: gross motor skills and fine motor skills -- both of which children must learn as they grow. Children sometimes fail to meet certain milestones at the same time most others do; this may be due to delayed gross or fine motor skills. Keep track of your child's milestones to ensure she's progressing well with her fine motor skills. If not, there are measures you can take to address this.

Fine Motor Skills

While gross motor skills involve the larger movements of the legs, feet, arms and entire body, like when you run, crawl or roll over, fine motor skills are the smaller types of movements you make with your fingers, wrists, hands, feet, toes, tongue and lips, such as holding a pen or using your tongue to lick something. As your child grows and learns, he will be able to do more and more types of activities using the various parts of his body.


Along the way, there are certain milestones that your pediatrician will expect your child to meet and will likely test for some of them at well-child checkups. By age 1, your baby should be able to drop and pick up a toy and grasp an object, then put it into her mouth. When she hits the 2-year mark, she should be able to throw a ball and scribble with a pen. By age 3, children can usually copy a circle and build a tower with nine small blocks. Your 4-year-old should be able to copy a cross and print some letters. By 5, she can cut out simple shapes and color in the lines.

Causes for Delays

Delays of fine motor skills can happen for a variety of reasons. Not all delays are because of a specific disorder, though. Some children just seem to have more trouble meeting milestones than others. A condition that is linked with delayed gross and fine motor skills is Asperger's syndrome. Children with Asperger's have difficulty with speech, drawing and grasping objects. This is due in large part to low muscle tone. Visual impairment and mental handicaps are also both reasons why kids do not reach fine motor skills milestones on time. If you are concerned with your child's fine motor skills, you should make your child's pediatrician aware of your concerns.

Therapy and Exercises

If your child's pediatrician finds reason for concern, he may recommend exercises for you to do at home with your child or occupational or physical therapy to help your child improve his fine motor skills. Activities you can do at home include playing with blocks or Legos, peeling off stickers, folding paper, turning pages in a book and playing games, like Lite-Brite or Connect Four. In physical or occupational therapy, your child will likely do similar types of play activities, as well as exercises like crawling, leaning on elbows while lying on the belly and playing catch with a ball.