Each month we will continue to explore how occupational therapists can enhance your child’s development through meaningful occupations, including play. Upper extremity strength is fundamental in the development of fine and visual-motor skills. As discussed last month, an upright posture facilitates head alignment, this helps to maintain visual attention and begin coordinating hands and eyes. A strong shoulder and scapula allow for easy and efficient use of the hands. This stability allows for the development of intrinsic (small) muscles of the hand needed for precise and coordinated fine motor movement.
There are several ways to detect if a child has poor upper extremity strength and endurance. They have limited ability to weight bear on their arms when playing on the floor. Weight bear refers to the body’s ability to hold its own weight in any given position. You may notice your child does not use 2 hands to manipulate toys or lies on the floor when playing. Your child may have limited ability to maintain an efficient grasp to writing tools and eating utensils. They have difficulty climbing on playground equipment. When writing or coloring, they do not automatically use their non-dominant hand to stabilize the paper. Writing may be difficult and messy.
Occupational therapists promote your child’s development in this area through the therapeutic use of play and other occupations important to your child. Encouraging the child to crawl or maintain weight-bearing poses/exercises, placing coloring sheets on vertical surfaces, reaching for toys on high surfaces/shelves, playing with cars or trains on the floor, and positioning such as prone on elbows and quadruped are activities that promote upper extremity strength and coordination. A household cooking and cleaning or instrumental activities of daily living (IADL), such as mixing, stirring, rolling dough, washing windows, wiping tables/surfaces, are all functional ways in which we develop and maintain our upper extremity strength and endurance. These activities can be done together as a family and serve a therapeutic purpose. Self-care occupations or activities of daily living (ADL) such as dressing, pulling up undergarments, and pants/shorts, are also ways in which your child develops upper extremity strength and endurance. Encouraging your child to be as independent as possible, fosters their development and strengthens their body. Remember, a little exercise, each day goes a long way. When we work together as a team, we can teach our children to learn speak and grow!
Animal walks including (1) crab crawl (2) quadruped/crawling (3) bear walks are fun exercises that facilitate upper extremity strength and endurance.
Note: Images created by Camilo Tafur and used with permission.
Maritza Tafur, MOTR/L is a bilingual Occupational Therapist who has worked with children and adults on the Autism Spectrum for more than 13 years. She graduated with an M.A. in Occupational Therapy from the University of New Mexico and has a B.A. in Religious Studies from Northern Arizona University. Maritza has worked in various pediatric settings, including clinic and school-based. Her clinical expertise includes child-lead, play-based therapy; sensory integration therapy; improving emotional regulation; and executive functioning. Maritza published an article in OT International in 2009, has traveled and studied extensively throughout Mexico, and studies flamenco.