Child has difficulty climbing, walking on a bench, and running
My son Leo turned three in October. He has been attending preschool since September. His early childhood educator has expressed concern in regards to Leo's motor skills. She feels they are less developed in comparison with the motor skills of the other children in her group. He has difficulty climbing, walking on a bench, and running. For example, he tends to run in the opposite direction. Since he runs slower and not as well as the other children, he is afraid the other children will run into him. For this reason, he prefers to see them in front of him.
At home, we have noticed that he seems to sway back and forth when he walks and this is even more noticeable when he runs. We have seen an osteopath with him and he did not feel there was anything wrong. However, since he also noticed the swaying, he encouraged us to see a pediatric surgeon with Leo in spite of the fact that, from a physiological point of view, he feels everything is normal and he is not worried about the way he walks.
Recently, his early childhood educator has been focusing on this problem a great deal. I am left wondering what to do, especially since beyond his somewhat chaotic way of walking, he is unable to jump or put his coat and shoes on independently (I think this is just laziness and due to the fact that he counts on me to do it for him).
There may not be a major issue behind all of this and I may just be worrying for no reason, but I would appreciate your opinion and any suggestions you may have based on your expertise. Do you think I should consult an occupational therapist?
Having an occupational therapist evaluate Leo may help address some of your concerns by targeting his weaker capacities in relation with the functional challenges he is experiencing. That being said, I would question your son's body awareness. Can he feel his body placement when his eyes are closed? Does he understand how his body is organized? Is he able to visualize the actions he is asked to perform?
The precise execution of a specific movement requires a clear desire to perform this movement (I want to jump) and the capacity to imagine oneself successfully performing it. This makes a motion planning process (determining the correct sequence and the combination of muscles that need to be activated) possible. Visualizing the movement will guarantee an efficient feedback process (comparing one's performance with the initial plan). For example, your child could realize that he applied too much force when executing the movement.
Working with your son to develop his body map may be helpful. You can help him understand how his various body parts are organized in relation to each other and his environment using these suggestions:
- Massage him gently, naming each body part you touch. Eventually, ask him to name or point to the corresponding body parts on a drawing as you massage him.
- Use a variety of activities involving accessories, makeup, stickers, silly faces, and dancing to explore his body in front of a mirror.
- Make the connection between his body and someone else's body to foster movement imitation through the understanding of the other person's movements. For example, an adult can place a sticker on one of his/her body parts and have the child place a sticker on his corresponding body part.
- Introduce movement imitation games such as the mirror game (standing face to face with an adult, the child must reproduce each of the adult's movements). You can also dance and encourage him to imitate your every move.
- Puzzles that require assembling body parts.
- Step by step, help him learn to draw a stick person or more complex character, paying attention to organizing various body parts and the intention to draw a simple character. Ignore aesthetic aspects of the drawing since your child's fine motor skills are still immature.
- Work on spatial concepts with hide-and-seek games and obstacle races (through the tunnel, over the cushion, behind the chair, etc.).
- Use drawings to represent the physical actions you want him to perform (a character who is jumping) and the different steps involved, if necessary.
- Associate sounds and/or illustrations with physical actions to make the steps required clear for your son.
- Simplify the challenges involved when teaching him new actions to ensure he stays motivated. He can, for example, complete only one step when putting on his coat, such as pulling the zipper up.
- Make the learning process meaningful for him. For example, use costumes to help him practice putting his coat or shoes on.
- Clear your area to provide plenty of room for him to practice various motor skills. Ideally, limit distractions (people, noise, etc.).
Josiane Caron Santha, Occcupational therapist
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