15 Ways to Increase Motor Skills in Children with Autism and Special Needs

Motor skills are simply our ability to move parts of our body. It's a term that can cover a wide variety of movements. It can include hand movements, the control of limbs, and precise actions of the whole body. Motor skills help us perform tasks that we might otherwise find difficult or impossible. They help us do things like write, type, or rake leaves. As children, our motor skills help us learn how to do basic things, such as how to walk, how to feed ourselves, and how to tie our shoes or hold pencils. Our motor skills later grow and develop as we get older, giving us the capability to do more advanced tasks.  

A lack of motor skills is one of the many symptoms of autism. The lack of these skills can cause a variety of problems, such as difficulty with walking, hand-eye coordination, swallowing, and such.  One of the most effective ways to increase motor skills is through play. The following activities can help in building motor skills in children with autism and special needs. 

1. Legos. 

A child playing with Legos

Playing with Legos and stacking building blocks help with a lot more than just providing kids with hours of entertainment. Research has shown that playing with these blocks helps improve a child’s motor skills and their creativity. Legos also help in improving hand-eye coordination and help in building self-esteem by encouraging them to try new things. 

2. Puzzles. 

Puzzles are great for kids with Autism because not only do they help them develop motor skills, but they can also increase cognitive and social skills. Puzzles force kids to solve problems and work through challenges to solve the puzzle. This has an impact on kids who can't solve a problem through social interactions. They also stimulate thought, creativity, imagination, and problem-solving.   

3. Sand Play. 

Playing with sand can be a great way to increase motor skills in children with autism. It is also a great way to engage children in a play-based approach and to help improve confidence. The interaction between their hands and the lightweight sand can stimulate the muscles and boost their strength. The process of creating structures with it can also be a lot of fun. Building castles, dunes, pyramids, and forts are some activities kids can do with sand play. 

4. Water Play. 

Playing with water is a great way to have fun and to practice motor skills. It’s challenging and stimulating for children with autism. Putting water into a container and then pouring it out is a great way to practice. You can also fill up a syringe with water and practice pushing it out. Playing with water can also help boost sensory processing skills, exercise the muscles, and ease anxiety. 

5. Knots and Bows. 

One way to work on your child’s motor skills when they have autism is by tying knots and bows in strings or making simple shapes with pipe cleaners. Regardless of which material you use, play with it for at least 5-10 minutes to get the best benefit to the child. Playing with beads is also another great way to improve the motor skills of these children. Beads can be strung together, and held with hands to improve on dexterity. 

6. Tweezers. 

If you have a child with autism, some simple exercises can help to improve their motor skills. Getting them to use tweezers to pick up objects, like buttons, coins or small objects they’re interested in, and put them into a bowl can encourage small muscle groups to grow and to get stronger and a marked increase in concentration. Do this in a safe controlled environment since small objects are involved and don't be surprised to see many creative ideas popping in their heads. 

7. Cutting. 

Use child-size or adaptive scissors to help them learn to cut paper. First get them to maintain grip and learn to position the scissors on their own and then teach them to open and close the scissors. You can encourage your child to begin cutting using a thick piece of stock paper or construction paper when they're ready. Get them to cut straight lines and once they can do that, let them cut different types of lines including zigzags, wavy lines, and dotted lines. Use creativity to the hilt by getting them to cut different shapes and on different thicknesses of paper. This is a great way to work on their motor skills. 

8. Play Dough. 

Play-based activities like play dough are a wonderful way to teach kids new skills. Kids can develop their motor skills by rolling, squeezing, and forming their dough or clay into different shapes. It’s also a great way to get rid of some pent-up energy that kids can have. It’s a fun, creative activity that can benefit children with autism. Through play dough, children are able to express themselves and develop emotional intelligence. 

9. Drawing and Painting. 

It’s important to introduce different forms of creative expression to children with autism as a way to help them develop motor skills. You can do this through drawing, coloring, or painting. A lot of children with autism lack coordination and control over their movements. Creative expressions make it easier for them to practice these skills and to learn to do new things. Use different kind of paints and different mediums like chalk, finger painting or charcoal to ignite their curiosity and help with their hand-eye coordination. 

10. Fidget Spinners. 

A fidget spinner is a great way to create an engaging activity for children with autism to work on their motor skills. It’s also a good way to calm them down when they're experiencing stress or sensory overload. It is also an inexpensive and very effective way to help children learn, especially those who struggle with their coordination and balance.   

11. Crayons. 

Crayons and other textural items like sandpaper, for example, are a great way to help children with autism develop motor skills. Crayons are great to be used by children and not be frustrated by their creative urges. In fact coloring with crayons and letting children give in to their creative impulses is a form of therapy for kids. It’s really simple and affordable for anyone to give this a try. All you need is crayons, paper and a few minutes. 

12. Tracing Lines. 

Tracing lines is a great way for children to develop their fine motor skills. Children can trace straight lines along pre-drawn lines and as they progress they can start tracing other shapes like circles or curves or waves etc. 

13. Pasting. 

Material pasting technique is a simple technique that uses things like liquid glue, rubber cement, or a pom-pom or ribbon and scissors to glue it onto different materials like foam, cotton, or colored paper which helps children with autism develop motor skills and hand-eye coordination. When you give these children plenty of time and room to experiment they find this activity enjoyable fun. 

14.  Dressing Skills. 

Kids with autism just like any other kids need to be able to tie their shoelaces, put on a shirt, and fasten buttons. These skills are, in fact, extremely important in daily life. They help children to be independent. Getting these kids to fasten zippers and buttons and to tie shoes laces helps them to develop motor skills, dexterity and hand strength. Letting them play and practice with zippers, shoe laces and buttons will go a long way in helping them with their daily routine. 

15. Play Catch. 

Playing catch with children is a great way to develop their motor skills, helps them build their muscle memory and coordination and improves dexterity. The physical act of throwing a ball also releases a lot of tension. It’s also a great way to provide them with physical and emotional support and develop a relationship, as you spend time with them. 


Q: What are motor skills?

A: Motor skills are the ability to control and coordinate movements of the body, including fine and gross motor skills. Fine motor skills involve smaller movements such as writing and buttoning, while gross motor skills involve larger movements such as walking and jumping.

Q: How can I tell if my child has motor skill delays?

A: Some signs of motor skill delays include difficulty with coordination, poor balance, and clumsiness. If you are concerned about your child's motor skills, it is best to talk to your pediatrician or a qualified healthcare professional.

Q: Can children with autism and special needs develop motor skills?

A: Yes, children with autism and special needs can develop motor skills with the right strategies and activities.

Q: What are some ways to increase motor skills in children with autism and special needs?

A: There are many ways to increase motor skills in children with autism and special needs, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, playtime activities, and sports.

Q: Can video games help improve motor skills in children with autism and special needs?

A: While some video games may improve hand-eye coordination, it is best to encourage physical activity and real-life playtime activities to improve motor skills.

Q: How much physical activity should children with autism and special needs get?

A: The amount of physical activity your child needs depends on their age, abilities, and overall health. Talk to your pediatrician or a qualified healthcare professional for personalized recommendations.

Q: What are some common barriers to motor skill development in children with autism and special needs?

A: Some common barriers to motor skill development in children with autism and special needs include sensory issues, communication challenges, and lack of opportunities for physical activity.

Q: How can I make playtime activities more inclusive for children with special needs?

A: You can make playtime activities more inclusive for children with special needs by adapting activities to their abilities, providing additional support and resources, and being patient and flexible.

Q: Can siblings and peers help with motor skill development in children with autism and special needs?

A: Yes, siblings and peers can help with motor skill development by engaging in playtime activities together and providing social support and encouragement.

Q: How long does it take to see improvements in motor skills with consistent practice?

A: The timeline for improvements in motor skills varies depending on the child's age, abilities, and overall health. With consistent practice and support, many children can see improvements in motor skills within a few months.

Please let us know in the comments below in case we have missed out any other activities which can help in developing motors skills in these children. 

What to do next?

Check out our blog post on 16 Ways to Advocate for your Child with Special Needs

And have you checked out our book on Life Skills Workbook for Children with Autism and Special Needs: Activities to help increase independence at home, school and community.

This book is a resource for parents to help and guide their Special Needs Child to develop essential skills to increase independence at home, at school, and in the community.

This workbook has strategies and ideas to

Help your children in the ages 4- 12 get started and provide tools to support continued learning through the transition from school to adult life
Help them learn the importance of social skills, their challenges, and how to overcome diffidence.
Help your child quicken learning and improve social relationships.
Activities that help your kid develop good reading habits and strong concentration skills
And much more
Grab it here: Life Skills Workbook for Children with Autism and Special Needs:



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