Gross Motor Skills in Children with Autism

Gross motor skills refer to the ability to control large muscles in the body, such as those used for running, jumping, and climbing. For children with autism, these skills can be particularly challenging due to differences in brain development and sensory processing.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
December 13, 2023
min read

Understanding Gross Motor Skills in Children with Autism

To effectively enhance gross motor skills in children with autism, it is important to first understand what these skills entail and the unique challenges that children with autism may face in their development.

What are Gross Motor Skills?

Gross motor skills refer to the abilities that involve the large muscles of the body and enable activities such as running, jumping, climbing, and throwing. These skills play a crucial role in a child's physical development, coordination, and overall well-being. Gross motor skills are essential for everyday activities and participation in various physical activities.

Gross motor skills can be divided into different categories, including locomotor skills (such as walking and running) and object control skills (such as throwing and catching). These skills are typically acquired and refined during childhood through practice, exploration, and play.

Challenges Faced by Children with Autism

Children with autism often face specific challenges in the development of their gross motor skills. The neurological differences associated with autism can affect coordination, balance, and motor planning abilities. These challenges may manifest in various ways, such as:

  • Difficulties with motor planning and sequencing movements.
  • Delayed acquisition of motor milestones, such as crawling, walking, or jumping.
  • Poor coordination and balance skills.
  • Sensory processing difficulties that may affect a child's ability to regulate movement and body awareness.
  • Limited engagement in physical activities due to social, sensory, or communication challenges.

It is important to recognize that each child with autism is unique, and their specific challenges may vary. Some children may excel in certain areas of gross motor skills while struggling with others. By understanding the specific challenges faced by children with autism, parents and caregivers can better support and tailor interventions to address their individual needs.

By gaining a deeper understanding of gross motor skills and the challenges faced by children with autism, parents and caregivers can embark on a journey towards enhancing these skills and promoting the overall development of their child.

Importance of Enhancing Gross Motor Skills

Developing and enhancing gross motor skills in children with autism is of utmost importance for their overall development and well-being. The acquisition and improvement of gross motor skills bring about several benefits and have a significant impact on various aspects of a child's life.

Benefits of Developing Gross Motor Skills

Enhancing gross motor skills in children with autism provides a wide range of benefits that positively influence their daily lives and interactions. Some key benefits include:

  1. Physical Fitness: Improving gross motor skills promotes physical fitness and helps children with autism maintain a healthy lifestyle. Engaging in physical activities enhances cardiovascular health, strength, endurance, and flexibility.
  2. Motor Coordination: Gross motor skills involve the coordination of large muscle groups, such as those used for walking, running, jumping, and throwing. By enhancing these skills, children with autism can improve their motor coordination and control.
  3. Balance and Stability: Developing gross motor skills contributes to the improvement of balance and stability. This is particularly important for children with autism, as difficulties with balance skills are often observed. By focusing on activities that support balance, children can enhance their postural control and overall stability.
  4. Social Interaction: Gross motor activities provide opportunities for social interaction and engagement with peers. Participating in group physical activities can enhance social skills, cooperation, and communication.
  5. Self-Esteem and Confidence: As children with autism develop their gross motor skills, they gain a sense of achievement and boost their self-esteem. Mastering new physical abilities fosters confidence, leading to increased participation in various activities.

Impact on Overall Development

Enhancing gross motor skills has a profound impact on the overall development of children with autism. By focusing on these skills, other areas of development can be positively influenced, including:

  1. Cognitive Development: Engaging in physical activities that target gross motor skills stimulates cognitive development. It promotes problem-solving, decision-making, and spatial awareness.
  2. Language and Communication: Gross motor activities can provide opportunities for language and communication development. Children can practice verbal and nonverbal communication skills while participating in group activities or following instructions.
  3. Emotional Regulation: Physical activities help children with autism regulate their emotions and manage stress. By engaging in exercise and movement, they can reduce anxiety and improve emotional well-being.
  4. Attention and Focus: Gross motor activities require attention, concentration, and focus. By practicing these skills, children can improve their ability to sustain attention and follow directions.

Developing and enhancing gross motor skills in children with autism is a multi-faceted process that contributes to their overall growth and development. By recognizing the benefits and understanding the impact, parents and caregivers can prioritize and support the development of these essential skills.

Strategies for Enhancing Gross Motor Skills

To support the development of gross motor skills in children with autism, it is essential to implement effective strategies that promote growth and progress. By focusing on early intervention, incorporating physical activities, and creating structured routines, parents and caregivers can provide a supportive environment for enhancing gross motor skills.

Early Intervention and Therapy

Early intervention plays a crucial role in supporting the development of gross motor skills in children with autism. Seeking professional guidance from occupational therapists or physical therapists who specialize in working with individuals on the autism spectrum can provide valuable insights and strategies tailored to the specific needs of your child.

Therapy sessions can focus on activities that target balance, coordination, strength, and body awareness. These exercises may include crawling, jumping, climbing, balancing, and throwing and catching objects. Therapists may utilize specialized equipment and tools designed to facilitate the development of motor skills. Collaborating with professionals ensures that interventions are evidence-based and adapted to the unique needs of your child.

Incorporating Physical Activities

Physical activities are an effective way to enhance gross motor skills in children with autism. Engaging in activities that promote movement, coordination, and strength can contribute to the development of motor skills while providing opportunities for sensory integration.

Consider incorporating activities such as swimming, cycling, dancing, yoga, or martial arts into your child's routine. These activities not only enhance gross motor skills but also provide opportunities for social interaction and self-expression. It is important to choose activities that align with your child's interests and abilities, ensuring a positive and enjoyable experience.

Creating Structured Routines

Establishing structured routines can greatly benefit children with autism in developing gross motor skills. Consistency and predictability provide a sense of security and help children understand what is expected of them during physical activities.

Create a daily schedule that incorporates dedicated time for gross motor skill development. This can include activities such as outdoor play, exercise, or participation in organized sports. Breaking down activities into smaller, manageable steps and using visual supports like visual schedules or task boards can assist in promoting independence and understanding.

By embedding physical activities into a structured routine, you can promote regular engagement, develop motor skills, and establish a sense of accomplishment. Additionally, routines can also help in transitioning between activities and minimize anxiety or resistance.

By implementing early intervention, incorporating physical activities, and creating structured routines, parents and caregivers can support and enhance gross motor skills development in children with autism.

Each child is unique, so it's important to individualize strategies based on their specific needs and preferences. Celebrate the progress your child makes along the way, and remember to seek guidance from professionals to ensure the most effective approach for your child's growth and development.

Adapted Equipment and Tools

When it comes to enhancing gross motor skills in children with autism, the use of adapted equipment and sensory integration tools can play a significant role. These specialized tools and equipment are designed to support motor skills development and provide a structured environment for children with autism to engage in gross motor activities.

Supporting Motor Skills Development with Adaptive Equipment

Adaptive equipment refers to tools and devices that are specifically designed to assist individuals with disabilities in performing everyday tasks and activities. When it comes to gross motor skills development in children with autism, adaptive equipment can provide additional support and help create a safe and inclusive environment.

Here are some examples of adaptive equipment that can support gross motor skills:

Equipment Description
Balance Boards These boards help improve balance and coordination while providing sensory input. Children can practice standing, shifting their weight, and improving their overall balance skills.
Therapy Balls Therapy balls, also known as exercise balls or stability balls, can be used to engage core muscles, improve balance, and enhance coordination. These versatile tools offer various activities, such as bouncing, rolling, and sitting to help develop gross motor skills.
Scooters Scooters with adaptive features, such as handles and supports, can be used to enhance mobility and coordination. Children can practice pushing themselves forward, steering, and maneuvering their bodies.
Adaptive Tricycles These tricycles are designed with additional support and modifications to accommodate children with physical challenges. Riding a tricycle promotes leg strength, coordination, and overall gross motor skills development.

It's important to note that the selection of adaptive equipment should be based on the individual needs and abilities of the child. Consulting with professionals, such as occupational therapists, can help identify the most suitable equipment for your child's specific gross motor skill goals.

Sensory Integration Tools for Gross Motor Skills

Sensory integration tools are designed to provide sensory input and help individuals with autism regulate their sensory systems. These tools can be beneficial in enhancing gross motor skills by creating a calming and organized environment for children to engage in physical activities.

Here are some sensory integration tools that can support gross motor skills:

Tools Description
Therapeutic Swings Swings provide vestibular input, which helps with balance, coordination, and body awareness. These swings come in various designs such as platform swings and hammock swings, allowing children to engage in swinging motions that promote gross motor skill development.
Weighted Vests Weighted vests provide deep pressure input, which can have a calming effect on children with autism. Wearing a weighted vest during gross motor activities can help improve body awareness, stability, and coordination.
Sensory Mats Sensory mats offer a textured surface that stimulates tactile input. These mats can be used during activities such as crawling, rolling, or jumping to provide additional sensory feedback and enhance gross motor skills.
Visual Supports Visual supports, such as visual schedules and visual cues, can help children with autism understand and follow instructions during gross motor activities. These supports provide structure and predictability, enhancing their participation and engagement.

Incorporating adaptive equipment and sensory integration tools into your child's gross motor skill development can provide valuable support and create an environment that encourages exploration, movement, and growth. Remember to consult with professionals, such as occupational therapists, to determine the most appropriate tools and equipment for your child's specific needs.

Collaboration with Professionals

When it comes to enhancing gross motor skills in children with autism, collaboration with professionals plays a crucial role. Occupational therapists and building a supportive network are two key aspects of this collaborative approach.

Working with Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists (OTs) are trained professionals who specialize in helping individuals develop and improve their motor skills and overall independence. Working with an occupational therapist can be immensely beneficial for children with autism who are struggling with their gross motor skills.

An occupational therapist will assess the child's specific needs and develop a personalized treatment plan to address their motor skill challenges. The therapy sessions may involve a variety of activities and exercises that focus on improving coordination, balance, strength, and body awareness.

Throughout the therapy process, the occupational therapist will closely monitor the child's progress and make any necessary adjustments to the treatment plan. They will also provide guidance and support to parents, equipping them with strategies and techniques that can be incorporated into the child's daily routine. By collaborating with an occupational therapist, parents can ensure that their child receives the specialized intervention required to enhance their gross motor skills.

Building a Supportive Network

In addition to working with professionals, building a supportive network is vital for parents of children with autism. Connecting with other parents who are on a similar journey can provide valuable emotional support, practical advice, and a sense of community.

Support groups, both online and offline, can be a great source of information and encouragement. These groups allow parents to share experiences, exchange tips, and learn from one another. It's important to find a supportive network that understands the unique challenges and triumphs associated with raising a child with autism.

In addition to support groups, connecting with teachers, therapists, and other professionals involved in the child's care can foster a collaborative approach to enhancing gross motor skills. Open communication and regular updates ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards the child's development.

Building a supportive network also involves advocating for the child's needs within the educational and community settings. By actively engaging with the child's school and seeking accommodations or modifications when necessary, parents can create an inclusive environment that supports their child's gross motor skill development.

By collaborating with occupational therapists and building a supportive network, parents can provide their child with the comprehensive support needed to enhance their gross motor skills. Together, these approaches create a strong foundation for the child's progress, development, and overall well-being.

Encouraging and Celebrating Progress

Supporting children with autism in their journey to enhance gross motor skills involves not only implementing strategies but also recognizing and celebrating their milestones along the way. By creating a positive and supportive environment, parents can foster a sense of achievement and motivation in their children. In this section, we will explore the importance of recognizing and celebrating milestones and maintaining a positive and supportive environment.

Recognizing and Celebrating Milestones

Recognizing and celebrating the milestones achieved by children with autism is essential for boosting their self-esteem and sense of accomplishment. These milestones can vary depending on the individual child's abilities and progress. It's important for parents to set realistic expectations and celebrate even small achievements.

Here are some ways to recognize and celebrate milestones:

  1. Document progress: Keep a record of the child's progress, noting down significant milestones achieved in their gross motor skills development. This documentation can help parents track their child's growth and provide a tangible way to acknowledge and celebrate accomplishments.
  2. Verbal praise: Offer verbal praise and positive reinforcement to acknowledge the child's efforts and progress. Simple and specific compliments like "Great job balancing on one foot!" or "You're getting better at throwing a ball!" can go a long way in boosting their confidence.
  3. Reward system: Consider implementing a reward system where the child earns tokens or stickers for reaching specific milestones. These rewards can be exchanged for small incentives or privileges that motivate and reinforce their progress.
  4. Family celebrations: Share the child's achievements with family members and celebrate together. This not only highlights the child's accomplishments but also strengthens the bond within the family unit.

Remember, each child is unique, and milestones may be achieved at different rates. Celebrating progress is about acknowledging the individual journey and effort put forth by the child.

Maintaining a Positive and Supportive Environment

Creating a positive and supportive environment is crucial for children with autism as they enhance their gross motor skills. A nurturing atmosphere encourages children to explore, take risks, and build their confidence. Here are some strategies to maintain such an environment:

  1. Patient and calm approach: Stay patient and calm during the child's learning process. Offer reassurance and support, even if they face challenges or setbacks. Maintaining a positive demeanor helps create a safe space for the child to continue working on their gross motor skills.
  2. Structured routines: Establishing structured routines can provide a sense of predictability and security for children with autism. Consistency in daily activities and incorporating dedicated time for gross motor skill practice can help them thrive.
  3. Clear communication: Use clear and concise language when providing instructions or giving feedback. Visual supports such as schedules, charts, or diagrams can also aid in communication and help the child understand expectations.
  4. Encourage and model persistence: Encourage the child to persevere and keep trying, even when faced with difficulties. Model resilience and a growth mindset by demonstrating how mistakes can be learning opportunities.

By maintaining a positive and supportive environment, parents can foster a sense of motivation, resilience, and self-confidence in their children as they progress in enhancing their gross motor skills.

The journey of enhancing gross motor skills in children with autism is unique for each child. By recognizing and celebrating milestones and creating a positive and supportive environment, parents can empower their children to reach their full potential.


Gross motor skills are an essential part of a child’s physical development, but they can be particularly challenging for children with autism. By understanding these challenges and implementing appropriate strategies, parents and caregivers can support the development of gross motor skills in children with autism and help them thrive. Remember to break down activities, provide visual cues, use sensory supports, and make it fun!


steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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