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  • Jody B. Miller

How to Develop the Pincer Grasp for Challenged Kids

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

Before I share this very helpful video about fine motor skills, I wanted to point out certain signs that your child might be facing challenges.

When my son Christopher was a baby, he didn't make a fist like you would imagine.

This is how most baby's make a fist:

How to Develop the Pincer Grasp for Challenged Kids

As you can see, the thumb is on the outside.

Christopher made a fist closer to this, although he tucked his thumb in much tighter.

How to Develop the Pincer Grasp for Challenged Kids

Because Chris had low muscle tone as a baby (we had to prop him up on pillows for him to sit up), I believe now that it was his way of having some control of his body.

Kids with challenges on the autistic spectrum (among other syndromes), find a way to manage the sensory quickness of life by holding on - to themselves. The tighter the better. Sometimes that includes flopping their hands or swinging something in a circle. Believe it or not, that vestibular motion is quite comforting in an a loud and imposing world.

We had to teach Chris to unfold his thumb as he got older. We did this by developing the pincer grasp - with cheerios, puzzle pieces and clapping games. It worked and he began to develop his fine motor skills.

As Chris aged, he shifted to wearing wetsuits or rash guards every day. Again, a way to have some control of his body in space. He still loves the rash guards, but now he holds a small pouch filled with key cards from hotels we stay at or gift cards he gets.

It's comforting.

Every child goes through milestones. You want them to go through them all. And while playing on the floor or walking barefoot is important, something as simple as the pincer grasp can enhance the development of your child.

I know this from experience.

Here is what the pincer (or tripod grasp looks like). It's holding something with your thumb and forefinger.

How to Develop the Pincer Grasp for Challenged Kids

According to an article in

The pincer grasp represents the coordination of brain and muscles that’s necessary to help them gain increasing independence.
A baby will typically develop this skill between the ages of 9 and 10 months, although this can vary. Children develop at different rates.
If a child doesn’t develop this milestone over time, doctors may interpret this as a delayed development sign. Doctors can recommend activities and therapies that can help a child improve their use of the pincer grasp.

In this partial transcript from a great video presented by The Center For Autism and Related Disorders, you can learn even more.

I wanted to take a minute to talk to you about motor skills and, in particular, fine motor skills. This is one of these things that we're gonna hear about a lot in the classroom -fine motor skills. When we talk about motor skills, we really put them in two different categories.
I put them in four different categories

You'll hear people talk about fine motor skills and gross motor skills. The gross motor skills are the big muscle skills that you know like running, jumping, walking, skipping or kicking a ball. Think team sports.

Fine motor is the hand and finger skills, and usually when you're going to an IEP (Individual Education Plan meeting), the way it breaks down, not completely, but generally, is that the gross motor skills are going to be considered under APE, which is adaptive, physical education. So if your child is behind in gross motor skills, they will work with an APE instructor.

Fine motor skills are addressed by the OT or Occupational Therapist.

So if your child is behind in finger and hand skills you're probably going to get some occupational therapy hours in your offer of faith, which is our jargon of the day today, faith free, appropriate public education and also, usually they will Lump in with the OTS sensory issues, so that if your child is sensitive to noise or light or requires some sort of physical contact whatever it is, that will be lumped in with the OT as well.

When is comes to autism in the classroom, how do we set our kids up for success? We want to be working on fine motor and finger motor skills as early as we can, and we want to make those kinds of things really reinforcing.

One of the first things that parents hope for is toilet training.

Well, fine motor is going to be really important to toileting because being able to pull their pants up and down, to unbutton and unfasten and refasten and re button or unzip or zip up require fine motor skills.

So we want to have those skills and those muscles strong enough to be able to do the lessons that we're going to teach.

But then consider even further along the line that, for a child to be able to color, we want to develop the tripod/pincer grasp so that when they move into writing we firmly have the tripod grasp.

As a parent, there's only a certain amount of time that the schools will devote to OT and also one of the big issues is that when your child has OT, you may need to push to have the OT come into the classroom to work with your child. While they're with the rest of the kids in the class and they're working on something together. But they're also going to ask for a pull out, and that is when the OT comes to the door and requests your child.

Your child leaves the classroom and goes someplace to work on those types of skills, while the rest of the class continues to get instruction.

Okay, as a parent and as a former teacher that gives me hives, it literally makes me break out into hives, because if our kids are behind, we want them to miss as little of the classroom time as possible, and you can make that argument.

Well, they're, not constantly getting instruction, but being in the classroom is key social time. So for me having a pull out right and as a teacher, there's, nothing worse than you're about to teach something and the person that you need to teach it to probably the most.

Somebody comes and takes them out to go work on something else.

Now these skills are so important right. We need for the child to have these finger skills in order to be able to progress with the curriculum, but it's that constant battle of is the child in the classroom. What's more important? How much time are we taking them out?

So I think that it falls to us as parents to be working on these things at home, so that we can minimize the pullout time and setting them up for success.

So how can we reinforce skills at home? We have to help them, especially if it's something your child cannot do. Like the tripod grasp.

It may be frustrating for them to hold a crayon or to hold a pencil or hold a pen, something that we can do for our kids to help them and to make it reinforcing if kids already like to color.

How to Develop the Pincer Grasp for Challenged Kids

If coloring is already reinforcing to them, what we can do is take our crayons and make them really small. You can cut them so that it forces your child to grab the little piece with their finger and thumb.

What we want is a child who's doing the tripod grasp. If you give them one of the regular-sized crayons and it's, really small, it makes it really difficult to do anything but do the tripod grasp and grasp, and it really encourages them to do that.

So that's, something that you can do immediately.

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