Are you a BCBA or an RBT? Join The New Golden Steps ABA Fellowship Program
See Open Roles
We do not have a commercial relationship with any of these companies and have not otherwise been endorsed by, are not affiliated with, and do not intend to suggest a connection to, any of the companies listed on the page.

Understanding Gross Motor Skills in Children with Autism

In this article, we will explore the importance of gross motor skills, how they develop in children with autism, and strategies to support their development.

Understanding Gross Motor Skills in Children with Autism

To effectively support the development of gross motor skills in children with autism, it is important to first have a clear understanding of what gross motor skills are and how they may be impacted by autism.

What are Gross Motor Skills?

Gross motor skills refer to the ability to use and control the large muscles of the body for coordinated movements. These skills are essential for activities such as running, jumping, climbing, and throwing. They involve the coordination of multiple muscle groups and are important for overall physical development and participation in daily activities.

Gross motor skills can be categorized into different areas, including:

  1. Locomotor Skills: These skills involve movements that transport the body from one place to another, such as walking, running, and jumping.
  2. Object-Control Skills: These skills involve the manipulation and control of objects, such as throwing, catching, and kicking a ball.
  3. Balance and Coordination Skills: These skills involve maintaining balance and performing movements with control, such as riding a bike or using a scooter.

How Autism May Impact Gross Motor Skills Development?

Children with autism may experience challenges in the development of gross motor skills. The specific impact can vary from one child to another, as autism is a spectrum disorder with a wide range of abilities and challenges.

Some common ways in which autism may impact gross motor skills development include:

  1. Motor Planning and Coordination: Children with autism may have difficulties with motor planning and coordination, making it challenging for them to perform coordinated movements and sequences of actions.
  2. Sensory Processing Differences: Many individuals with autism have sensory processing differences, which can affect their ability to process and respond to sensory information related to movement and balance. This can impact their overall motor skills development.
  3. Social and Communication Challenges: Children with autism often face social and communication challenges, which may impact their motivation and engagement in physical activities. This can indirectly affect their opportunities for practicing and developing gross motor skills.

It is important to note that while children with autism may face challenges in gross motor skills development, they also have unique strengths and abilities. With appropriate support, intervention, and targeted strategies, these children can make significant progress in improving their gross motor skills.

Understanding the impact of autism on gross motor skills is the first step toward creating effective intervention plans and strategies. By identifying the specific challenges faced by each child, parents and professionals can develop individualized interventions to support and enhance gross motor skills development. For a comprehensive assessment of gross motor skills in children with autism, consider consulting with professionals specializing in autism and occupational therapy.

two children playing with water

Importance of Cultivating Gross Motor Skills

Developing gross motor skills in children with autism is of utmost importance for their overall growth and development. These skills play a crucial role in their physical, cognitive, and social well-being. By actively cultivating gross motor skills, children with autism can reap numerous benefits and enhance their overall development.

Benefits of Developing Gross Motor Skills in Children with Autism

Developing gross motor skills in children with autism offers a range of benefits that positively impact their daily lives. These benefits include:

  1. Physical Fitness: Cultivating gross motor skills helps improve overall physical fitness in children with autism. Engaging in activities that require movement, coordination, and balance helps strengthen muscles, enhance cardiovascular health, and improve endurance.
  2. Improved Coordination and Balance: Gross motor skill development promotes enhanced coordination and balance. This allows children with autism to navigate their surroundings more effectively, reducing the risk of accidents and improving their overall mobility.
  3. Enhanced Body Awareness: Developing gross motor skills fosters a heightened sense of body awareness in children with autism. They become more attuned to their bodies, better understanding their physical capabilities and limitations.
  4. Increased Independence: Improved gross motor skills empower children with autism to become more independent in their daily activities. Tasks such as dressing, feeding, and personal care become more manageable, boosting their self-confidence and overall sense of accomplishment.

How Gross Motor Skills Support Overall Development?

Gross motor skills serve as building blocks for various aspects of a child's development. By cultivating these skills, children with autism can experience positive impacts in multiple areas, including:

  1. Cognitive Development: Gross motor skill development stimulates cognitive growth in children with autism. The coordination and concentration required during physical activities enhance their cognitive processes, such as problem-solving, decision-making, and spatial awareness.
  2. Social Interaction: Engaging in gross motor activities often involves interactions with peers, siblings, or caregivers. This provides valuable opportunities for children with autism to develop their social skills, practice turn-taking, and improve their ability to cooperate and communicate effectively.
  3. Emotional Well-being: Participating in gross motor activities can have a positive impact on emotional well-being. Physical movement releases endorphins, which can improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety levels in children with autism.
  4. Self-Regulation: Gross motor activities can help children with autism learn self-regulation skills. Through physical play and exercise, they can learn to manage their energy levels, cope with sensory input, and develop strategies for self-calming and emotional regulation.

By understanding the importance of cultivating gross motor skills in children with autism and the benefits it offers, parents and caregivers can actively engage in activities that promote their child's development. Collaborating with professionals, such as occupational and physical therapists, can provide valuable guidance and individualized strategies to support gross motor skill development.

Strategies for Cultivating Gross Motor Skills

To support the development of gross motor skills in children with autism, it is important to implement effective strategies that create a structured and supportive environment. By incorporating sensory integration activities and physical exercise and play, parents can help their children with autism improve their gross motor skills and overall physical abilities.

Creating a Structured and Supportive Environment

Creating a structured and supportive environment is essential for children with autism to feel safe and comfortable while engaging in gross motor activities. Here are some strategies for establishing such an environment:

  • Establish a predictable routine: Children with autism often thrive on routine and predictability. By maintaining a consistent daily schedule that includes designated times for gross motor activities, you can help your child feel more at ease and ready to participate.
  • Provide visual supports: Visual supports, such as visual schedules or visual cues, can aid in understanding expectations and transitions during gross motor activities. Visual supports can include pictures, symbols, or written instructions that help your child comprehend and navigate their environment.
  • Use clear and concise instructions: When providing instructions for gross motor activities, use simple and clear language. Break down tasks into manageable steps and provide visual or physical prompts if necessary. This approach can help your child better understand and follow instructions.
  • Create a calm and organized space: Designate a specific area for gross motor activities that is free from distractions and clutter. Minimize sensory distractions, such as bright lights or loud noises, that may overwhelm your child. This calm and organized space will allow them to focus on their gross motor skills.

Incorporating Sensory Integration Activities

Sensory integration activities can play a significant role in developing gross motor skills in children with autism. These activities help children process sensory information, improve body awareness, and enhance coordination. Here are some effective strategies for incorporating sensory integration activities:

  • Proprioceptive activities: Proprioceptive activities involve deep pressure and joint compression, which can have a calming and organizing effect on children with autism. Activities such as weighted vests, wall push-ups, or carrying heavy objects can provide proprioceptive input and improve body awareness.
  • Vestibular activities: Vestibular activities stimulate the vestibular system, which is responsible for balance and coordination. These activities can include swinging, spinning, or balancing exercises. Ensure that these activities are safe and appropriate for your child's age and abilities.
  • Tactile activities: Tactile activities involve different textures and sensations to enhance sensory processing and motor skills. Activities such as finger painting, playing with sand or shaving cream, or using textured objects can help improve tactile sensitivity and coordination.

Incorporating Physical Exercise and Play

Physical exercise and play are essential for promoting gross motor skill development in children with autism. Engaging in physical activities not only improves strength, coordination, and balance but also provides an opportunity for social interaction and enjoyment. Here are some strategies for incorporating physical exercise and play:

  • Outdoor play: Encourage your child to engage in outdoor activities that involve running, jumping, climbing, or kicking a ball. These activities promote cardiovascular fitness, strength, and coordination. Ensure that the outdoor environment is safe and secure.
  • Sports and group activities: Consider enrolling your child in sports or group activities tailored to their interests and abilities. Sports such as swimming, soccer, or martial arts can enhance gross motor skills while providing opportunities for social interaction and teamwork.
  • Dance or yoga: Dance or yoga classes specifically designed for children with autism can be beneficial in improving coordination, body awareness, and flexibility. These activities also promote relaxation and self-expression.

By implementing these strategies, parents can create an environment that supports the development of gross motor skills in children with autism. Remember to consult with professionals, such as occupational therapists or physical therapists, who can provide guidance on specific activities and individualized strategies.

Activities and Exercises for Gross Motor Skills Development

To support the development of gross motor skills in children with autism, it is important to incorporate activities and exercises that focus on balance, coordination, core strengthening, and overall gross motor play. These activities can help improve motor planning, body awareness, and physical abilities. Here are some effective strategies to consider:

Balance and Coordination Exercises

Balance and coordination exercises are beneficial for enhancing stability, spatial awareness, and coordination in children with autism. These exercises can be incorporated into daily routines or structured play sessions. Some examples of balance and coordination exercises include:

Exercise Description
Standing on one leg Encourage your child to stand on one leg while maintaining balance. Start with a few seconds and gradually increase the duration.
Walking on a balance beam Set up a low balance beam or a straight line on the floor and have your child walk along it, focusing on maintaining balance.
Simon Says Play a game of Simon Says, incorporating movements that require balance and coordination, such as hopping on one foot or touching specific body parts.

Core Strengthening Exercises

Core strength is crucial for overall stability and motor control. Engaging in core strengthening exercises can help children with autism improve their posture, balance, and overall physical strength. Here are some core strengthening exercises to consider:

Exercise Description
Plank Have your child lie facedown and prop up on their forearms and toes, keeping their body straight. Hold the position for a few seconds and gradually increase the duration.
Superman Pose Ask your child to lie on their stomach and extend their arms and legs off the ground while lifting their chest. Hold the pose for a few seconds and repeat.
Sit-ups Assist your child in performing sit-ups, gradually increasing the number of repetitions as they build strength.

Incorporating core strengthening exercises into a daily routine can contribute to the development of gross motor skills. Seek guidance from a professional, such as an occupational therapist or physical therapist, to ensure exercises are appropriate for your child's abilities.

Gross Motor Play Ideas and Games

Engaging in gross motor play can make skill-building enjoyable for children with autism. Incorporating games and activities that encourage movement, coordination, and social interaction can help develop gross motor skills in a fun and engaging way. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Obstacle courses: Set up an obstacle course using items like cones, hula hoops, and tunnels. Encourage your child to navigate through the course, incorporating various movements such as jumping, crawling, and balancing.
  • Dance parties: Play music and encourage your child to move and dance. Dancing promotes coordination, balance, and rhythm while providing an opportunity for self-expression.
  • Ball games: Engage in activities like catching, throwing, and kicking a ball. These games promote hand-eye coordination, balance, and motor planning.
  • Follow the leader: Take turns being the leader and encourage your child to imitate your movements. This game promotes imitation skills, coordination, and body awareness.

Remember to adapt activities based on your child's abilities and interests. Collaborating with therapists and specialists, such as occupational therapists or physical therapists, can provide valuable guidance and individualized strategies.

By incorporating these activities and exercises into your child's routine, you can support the development of gross motor skills and enhance their overall physical abilities.

Collaborating with Professionals

When it comes to the development of gross motor skills in children with autism, collaborating with professionals is essential. Occupational therapists and physical therapists play a crucial role in providing guidance and support for children with autism to improve their gross motor skills.

Importance of Occupational and Physical Therapy

Occupational therapy and physical therapy are valuable interventions for children with autism. Occupational therapists specialize in helping individuals develop the skills necessary for daily activities, while physical therapists focus on improving physical abilities and movement.

For children with autism, these therapy sessions can be tailored to address specific gross motor skill deficits. Occupational and physical therapists utilize evidence-based techniques, strategies, and exercises to target areas such as balance, coordination, strength, and motor planning. These interventions can make a significant difference in the overall development of gross motor skills in children with autism.

Collaborating with Therapists and Specialists

Collaboration between parents, therapists, and specialists is crucial for the effective development of gross motor skills in children with autism. Parents are valuable members of the therapy team, as they have unique insights into their child's abilities, interests, and challenges. By actively participating in therapy sessions, parents can learn strategies and techniques to reinforce and practice gross motor skills at home.

Therapists and specialists work closely with parents to develop individualized goals and treatment plans based on the child's specific needs. Regular communication and feedback between parents and therapists help ensure consistent progress and adjustments to the intervention strategies as needed.

Seeking Professional Guidance for Individualized Strategies

Every child with autism is unique, and their gross motor skill development should be approached with an individualized plan. Seeking professional guidance from occupational therapists, physical therapists, and other specialists who specialize in working with children with autism can provide valuable insights and strategies.

These professionals can conduct a comprehensive assessment of a child's gross motor skills and identify areas that require attention. They can also provide specific recommendations, exercises, and activities tailored to the child's abilities and challenges. Collaborating with professionals ensures that interventions are evidence-based, effective, and targeted to address the specific needs of the child.

By working closely with therapists and specialists, parents can gain a deeper understanding of their child's gross motor skill development and learn how to support and encourage progress at home. Seeking professional guidance ensures that the strategies used are appropriate, safe, and effective for the unique needs of children with autism.

Remember, every child progresses at their own pace, and it is important to celebrate small victories along the way. By collaborating with professionals, parents can provide their children with the best possible support, guidance, and opportunities to develop their gross motor skills.


In conclusion, gross motor skills play a vital role in the development of children with autism. By understanding their importance, how they develop, and strategies to support their development, parents and caregivers can help their children reach their full potential. With patience, support, and appropriate intervention, children with autism can make progress in their gross motor skills and enjoy the benefits of physical activity.


Continue Reading