Wednesday 21 March 2018

Under development

It's not just about walking and talking; there are plenty of other developmental milestones your little one passes through that are extremely significant, explains occupational therapist Margot Barry

FOR many parents, the words 'developmental milestones' bring memories of their children's first words and first steps. These much anticipated moments, which usually happen around the first birthday, are to be celebrated. However, there are many lesser known events in the first 12 months of a child's development to be anticipated and celebrated, including the development of hand function and tactile sensory development ( sense of touch).

Development of hand function

Within the first 12 months of a child's development there are emerging skills that lead to the child's ability to scribble using a pencil or crayon. These skills can already be seen from the age of three months, when a child starts looking at, reaching out and touching toys or large patterns. At this point in time the child will not be able to form a voluntary grasp but they will manage to aim their hand correctly at the toy they are trying to touch. About a month after they achieve this, the skill of actually grasping the toy of their choice will develop.

Once the grasp becomes more voluntary and sustained, the child will progress to start finger feeding and holding on to a piece of food at around the age of eight months. Interestingly, the child's ability to release an object with relative accuracy only develops from the age of 11 months. As a result children in the eighth month of life seldom develop the skill to place objects neatly when they are trying to release them. The objects will often be flung, released after being banged onto the surface of the table or they will be dropped randomly.

When the development of grasp and release goes to plan, a parent could expect the child to start scribbling with a crayon or a pencil using a very rudimentary fisted grasp just after a child's first birthday. The scribbles the child produces at this stage are normally rather unco-ordinated and go both on and off the page.

A stable sitting position is essential in order to participate in table- top activities. To achieve this, the stage of crawling is very important for the child. In attempting to crawl and then crawling effectively between the ages of 10 and 12 months, a child's trunk muscles and also shoulder muscles develop to allow them to participate effectively in fine motor activities.

After the first year of life, hand function progresses further to allow the child to use eating utensils, manipulate toys, refine pre- writing skills and assist with dressing. In the activity of dressing and many others, there are not only hand function elements involved but also sensory processing skills, for example being able to tolerate a variety of textures.

Sensory development

For a child to develop the ability to tolerate a variety of textures, tactile development is important. Parents instinctively expose their children to a variety of textures and temperatures through bathing and dressing activities and in this manner contribute to their child's tactile development.

A child instinctively starts exploring textures and shapes by putting them into their mouth when they are able to secure a grasp in the first six months of their life. However to refine the sense of touch further, it is important that the child starts to explore different textures with their hands. Playing with a variety of textured toys and also the stage of crawling can be very important to contribute to this.

When a child crawls, their hands are able to feel a variety of different textures while looking at them at the same time. In other words, they are learning how to associate their sense of touch with their vision and they are learning to anticipate what a certain texture might feel like from looking at it. What is the importance of this? Later on in life we use our sense of touch in everyday life to achieve tasks such as writing, typing and retrieving objects out of our handbag without looking in to the bag. In doing so, we use discriminatory touch without necessitating visual feedback.

Many babies do not crawl and for some this is not a problem; others, however, develop difficulties with hand function later on. In order to make sure that a child does not miss out on some of the benefits of crawling, games can be played that involve crawling even if the child is already walking.

These early steps are essential to provide the child with an effective foundation for later development.

Margot Barry is a qualified occupational therapist who has worked extensively with children, teachers and carers in various community settings for the past 15 years. She is currently the clinical manager in Sensational Kids, a registered charity that provides family centred therapy and educational services for children of all abilities in a state-of-the-art one-of-a-kind occupational therapy centre in Kilare. For more information visit or find them on Facebook

Mother & Babies

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