Parenting a Child With Autism: 20 Ways to Strengthen Your Youngster's Pincer Grasp

Avoid Frustration in Kindergarten by Strengthening Your Child's Pincer Grasp Before Starting School

Children with autism often have difficulty holding a pencil correctly and comfortably. This causes them frustration in the classroom when they become easily fatigued while writing, drawing, and coloring. An aware mom or dad, however, can stave off this problem by addressing it before the child starts school. But first, a parent needs to know what the pincer grasp is and why it's so important to their youngster's academic success.

A Weak Pincer Grasp Leads to Frustration and Fatigue at School

A developed pincer grasp is necessary for the everyday activities in kindergarten: coloring, writing, and drawing.
A developed pincer grasp is necessary for the everyday activities in kindergarten: coloring, writing, and drawing. | Source

What is a Pincer Grasp?

Developing the pincer grasp is an important developmental milestone that typically occurs between 8 and 12 months. It involves the child's ability to pick up small objects between his thumb and index finger. Some children on the autism spectrum need special help to strengthen their pincer grasps.

More Children Entering Kindergarten with Poor Pincer Grasps and Weak Hand Muscles

Children on the autism spectrum often need extra help to enhance their pincer grasp and overall hand strength. But they are not the only ones. Kindergarten teachers are now seeing more youngsters enter school who lack the power and dexterity to do everyday activities such as cut with scissors, tie shoelaces, string beads, and turn pages of a book. Many of these children have spent too many hours in front of screens and not enough time manipulating play-dough, putting puzzles together, and building with Legos -- all of which develop hand strength. Occupational therapists help children on the autism spectrum develop their pincer grasp. Here are 20 activities a parent can do at home with their own child to accomplish the same goal:

Peeling, Pulling, and Squeezing

1. Place strips of duct tape on the kitchen floor, outside on the sidewalk, or on the walls of the garage. Have your child pull them off the surface. It's hard for him at first but watch as he becomes stronger and more confident.

2. Keep lots of stickers on hand for your child to peel and stick (I kept a little tool box of them in the car for my son with crayons and markers). Have him place the stickers on a piece of paper to create a scene/story. Encourage him to add background details with crayons and markers. Optional: Have him describe the scene/story to you while you write it on the paper.

3. Keep a squishy ball or squishy toy handy for your child to squeeze while watching TV, riding in the car, or walking to the park. Make it a part of his everyday routine.

4. Have your child take a wet wash rag and squeeze the water into a sink, on the lawn, or in the bathtub. Give him a goal of filling a cup or bucket.

5. Give your child a wet sponge to squeeze on the plants inside and out.

Playing Games from Your Childhood Can Strengthen Your Youngster's Pincer Grasp

Kids today need to move away from the screens and play games that strengthen their hand muscles.
Kids today need to move away from the screens and play games that strengthen their hand muscles. | Source

Playing Games Together (Amazon and Target are good resources)

6. Hi-Ho Cherry-O– Many parents will remember this classic game from their own childhoods. Children improve their pincer grasp by picking up little plastic cherries and placing them on a tree. It's great for hand-eye coordination, counting, adding, and subtracting.

7. Don't Break the Ice – The beauty of this game lies in its simplicity. Players take a mallet and tap at blocks of ice – gently and strategically. Patience is key. Suspense builds as the ice falls away. Whoever causes it to collapse loses.

8. Don't Spill the Beans – This game is ideal for enhancing the pincer grasp. Players take turns picking up little plastic beans and placing them carefully on the pot. The object is to avoid tipping over the pot. If you do, you lose.

9. Pop Up Pirate – This is another terrific game to improve the pincer grasp. Players insert small plastic swords into the barrel. Suspense builds until one sword causes the pirate to pop off the barrel. That player loses. This games creates lots of fun, excitement, and laughter.

10. Pick Up Sticks – The oldest games are often the best games. Players take turns picking a stick from the pile without disturbing the others. If the player causes a stick to move, he ends his turn. If he doesn't cause a stick to move, he gets to go again. The player with the most sticks wins.

Using Tools

11. Let your child use tweezers to pick up small objects: cotton balls, paper-clips, beans, plastic rings, and little rubber dinosaurs. Have him transfer the object from one container to another.

12. Have your child pick up similar objects with chopsticks and tongs. See how many objects he can transfer to a container in 2 minutes.

13. Have your child play with hole punches. Go to a craft store such as Michael's and buy an assortment. Some make circles. Some make squares. Some make stars. Some make animals. Using a hole punch develops hand strength and children LOVE doing it.

14. Have your child pound, punch, pull, roll, stretch, squeeze, and create with play-dough on a regular basis. Keep a variety of kitchen tools on hand for him to use: rolling pins, cookie cutters, utensils, a garlic press, etc.

15. Even if your child is not ready to use scissors to cut paper, let him cut thicker items such as play-dough, straws, and foam shapes.

Keep a Batch of Play-Dough on Hand With a Bunch of Kitchen Tools

There's no underestimating the power of play-dough. Unfortunately, some parents (and teachers, too) don't understand its importance.
There's no underestimating the power of play-dough. Unfortunately, some parents (and teachers, too) don't understand its importance. | Source

Get Creative and Keep It Fresh

16. Give your child some bubble wrap and let him pop the bubbles.

17. Assign your child the weekly job of watering all the houseplants with a spray bottle.

18. Let you child drive nails into scraps of wood with a junior-sized hammer.

19. Have your child write/draw on the sidewalk with jumbo chalk and then “erase” it by squirting it with a spray bottle full of water.

20. Let your child build sculptures with mini-marshmallows and toothpicks.

Final Thoughts

Children on the autism spectrum face many challenges when they start school – both academic and social. Why not eliminate one of those challenges by dealing with it now? Strengthening your child's pincer grasp and overall hand strength will prevent fatigue and frustration in kindergarten. He'll enter the classroom with confidence, knowing he can handle the routine of coloring, drawing, and writing.

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