As an OT, I am finding the idea of iPad apps helping kids develop fine motor skills or social skills kind of a peculiar concept. This might sound strange to our readers since I am a co-developer of a soon-to-be-published app for children. I feel a need to explain myself so please stick with me. I have a feeling many of you out there will share my sentiments.
Fine motor skills are so much more than touching, swiping, tracing, rotating the iPad, and an occasional pinch of the screen. Development of fine motor skills requires active in-hand manipulation of a variety of materials for arch development, strength, tactile discrimination, finger individuation, and refinement of grasp patterns.
Social skills are not simply answering questions posed on a screen about social situations, reading emotions displayed on animated or photo faces on the screen, following if/then programs, or social stories created for the iPad. Although all of these apps can be helpful, nothing can replace real life learning and friendship development, right? So, I have spent a considerable amount of time trying to find ways to use this exciting technology as a means to an end … for fine motor, visual processing, and social skill building. Here are a couple of my favorite ideas or sequences:
Use the Tasty Ice Cream app with kids lying on their stomachs for postural strength building or as a barrier game for socialization. Follow up by making edible ice cream that requires a significant amount of real fine motor skills. Continue to milk the ice cream idea by opening up a pretend ice cream shop and have a blast!
The Dexteria app has a crab pinching activity which is highly motivating. Use this to get kids in the mode and then move on to a painting activity that involves holding a small sponge piece between the thumb and first two fingers to dab paint on paper. The crab pinching app can also be used with a peer to work on negotiating space or taking turns.
As parents and therapists, we are masters of task analysis…identifying the steps and elements of an activity and creating manageable expectations for each child. As we apply our analytic skills to technology which is increasingly available to families, we will find that this tool is simply another modality to help us better help our children.
by Jill Perry MHA, MS, OTR/L