Building Hand Skills in Young Children – Tips from The Center for Autism

By Aparna Guttery, occupational therapist at The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental DisordersHand Skills in Young Children

Children learn through physical exploration. Some children, including those with autism, may struggle more with fine motor coordination and the use of their hands for exploration. These kids may benefit from addressing underlying foundations that support hand skill development, such as strength, grasp, and awareness of one’s hand. Here are a few fun everyday activities to support these important areas:

Strong Arms and Hands – Activities for upper body and hand strength. 

  • Encourage your child to climb up, down and over playground equipment. Help your child swing from the monkey bars or hang on one bar for as long as your child can.
  • Try wheelbarrow walking and fun animal walks, such as crab walking or donkey kicks.
  • Show your child how to play, pinch and/or cut play-doh or silly putty.
  • Have your child play with a small size water bottle in the bath tub, or have them help water the plants. This is a great way to strengthen the small muscles of his or her hand.

Grasp and Control – Learning proper placement of hands/fingers on small tools for effective use.

  • With your supervision, have your child use tongs or tweezers to pick up objects (craft pom-poms, cotton balls, scrunched up paper).
  • Choose short and wider coloring and writing tools for smaller hands. This can include jumbo crayons broken in half to support finger positioning.
  • Tape butcher paper to the wall for your child to color, draw and write on. Working on vertical surfaces (easel, wall mounted chalkboard) is beneficial for grasp and building control.
  • Beading activities can be a great way to promote grasp. Try stringing beads onto sturdy pipe cleaners for greater ease.

Touch, Feel and Play – Increase awareness of hands/fingers to help with positioning and movement for use.

  • Have your child try finger painting, or writing in paint, pudding, shaving cream, or anything messy.  If your child has sensitivities to certain textures, find something that might be a better fit.
  • Play in the sand at the park and beach; hide small toys in the sand (buried treasure) and have him or her dig with hands.
  • Create hide and seek bins filled with uncooked rice, beans, or cotton balls, and hide puzzle pieces or small toys for him or her to find. Added challenge: cover bin with a towel and have your child sneak his or her hand in and use only touch cues to find the hidden object.

Try to incorporate these and any hands-on activities on a daily basis.  Have fun, be creative, and try to make the activities interesting and meaningful for your child.

The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders is located at 2500 Red Hill Ave, in Santa Ana. For more information, please visit

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