Motor planning is the ability for us to receive information, organize the information and then carry out a specific sequence of skills, activities, or movements. Motor planning includes our planning of speech movements, cognitive movements, and physical movements. We receive sensory and motor information from our environment and then respond to it by execution. Once we learn motor skills, the movements become easier each time the skills are practiced. As the skills develop into an automatic movement, it increases the likelihood for more skills to start developing.
Typically developing children are seen moving and exploring new things. They have an inner drive to seek out difficult movements and challenges. Children without motor planning deficits will use both hands and both legs in a smooth and coordinated way. They are also seen able to go from one activity to another without confusion. This is because they are able to plan out what to do before it needs to happen. This is an example of how our brain and body develop motor skills that can develop into automatic movements for everyday life.
Children with difficulties in motor planning can show different deficits. Children might have difficulties with fine or gross motor skills, completing tasks in a timely manner, producing slow verbal output, having unorganized movements, or appearing to be inattentive. For example, a child may have difficulty holding a pencil and writing. This may be due to low muscle tone or inability to sequence the movements together. A child may also have a motor planning problem if they appear to be doing the same activity over and over again. Difficulties dressing oneself may also be a sign of a motor planning deficit.
During an occupational therapy session, the occupational therapist will target many things to improve the child’s motor functions. The occupational therapist will first demonstrate movements and assist the child to do the same. The child will start to strengthen their motor skills by using repetitions of movements. The more repetitions, the more the child will become confident in the movements. When the child becomes confident in the movements, the movements will start to become automatic. The occupational therapist will incorporate equipment such as balance boards, climbing ladders, and see-saws to work on increasing the child’s balance. To strengthen muscles and develop better motor skills, an occupational therapist may use trampolines, monkey bars, rock walls, and tunnels.