What is Motor Planning? 

By: Christine Hemelians, MSOT, OTR/L

Most families that seek services are familiar with the terms fine and gross motor skills, or delayed receptive and expressive communication skills. However, fewer people understand motor planning and why it’s important. 

Motor planning is defined as “the ability to conceive, plan, and carry out a skilled, non-habitual motor act in the correct sequence from beginning to end” (North Shore Pediatric Therapy). When we perform an action, our brain receives feedback with regards through the movement our body created, in order to accomplish a specific action. In other words, motor planning is important because it allows us to problem-solve ways to complete a new task. 

It’s important to understand that motor planning skills are not innate. These are skills that are acquired with time, practice, and repetition. A child’s brain has to learn to communicate with their body and muscles in order to produce various movement patterns, and as time and practice increase, these movements become automatic. 

Imagine when a baby first learns how to walk. First, they learn to pull their head up, roll over, scoot, crawl, creep, and finally walk. Eventually, when practiced enough times, it becomes automatic. Children will continue building on these skills where walking becomes running, climbing, or jumping. 

Here are some examples that illustrate why intact motor planning skills are important: 

  • Walking around objects in our path
  • Sequencing an obstacle course
  • Picking up items in our path
  • Aiming and throwing objects
  • Writing 
  • Getting dressed
  • Brushing teeth
  • Jumping 

Children who struggle with motor planning skills are not able to easily learn a new skill, or respond to the feedback they’re receiving from their environment, in order to help master a movement. As a result, a child might seem clumsy, feel like they’re taking forever to carry out a basic action, have issues with handwriting, struggle with consistency in performance, or take a long time to respond to verbal instruction. Motor planning difficulties are caused by problem with processing sensory information and poor neural connections in the brain (North Shore Pediatric Therapy). 

There are certain diagnoses that have poor motor planning as a component of the diagnosis. Some of these disorders can include:

  • Developmental coordination disorder
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Sensory processing disorder
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Down Syndrome 
  • ADHD

If your child is having difficulty with motor planning, an occupational therapist can help! Call us for a free consultation. 

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