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Gifted Boy Lacks Fine Motor Skills

Gifted and Talented Expert Advice from Noreen H. Joslyn, LISW, ACSW

Q: We suspect our four-and-a-half-year-old son is gifted. His vocabulary and reading abilities are extraordinary for his age, he has a definite sense of humor -- particularly with irony and word play -- and he's fascinated with how things run and are put together. My son's small motor skills such as gripping a pencil are lacking. My question is: Can you have a gifted child who excels verbally but lacks small motor skills?

A: It is indeed possible to have a gifted child who is verbally/linguistically gifted, but delayed in fine motor skill development. Think of it as the brain going faster than the little hands can keep up! It becomes a problem later as a young child, who usually learns new things with ease, becomes frustrated when he can not write with ease and he, therefore, may give up on writing too quickly. He tries to avoid writing, and his ability to "show what he knows" diminishes. Though his grown-up world will certainly be different than ours -- with even faster computers and electronic devices -- it is still essential that he is adept in the use of a pencil and writing skills.

It is also possible for gifted children to have "asynchronous" or uneven skill development. (My teenage son recently laughed as he recalled how in kindergarten he could read the newspaper, but couldn't tie his shoes.) Your little boy's fine motor development is simply not yet caught up with his speedy brain. It is not uncommon after all, for four year olds to have trouble managing a pencil.

However, remedies for this problem are easy. Now is the time to improve his fine motor development. Encourage lots of building toy play. He likes to see how things are made, so encourage him to develop some of his own inventions with toys like Legos, K'nex, Tyco blocks, etc. Encourage writing play with crayons, thick pencils, colored chalk on the sidewalk, and so on. He can use little scissors and a glue stick to cut out words and make his own newspapers. Let him write shopping lists for you as he learns letters. Using thick clay will help strengthen his hand muscles. Have an art area set up and encourage him to draw something he has just learned or discovered. Remember, it is not unusual for children to avoid what is difficult for them, so writing play may not be his first choice. Please encourage it, however, as you are doing what's best for him in the long run. Good Luck!

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Noreen Joslyn is a licensed independent social worker in the state of Ohio and is a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers. She has a master's degree in Social Work, specializing in family and children, from the University of Pittsburgh. She is a psychiatric social worker in private practice with Ken DeLuca, Ph.D. & Associates, where she counsels parents and children.


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