Fine motor control refers to the ability to precisely move and position the limbs, extremities, and digits (especially the fingers). Examples of fine motor control include grasping an object between the thumb and forefinger, tying shoelaces, using a spoon to bring soup to the mouth, and typing. Fine motor control is essential to many activities of daily living (e.g., eating), educational activities (e.g., handwriting), and play (e.g., using a video game controller).
Fine motor control requires a tight link between action and the perceptual information used to prospectively (“feed forward”) and retrospectively (“feedback”) control movement. Although hand–eye coordination is a familiar concept in this regard, during fine motor control, an equally or perhaps more important role is played by haptic (touch) perception. Haptic sensory receptors (which are very densely distributed in the fingertips) are sensitive to mechanical stimulation of the skin and deeper tissues. Haptic perception plays a dual role in fine motor control—it provides the actor with proprioception (perception of the position and motion of the effectors) and exteroception (perception of touched objects or surfaces external to the body, such as a utensil grasped in the hand). Without the continuous, detailed perceptual guidance provided by the haptic system, precision actions such as threading a needle would be extremely difficult.
Development Of Fine Motor Control
Behaviors that require fine motor control begin to appear early in the course of motor development. By about 1 year, infants can grasp objects in the hand and use a precision grip (i.e., holding an object between the thumb and forefinger). During the second and third years, infants learn to perform actions such as scribbling, drawing, using utensils, and stacking blocks. Fine motor control develops more rapidly after the third year, and actions begin to appear more smoothly integrated and dexterous.
Fine motor control is often contrasted with gross motor control—the control of large-scale body movements. Fine motor control development depends critically on gross motor control development because fine motor control requires the ability to control gross body movements and body posture. For instance, a child cannot tie his or her shoe without being able to balance while sitting or kneeling.
Fine motor control development also depends critically on perceptual and cognitive development. Vision and haptic perception must develop sufficiently to support fine motor control development. Cognitive skills, such as the ability to form appropriate behavioral sequences, must also develop sufficiently for fine motor control to develop.
Possible Problems With Fine Motor Control
Two common problems with fine motor control are developmental coordination disorder (DCD) and cerebral palsy (CP). DCD is associated with general clumsiness and problems with fine motor control. DCD affects about 6% of children in the United States. There is no single cause of DCD. DCD often accompanies other childhood disorders. CP is a cluster of chronic conditions that affects almost 800,000 children and adults in the United States. The most common cause of CP is brain trauma during pregnancy or childbirth.
Physical and occupational therapy are available as interventions for DCD and CP. Physical and occupational therapy can sometimes facilitate fine motor skill acquisition and can help individuals acquire the skills required to write and button clothing, for instance. However, individuals with DCD or CP may experience persistent problems with fine motor control, in which case continued therapeutic interventions are often required to manage the disorder.
Fine motor control is expressed during actions such as writing, typing, and tying shoes. Fine motor control development is linked to the development of gross motor control, perception, and cognition. Problems with fine motor control can sometimes be treated with physical and occupational therapy.
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