What Are Gross Motor Skills?

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What Are Gross Motor Skills? | Triumph Therapeutics | Occupational Therapy in Washington DC

Any time you make a movement that involves the large muscles of your body, you’re using your gross motor skills.

They form the basis of many of the most important movements your body makes.

Gross motor skills milestones are also important because they are general milestones that indicate different stages of childhood development that begin just after birth.

If you notice your child is not hitting their milestones at the appropriate age, consider physical therapy for kids as well as pediatric speech therapy as a good resource to use to supplement their development.

In particular, you’ll want to ensure that your pediatric physical therapist has experience with treatment for developmental delays because there is a chance that your child may have a delay depending on how and if their gross motor skills milestones are being met.

But, we’ll find out more on this later.

Now, let’s dive in.

What Are Gross Motor Skills?

Gross motor skills involve your whole body.

Using the large muscles of your torso, arms, and legs, you are able to complete movements required for all types of physical activities.

Some examples include jumping, running, crawling, sitting, and rolling.

Even though most of the time we can do these things without thinking, your gross motor skills rely on a complex system that involves your neurological system coordinating with your muscles.

Generally speaking, your gross motor skills are responsible for:

  • Body awareness
  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Reflexes
  • Physical strength

How Do Gross Motor Skills Develop?

You begin developing your gross motor skills as soon as you’re born.

As a baby, all the little movements that eventually lead to sitting up, then crawling, and finally walking use the muscles that make up your gross motor skills.

Everyone develops these skills at their own pace, but there are general milestones that are marked by different ages based on the average child’s development pace.

One example of this is that by age four, children are usually able to jump with both of their feet.

Health Conditions That Affect Gross Motor Skills Development

There are a number of different conditions that can impact your gross motor skills and their development.

Let’s dig deeper into some of the more common conditions associated with gross motor skills delay.

1. Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental and neurological disorder that can affect how you behave socially, communicate, and learn.

Many autistic people also have some type of gross motor skills difficulty.

It’s thought that the same genetic factors that cause autism can also cause these motor challenges.

For example, you might have trouble coordinating movement between the left and right sides of your body.

This makes it more difficult to do things like jumping, skipping, hopping, or moving a swing by swinging your legs.

The intensity of these difficulties ranges depending on the individual.

It’s also worth noting that even as an infant, babies who are diagnosed with autism later in life are usually slow in reaching their gross motor skills milestones.

2. Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities include a wide range of disorders that can affect your organization, retention, understanding, and communication abilities.

Many people who have a learning disability also have a gross motor skills difficulty.

In fact, any problems or a delay in your gross motor skills development is considered a risk indicator that you may be diagnosed with a learning disability later in life.

Often, parents who seek out speech therapy for their dyslexic child, for example, note difficulties in their gross motor skills development.

But, always remember to consider a gross motor skills delay in the context of the corresponding milestones.

For example, it’s a larger risk if your four year old is not yet able to hop with both feet.

It’s not a risk if your one year old is not yet able to do that.

3. Down Syndrome

Down syndrome is a hereditary genetic disorder that occurs at birth.

One common symptom of it is low muscle tone, which is when the muscle appears weak and floppy because its resting length is longer than is should be.

Low muscle tone affects your gross motor skills and makes it generally harder to use your muscles.

All of their muscles can be affected.

For this reason, children with down syndrome typically follow a different set of gross motor skills milestones that correspond to the intensity of their low muscle tone.

Pediatric therapy for children with Down syndrome can help.


Finally, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – ADHD – often accompanies an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis.

But, just because many people with autism also have ADHD, that doesn’t mean everybody does.

One of the many symptoms they have in common, however, is gross motor skills challenges.

Many children who are diagnosed with ADHD usually have greater issues reaching their gross motor skills milestones.

Gross Motor Skills Milestones

We’ve already talked a bit about gross motor skills milestones earlier.

They’re the average age that your child should be able to do particular movements.

Let’s take a closer look at them, step by step.

By 2 Months

By two months your child should:

By 4 Months

By four months your child should:

  • Push up from their tummy to their elbows
  • Hold their head up
  • Sustain some weight on their legs when their feet are flat against the ground

By 6 Months

By six months your child should:

  • Rock on their hands and knees
  • Roll over unassisted
  • Sit without support
  • Move objects between their hands

By 9 Months

By nine months your child should:

  • Point at things
  • Reach and grab small objects
  • Pick up small pieces of food
  • Creep, crawl, scoot, and almost stand unassisted

By 1 Year

By one year your child should:

  • Shake and throw objects
  • Stand assisted and unassisted
  • Drink from a sippy cup without any help
  • Take steps while using a support

By 18 Months to 2 Years

By eighteen months to two years, your child should:

  • Run unassisted
  • Eat with a child friendly utensil
  • Hold a crayon or marker
  • Walk forwards and backwards unassisted
  • Throw a ball
  • Walk up or down steps using support

Health Conditions That Affect Gross Motor Skills Development | Triumph Therapeutics | Occupational Therapy in Washington DC

How Can Pediatric Physical Therapy Help?

Your pediatric physical therapist will first evaluate your child to thoroughly understand your child’s specific strengths and weaknesses.

If your child also has another disorder that is contributing to their gross motor skills delay, then your physical therapist will work with you to create a treatment plan that incorporates the full picture of your child’s disorder.

It’s your pediatric physical therapist’s role to create a plan that will encourage your child to reach their individual movement goals.

They will do this by physically guiding your child’s movements, using cues to signal new directions of movement, and if necessary, experimenting with different types of supports depending on the needs of your child.

This includes giving exercises that can be practiced at home, and at school in addition to during your child’s physical therapy sessions.

How Can Pediatric Speech Therapy Help?

After a similar evaluation that would include considering your child’s full health history, your pediatric speech therapist can help by creating a treatment plan to address your child’s weaknesses and enhancing their strengths.

This is because if your child is struggling with their gross motor skills, there’s a good chance they’ll have poor posture, core strength, or even sufficient breathing ability.

Your child needs a solid foundation in their gross motor skills in order to be able to communicate effectively and efficiently as they grow.

You should adopt a holistic approach to help your child develop into their future potential.

Book Your Appointment With Triumph Therapeutics Today

You can see that a holistic approach to helping your child develop their gross motor skills includes both physical therapy and speech therapy if they are delayed.

It’s important that this treatment considers any other diagnoses your child may have and incorporate them into their treatment plans.

At Triumph Therapeutics, we have pediatric physical therapists and speech therapists that can support your child and develop their gross motor skills.

To get started, book an appointment with Triumph Therapeutics today.

If you’re ready to take the next step, reach out today for a free phone consultation.

Triumph Therapeutics

4900 Massachusetts Ave NW suite 340,
Washington, DC 20016

(202) 621-9793
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Triumph Therapeutics is a team of highly experienced pediatric therapists specializing in physical therapy, speech language therapy, and occupation therapy for children, adolescents and their families as they work to reach their growth and wellness goals