How to Test Sensory & Motor Skills

Advancements in diagnostic techniques and testing have helped shed light on sensory and motor difficulties for infants, children and adults. Often linked to Autism and other developmental disorders, problems with fine and gross motor function, as well as the sensory processing that leads to motor response, may have neurological roots. Testing sensory and motor skills is an important part of monitoring the development of any child.


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      Observe the child in active situations. Generally, concerns about motor development spring from watching a child perform daily tasks. Children who seem to lack coordination or seem hypersensitive to sensory stimulation, such as touching, loud noises and crowded rooms, may be showing symptoms of some type of developmental disorder.

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      Interview others in contact with the child. Often, teachers or other professionals at school are the first to notice problems with sensory development. Children who are within a normal range on hearing and vision tests may have other, more difficult to establish problems with sensory processing. Parents should feel free to follow up personal concerns by asking questions of other adults who spend time around the child.

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      Request information from a physician. Bring up concerns as soon as they appear with the child's pediatrician. The pediatrician can refer the child to an occupational therapist or developmental specialist. OT professionals and developmental specialists will undertake the same initial processes of observing and interviewing others. Children will be observed completing fine-motor tasks such as writing or drawing, imitating gestures and measuring responses to auditory and tactile stimulation, and navigating obstacle courses to measure gross-motor function. Subtle difficulties with sensory-motor functioning generally do not become apparent until the child is several years old. The SIPT, or Sensory Integration Praxis Test, is geared to children between the ages of 4 and 10.

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      Follow the recommendations of professionals. Many school districts provide occupational therapy to children who qualify. Children will meet with therapists on a prescribed schedule, and therapists can suggest accommodations. Children with sensory-motor problems may practice avoidance of any activities that cause difficulty or distress. For parents, understanding the possible root causes of sensory-motor problems can help adjust, accept, and follow treatment options to improve their child's motor function.

Tips & Warnings

  • Diagnoses for developmental disabilities are conducted with a variety of standardized tests that denote an "average" level of function. Tests might be inconclusive regarding the precise nature of a condition and diagnoses can change with time and differing opinions. Patience and continued observation are the best tools available.
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  • Photo Credit child image by Renata Osinska from

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