It is easy to take certain developmental milestones for granted when you have typically developed children. I never had to teach my second and third child how to use their pincer grasp. I may have tilted their wrist a time or two when teaching them how to use their knives correctly, but they were able to grasp the knife and complete the task successfully on their own. I know I never had to teach them how to button.
Things are different with a child who has low-muscle tone issues. Knife work, shoe-tying and slipping buttons through tight little holes are skills our 17-year-old son does not yet have. With ten stubby fingers and limited dexterity, A.J. has weak fine motor skills. I confess we haven’t required a lot of detailed work from those stubby fingers. Instead, we have spent the last 17 years working largely on speech acquisition, writing and reading skills, behavior management and social skills.
I began teaching A.J. how to read as soon as he could sit up. I consumed every book I could find on the subject of teaching children with Down’s Syndrome how to read. He learned to spell both phonetically and by sight. A.J. presently reads at a third grade level and has a great interest in sounding out words and writing each day. His interest in words is exciting! But, teaching him how to button his pants, is a different story.
Thankfully, Land’s End has cargo pants, denim and khakis with elastic waist-bands. Land’s End receives an order from me twice each year. However, A.J. will soon grow out of their big boy pants and he will be left to wear sweats every day if we do not soon get this buttoning skill achieved.
Each year I request the Occupational Therapist at school to help him with his fine motor skills. He has received minimal assistance. We consider the ability to button his own pants a key independent living skill. So, it is time for me to get to work! Last week I purchased the fine motor game, “Feed the Dog”. It has a large pair of tweezers–just the right size for A.J. to try to manipulate without frustration. Whenever we attempt a new task, it is always helpful to find items with a Disney or dog theme: two of A.J.’s favorite interests. I also purchased a game board to practice large button skills. Now it is time to create a plan for our family to attempt together, “Operation: Button your Pants”.
Operation: Button your Pants
- Work on pincer skills by playing “Feed the Dog” every day. Celebrate every attempt!
- Breakdown the steps to buttoning. Practice one step every day. Celebrate every attempt!
- Progressively practice smaller button holes.
- Practice on a pair of pants.
Week One Success
Excited to see what I brought him, A.J. pulls the doggie game out of the bag. We placed 30 plastic bones in the doggie bowl, and I model the use of the tweezers. A.J. takes his turn, and is unable to pinch the tweezers closed. Frustrated, he grunts at me several times. I ignore the grunts, and he quickly ceases the resistant sounds. Placing my hand over his, I attempt to place his fingers in the proper formation for pinching. Quietly, I grunt with my frustration! His fingers are confused. The two of us fumble with the tweezers until finally he is able to pinch them and pick up a bone.
Each step of the game (designed for 3-year-old children), is met with frustration. The game requires him to continue the pinch in order to get the bone to the doggie’s mouth. Then the tweezers have to turn just-so, in order to get the bone into the doggie’s mouth. Alas, he is able to do it. After 10 bones, I cheer and invite him to stop the game. He presses on.
Willingly, he opens the game and enjoys feeding the doggie the plastic bones each day. His pincer grasp is strengthening and he is enjoying the new skill!
Have you ever tried to break down the steps to placing a button in a button-hole? It is a long and challenging process! Operation: Button your Pants may take us some time. I’ll let you know how it progresses.
What skill comes after the ability to button his own jeans? I am afraid it will be teaching our young man how to shave. Oh boy, talk about a challenge!