One of the characteristics that people with Down Syndromie often have are smaller and shorter fingers and hands. The same applies to their feet as well in a lot of situations. Because of the smaller fingers, they often have decreased strength in their hands and fingers which influences the ability to hold utensils for eating, drawing, writing, etc. In the first picture below, you will see Colin's right hand followed by Kailey's right hand.
One of the most obvious differences between their two hands is the length of their fingers. Before we ever had an occupational therapist in our home for Early Intervention (they specialize in fine motor skills), our physical therapist used to emphasize activities that required Colin to support his body weight on his hands. She always stressed that for children with Down Syndrome, it was really important to follow the typical phases of development (push to sit, crawling and then walking) because crawling was crucial for hand strengthening. One thing she always boasted about Colin was that even though his physical development took longer than a typical child (and even for kids with Down Syndrome), he followed the correct patterns and would accomplish each phase correctly before moving onto the next.
When it came to Colin's fine motor skill development, it was always more challenging than other areas. One of Colin's weaknesses is that when something becomes too challenging and frustrating (especially when he tried something many times) he will give up on the activity and move on to something else. Because of this, we have always struggled to keep his attention to task on activities that required him to hold a writing or drawing utensil.
Through the years, we have always incorporated activities into Colin's daily life that would require him to use his pincer grasp (picking up small objects, trying to zipper coats, etc.) to help build his muscle strength in his hands. It was always frustrating to me that Colin never really had an interest in puzzles and for the longest time, I thought it was because he didn't have the problem solving skills to figure out where the pieces should go. However, most of the time he could make the connection as to where the piece should go, but then would give up when he couldn't figure out exactly how to position it to make it fit. It would be incredibly frustrating for him to not be able to fit the piece exactly in the spot. We have now realized that he can successfully complete puzzles using the ipad because we took out the component of having to manipulate the pieces.
It has taken a really long time but Colin's interest level in using writing utensils is finally starting to emerge. We find that his attention to task on activities that require tracing, writing or drawing is significantly improving. One of the biggest motivating tools for this has been the magnadoodle. We have had this toy since Colin was 1 year old but only recently has he really begun to use it. We are finding that even though his hand strength is still lacking when it comes to holding the pen well, he is starting to correctly position his hand on it.
We are also finding out from both of Colin's occupational therapists (he sees one at school and a private one in conjunction with his feeding therapy) that he is really motivated by using scissors. They have special loop scissors for him to use that just require him to squeeze the end to get the scissors to open and close versus the traditional scissor which require you to have the strength to open and close them. I finally found them on Amazon so I am going to order a few pairs for him to use.
I have always felt a little bit anxious because of Colin's lack of interest in using crayons, pencils, etc. because of the fact that kindergarten feels right around the corner. It concerned me that he wouldn't quite be ready to work with writing letters and numbers independently. However, we are finding that his interest level is very quickly starting to change and I think a lot of this has to do with increasing strength in his hands. Now that he has become very independent with pulling up and down his pants (this takes him awhile to do it because of the lack of strength in his hands) and participating more in other activities requiring the use of his hands, his hand strength is improving which is becoming more motivating for other fine motor activities. I think this will be a big year for him for development of these skills which in turn will help with the production of activities requiring him to use writing utensils.