To throw and catch a ball may seem like such a basic skill, but for a child with motor isms, it may seem more challenging than going for an Olympic gold medal!
It is amazing the amount of skills involved that are typically taken for granted. For instance:
Motivation – interest in the ball and playing a reciprocal game
Attention – ability to keep focus
Coordination – knowing what to do as well as getting the body to cooperate with the mind
Experience – the willingness to keep trying and keep practicing
See? Not simple for a child who has significant developmental differences!
All Around Benefits
Once a child is showing beginning signs of being able to attend and physically hold and/or throw things, throw and catch can be a worthwhile activity to encourage even if extra care and adaptions are necessary. It can help a child develop confidence, attention skills, body control, motor planning skills, social awareness, and coordination. Tossing is a game that can be varied and expanded upon in limitless ways. It is age appropriate for all individuals and just as beneficial for older kids/adults as the wee ones.
6 Tips to help get ball “tossing”:
1. Make it easier for the child to be successful
Minimize distractions. A quiet, sparse room is ideal. Have the child stand on a low step stool to help him/her focus if necessary. A non-slip mat or taped X on the floor can work for some individuals as he/she develops more spatial and body awareness.
2. Break it down to whatever is do-able
Throwing might come easier than catching at first. Catching can be more intimidating. If so, just start with throwing. Take turns throwing bean bags or popcorn balls into a large tub or some other easy target. Announce clearly, “Mom’s turn! THROW to the bucket!” then enthusiastically tell the child do it. Gesture, show a picture- “[Child’s name]’s turn! THROW!”
3. Once the child can throw you can build
Try holding the tub or putting yourself where the tub was clearly saying “Now throw to ME!” Then run and hand the ball back before moving on to working on catching…work on one step at a time and build gradually. To teach catching – show how to get your hands ready, then start by handing or lightly tossing the ball from a short distance. Go for 3 catches, then 5, then 10 – work up as the individual seems ready.
4. Extra patience is extremely important
Give him/her time to process the requested action. If his/her focus drifts off or the ball is just dropped, excitedly but gently re-guide him/her back, “WOOPS! You dropped it! Here, try again, THROOOW!” – retrieve the ball and make visual gestures to cue such as throwing motion or pointing to the target.
5. Encourage and celebrate regardless of success
Believe in the child. Smile! Notice, did he/she take the ball from you? YES! Did he/she throw it the wrong way? AWESOME, that was a GREAT TRY! Make it fun to try something challenging and new as well as fun to be with you. Adding stress and pushing doesn’t help when things are hard. Celebrating and inspiring others can have amazing results because it is much more motivating and fun. Don’t need any specific response to happy; a child with special needs has enough challenges to work through. Feel good about yourself without needing anything from the child. Remember, you are trying too! Feel good about your intentions without needing the child’s response to make you feel successful. Don’t be discouraged by “failure” because you just never know when things might start to click. Positive persistence is the antidote to failure.
6. Experiment with your approach and pay attention to the child’s response
Go with whatever seems easiest for him/her. For example try different balls or other throwing objects such as bean bags, balls of different sizes, balloons, etc. Balloons move more slowly and have less impact (they kind of float) so this can be a good way to start working on catching skills. A light weight ball that is not too large for the individual to easily manipulate is best when starting out. Sensory balls with bells, knobs, pictures on them, etc. may be too distracting for some children; often plain and basic are best.
If the child is showing no interest, let it go for now – but certainly not forever! It is important to keep hoping, trying, and believing that the child can and will develop new skills. That process need not be drudgery. Familiarity can sometimes be the magic key, so enthusiastically try again in the near future. Some goals and dreams are worth striving for simply because of that is what life is all about, learning and growing together.