What Is a Motor Skills Assessment?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A motor skills assessment is an evaluation of a patient to determine the extent and nature of motor skill dysfunction. Care providers like physical therapists and neurologists can perform the assessment, which may be ordered for a number of reasons. It is not invasive, but does require the completion of a number of tasks. The length of time required can vary, depending on the test or tests used. It may be necessary to set aside a full day for testing.

A physical therapist may perform a motor skills assessment on a new patient.
A physical therapist may perform a motor skills assessment on a new patient.

One reason for a motor skills assessment may be to establish a child’s baseline level of motor competency. This can provide a reference point for the future. Physical education teachers, for example, may perform brief assessments with new students to determine which kinds of activities would be safe and appropriate for them. Pediatricians also use such testing to assess their patients. If a child appears to have developmental delays, this may result in a referral for a more extensive examination.

A motor skills assessment established a baseline for motor skills proficiency.
A motor skills assessment established a baseline for motor skills proficiency.

Doctors, childcare providers, and other people in a position to notice that a child’s motor skills development appears to be lagging behind peers may recommend a motor skills assessment. A professional can determine what is happening and if it is a cause for concern. Testing can also be used when a child has a known disability that affects motor skills and care providers want specific information about how the condition affects the child. This can help them develop individualized education plans and therapy programs to help the child develop skills and become more confident.

Adults may require motor skills assessments after injuries or in connection with progressive diseases. In all cases, the assessment includes the completion of a number of tasks that require various motor skills, like catching and tossing a ball. The care provider can note how easily the patient performs the task, and whether the patient can engage in more complex variations. For example, a child might be able to throw a ball, but not aim it very well. During the motor skills assessment, it may be necessary to take breaks if the patient gets tired or frustrated.

Standardized tests are available, with a set number of tasks to perform and a grading rubric to follow. Custom-designed assessments may also be used. The care provider can write up detailed results on the testing and the outcome for the patient’s file. After a motor skills assessment, analysis may show that the patient could benefit from physical therapy, adjustments to medications, accommodations in school, or other measures.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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