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Children aged as young as four are starting primary school in need of specialist support from occupational therapists to enable them to perform basic tasks like holding a pencil, it has been revealed.
Senior paediatric doctors with the NHS have warned that parents who rely on iPads and other touchscreen devices to entertain their children and keep them quiet are potentially preventing them from developing basic motor skills, in some cases leaving the muscles in their fingers and hands too weak to properly grip a pencil.
Sally Payne, head paediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust, explained: "Children are not coming into school with the hands strength and dexterity they had ten years ago."
She highlighted that more and more children do not have the fundamental movement skills required to hold a pencil, which correlates directly with increased use of touchscreen technology for play over the last few years.
"To be able to grip a pencil and move it, you need strong control of the fine muscles in your fingers," Dr Payne added.
"Children need lots of opportunity to develop those skills."
Several cases of young children requiring long-term weekly sessions with an occupational therapist to build the strength in their hands so they are able to hold a pencil have come to light. Often, it is the index finger that isn't strong enough to enable the hand to form a tripod grip that can keep a pencil upright for writing.
However, experts are advising that this can be avoided altogether if parents focus more on muscle-building play with their children, giving them toys such as building blocks or encouraging crafts like cutting and sticking in order to improve the strength and function in their hands and fingers.
This should therefore ensure they are in a position to properly grip stationery when they start school, helping to prevent them from falling behind their peers both developmentally and academically.
Written by Alex Franklin Stortford
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