SKILL DEVELOPMENT: PALMER GRASP
Jo learns to use his grip
Jo received his first lesson at four months. His mother expressed that she would like him to be more active on his own so he could sleep longer through the night. I asked if Jo liked shaking a rattle, or kicking his legs, or some other form of movement. She said that he did not shake a rattle much, but he did kick his legs some. I looked at Jo’s rattle collection and saw that he received the gift of a “perfect rattle,” but did not know how to hold it or shake it. A “perfect rattle” is one that is very simple, with a stick to hold and at one or both ends is a ball that makes an interesting sound. Think of the maraca or barbell rattle with sand or bells inside. The diameter of the stick should be small for this tiny a tot, maybe only a quarter of an inch. This allows him to hold the stick deep in the palm of his hand and then to feel that he is holding something. The firmness of the stick gives a very clear sense of pressure into the center of the palm, so baby can feel his palm more clearly. Jo learned to hold his rattle when it was placed in the palm of his hand, which by now opens quite easily, and then by closing his tiny fingers around the stick and gently pressing them closed. This helped him to feel his fingers closing around a stick. After just a moment, however, his grip relaxed and the rattle fell out. We repeated the process of placing the stick in his palm, closing his fingers around it and gently pressing them closed and holding them closed for a moment so he could feel his grip. Out the rattle fell again! So, over and over, about five times we repeated this process, and then he held the rattle for much longer. By the end of the lesson Jo was delighted to hold and shake this rattle, and hearing the bells jingle inside was a delightful reward! Several days later, Jo’s mother reported that he really enjoys using his grip! He both shakes the rattle and grips his blanket when he goes out for a ride in the stroller.
When baby is born the hand is tightly clenched. If you try and pry open his hand, he will clench it tight. This is a reflex called the palmer grasp. Over the next 5 months or so, this grip will gradually relax. This grip can be strong, but it is unpredictable as baby may release his grip suddenly, as Jo did when learning to hold the rattle. Much later in this first year the grip develops into the more sophisticated pincer grasp, the grasp between the thumb and the first finger, which baby uses to pick up a morsel of food. A well-developed use of the palmer grasp is the first phase of developing skilled hand control.