Shoulder, Hand and Finger Strengthening activities for disabled children with behavioural and/or sensory difficulties. This includes for those with Autism, ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder

We call these children and young people our Leaping Leopards.

This page gives loads of ideas and exercises to strengthen shoulder stability, arms, hands and fingers for our children and young people who are mobile with behavioural and / or sensory difficulties.

Shoulder, hand and finger strengthening activities for disabled children with behavioural and or sensory difficulties
  • We need good shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand and finger strength to carry and manipulate objects, stabilise ourselves and for hand dexterity and fine motor skills. 

  • This enables us to be able to carry out activities of daily living such as eating, dressing (buttons and zips can be especially difficult), doing up laces, handwriting, typing etc. Much play and school work need good fine motor skills although there are adaptations if fine motor skills aren’t going to be achieved.

Before trying these exercises, take a minute to prepare your child. To wake up their muscles it can be a good idea to wake up their skin. This can be done by squeezing their hands, tips of their fingers and their arms and shoulders. You could also use a brush along their skin, or a vibrating massager. All of these can help to make your child more aware of their fingers/ hand/ arm which can then help them be more accurate and use their arms/ hands more effectively.

Shoulder and elbow strength and stability activities for you to try at home with your child

  1. Start just trying to maintain a hands and knees position. It may be easier to start with the child sitting back on their heels and just balancing through their arms.

  2. As they get stronger, move their bodies forward until their shoulders are over their hands and their hips are over their knees. While they learn to hold this position, watching activities are the best – watching a tablet, reading a book etc so they don’t have to move their arms.  

  3. Once they are stable on their hands and knees, practice lifting 1 hand to play. They could play on a tablet with 1 hand, roll balls back and forwards or do a puzzle.  

  1. On their hands and knees – reach 1 arm straight out in front of them in the air – you can challenge them to balance a beanbag or soft toy on the back of their hand to keep it up. Try and hold for 1 minute 

  2. Now try and lift 1 leg straight out behind them. Try and hold this for 1 minute 

  3. Can they do an opposite arm and leg at the same time and hold it for 1 minute? 

  4. Try the other side. 

  1. Hold your child by their hips with their legs straddling you and their hands on the floor. Move around the floor while they walk on their hands picking up objects for as far as you can go. 

  2. Move your hands down to your child’s knees and walk around the room – picking up objects or playing a matching game or skittles. 

  3. If you can, hold your child by their ankles. Make sure they keep their bottom in the air and don’t hang their tummy’s down. Again find a game to make this more entertaining.  

  4. As your child gets stronger you could try to get from one end of the house to another – even trying going up the stairs. 

  5. You could also make an obstacle course to go around.

  1. Any climbing using hands will be good for hand and shoulder strength and stability. This includes climbing on furniture or up the stairs. The more weight which goes through the arms, the better.

  2. The most challenging activity is hanging on a bar or going along monkey bars. Try hanging off a door if you don’t have access to a bar to hang from. 

Wrist, hand and finger strengthening exercises to try at home with your child

Salt dough

  1. See this ‘Our Home’ video on hand strengthening with playdough – kneading, pulling apart, squashing or wringing the playdough can all be great hand strengthening exercises.

2. For finger strengthening, try hiding objects in the dough and your child has to manipulate it to get the toy.

  1. Squeezing bottles is a lovely way to strengthen fingers. Fill an empty toothpaste tube with yogurt or a water bottle with a spout with any liquid.

  2. Put soft playdough in a plastic bag and make a small hole – squeezing it out can make a lovely snake of dough and be great for strengthening the hand and fingers. 

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  1. Squeeze stress balls – see Our Home video on how to make a stress ball out of flour and some balloons.

2. Encourage your child to squeeze this or just poke with their fingers. 

  1. Tie some string around the legs of chairs and clip pegs along the line for your child to take off.

  2. Cut some card into a head shape and your child can use clothes pegs to make hair.

  3. Or do a scavenger hunt. Clip pegs around the house on bits of material, paper, drawer handles etc. The child can then go around the home or the room (depending on their mobility) to find the pegs and take them off (see this ‘our home’ video which shows how to use a tablet to set up a scavenger hunt).

  1. Using home implements can be brilliant for strengthening. For the whole hand use kitchen or BBQ tongs and try to pick up bigger items such as socks, soft toys, small cushions.

  2. You could set this up as a scavenger hunt too. Take photos of objects they need to pick up with their tongs from around the house and they need to use the tongs to bring the item back to the starting point until they find all the objects.  

  3. For finger strengthening, use tweezers instead of tongs and pick up small items such as coins. See how quickly they can pick up 10 coins and put them in a bowl the other side of the room. 

  1. Use any spare nuts and bolts (and washers) you have around the house to make shapes with card. Just draw the shape of a dinosaur, snake, tree etc. cut slits or holes in the card and your child can amuse themselves screwing the nuts and bolts together to make great pieces of 3d art. 

  1. Use a large piece of newspaper and ask your child to scrunch it into the smallest ball they can with 2 hands.

  2. Now ask them to do it with 1 hand. The manipulation needed for this will strengthen all the small intricate muscles of the hands. 

Using Scissors

  1. Using scissors is a great way to strengthen hands. You can start by cutting dough as this teaches the right way to cut. Make a snake out of dough and ask then to cut it into pieces.

  2. Move on to cutting straight lines on card and/ or paper.

  3. As their skills develop you can be inventive with your cutting and draw interesting shapes for them to cut. These activities should be supervised at all times. 

  4. See our video for a great demonstration of making chain Minecraft men with just straight line cutting.


Headstand and handstands 

Both headstands and handstands are brilliant ways to challenge your child’s whole arm, hand and fingers strength. They should be tried only if your child has a good level of fitness and strength already and can manage the wheelbarrow exercise held at their ankles.  

These videos take you step by step through the process of doing a headstand and handstand. Make sure your child takes these very slowly to avoid injury and help and supervise your child throughout. 

  1. This video takes you through the process of doing a headstand. Watch the whole thing through before you try. Make sure your child is stable at each step to avoid injury later on.  

  1. This video is great for teaching a smaller child the beginning steps of a handstand. The final step is up against a wall.

  1. This video is appropriate for teaching handstand to older and stronger children who love a physical challenge; Workout Series: How to Master the Handstand . If your child is very physical this will be a good challenge and may also help to calm and regulate them. Remember to stay with your child throughout these exercises for safety. 

Here are a selection of suitable Our Home videos for Leaping Leopards

Obstacle Course

This obstacle course is suitable for mobile and active children.

Laser Quest

This video is suitable for mobile children. You can create the laser string quest anywhere in your home and make it as big or small or as easy as you like!

Scavenger Hunt

The scavenger hunt is really simple and easy to set up. It can be adapted to suit any disability and household.

Tape Games

This video gives loads of ideas of what to do with tape to make up games around your home.

Stealthy Ways for Handwashing

This video contains tips on how to ‘stealth handwash’ whilst still having fun with various kitchen or household props. 

More fun resources for disabled children with behavioural and/or sensory difficulties

Thank you for visiting Gympanzees’ website. All information provided by Gympanzees is of general nature and for educational / entertainment purposes. It is up to you as the parent or family member to judge what is appropriate and safe for your child. No information provided by Gympanzees should replace any professional information and advice that you have been given and speak to your therapist or doctor if you are unsure of anything. Should you use any of the information provided by Gympanzees, you do so at your own risk and hold Gympanzees harmless from any and all losses, liabilities, injuries or damages resulting from any and all claims.