Motor Planning

two people dancing

What is Motor Planning?

  •  A skill that allows us to remember and do the steps in the right order to make a movement happen.
  • It helps us learn motor actions by adjusting You try something new, like riding a bike, and you get instant feedback on how it went. You adjust what you’re doing and try again. And you keep adjusting until you find the most efficient way of riding the bike. From then on, your brain quickly plans what to do every time you ride the bike.
  • We don’t need to consciously figure out how to do something each time we need to do it.
  • We can predict what we are supposed to do.

Why is Motor Planning important?

  • We use motor planning to do any physical activity, including everyday tasks like brushing teeth or opening a door.
  • We use motor planning to talk. People who don’t learn to speak, often have trouble with motor planning.
  • We typically get faster and more efficient as we practice a particular task.
  • For example, the routine task of brushing teeth can seem to be automatic. But our brain actually does lightning-fast planning before we get started and as we continue brushing. It determines how we’ll move, the steps we’ll take and the order we should take them. Without motor planning skills, the toothbrush might never make it out of the medicine cabinet. (www.understood .org)

What happens when Motor Planning is difficult?

  • When someone has trouble with motor planning, they don’t easily learn from the feedback they get.
  • Even if they’ve done a task before, it’s like they’re doing it for the first time.
  • People who struggle with motor planning may take a long time to learn and complete physical tasks, like buttoning sweaters or talking.
  • They may be slow in carrying out verbal instructions and appear to struggle with new tasks
  • They may have trouble speaking, forming words, have speech that is slurred or hard to understand, or can only say one word at a time clearly

What about Motor Planning in communication using AAC?

  • Even someone with motor planning difficulties can use AAC.
  • To make using AAC automatic, it needs to be predictable.
  • Once someone has learned the location of a word on a communication board or device, it needs to stay in the same place to be predictable.
  • The person using will not have to relearn anything—once they know how to say “juice” with AAC, if “juice” stays in the same place they will always know how to say “juice”.
  • There is some thinking that the symbols don’t matter as much as the location.
  • The more predictable AAC is, the faster and easier it becomes


Print Materials

AltAlt image for concept handout

Related Videos

This short video shows a young girl learning to use AAC by motor planning.

Deepen Your Understanding

“From the Consistent and Unique Motor Patterns refer to how vocabulary words are programmed on the device allowing for fast, natural and fluent communication. Words on the speech generating device are learned by repeating the consistent motor movement rather than reading a word or interpreting a picture. This allows the individual using AAC to find words on his/her device as quickly and efficiently as a touch typist using a computer.”

How do we learn to do something for the first time? Have you ever taken piano lessons? Do you remember learning how to type on a keyboard? At first, we have to think through each step. It is a conscious process. Over time, we get used to doing something and it becomes natural. Most of us don’t remember learning how to walk. Or learning how to talk. We just do it.

Now imagine having to type on a different keyboard. What if someone took away the QWERTY layout and replaced it with an alphabetical keyboard. We know the alphabet, so typing should be easy. But it isn’t.

Motor planning is the process of repeating an action so often that it becomes natural. We all rely on motor plans to make daily life possible. We need AAC to be predictable too. Once the location of a word is learned, it needs to stay in the same place. It needs to remain predictable. This is how communication becomes faster and easier.

We want to take advantage of static icon placement. In other words, once an icon (picture) has a home on a speech-generating device, its placement should not change. Predictability is important for establishing motor planning for communication.

This can be especially important for someone who has a hard time getting their muscles to do what they want. Use consistent icon placement. You are giving that person the best chance possible to be successful with communication.

The following is a link to a podcast episode that describes motor planning for communication: