Functional Motor Skills: the Big 6+6 Skills

Categories: Basic Skills

I bet that title caught your attention. The Big 6+6, you say? It sounds catchy. It also sounds like a large delicious breakfast menu item that contains multiple types of breakfast meats. In the Precision Teaching world, there is an important set of 12 discrete fine motor movements. These skills are the components of more complex skills. Basically, if you can fluently (accurately and quickly) complete these movements you can be successful with a whole range of more advanced and functional tasks. These skills are the basis for daily living activities like dressing, eating, bathing, playing with toys, writing, and more.

Big 6







+ 6







Dr. Eric Haughton originally coined the term “the Big Six” for these movements. He saw that all of our important behaviors – everything from grasping a spoon to eat cereal to opening a car door to leave for school – was comprised of these movements. He also saw that working on this skills in isolation would help improve an individuals ability to complete the bigger task. So for example, working on just the skill of grasping will later help the eating cereal task be more independent and functional.

Fluency and These Skills

When we think about building these skills in isolation, that means away from the bigger task. So instead of working on squeezing the toothpaste only during hygiene time – you target the skill of squeezing on its own. By target and build – I mean increase fluency. We want the skill done correctly and quickly. If you can increase the speed the learner can accomplish this simple motor movement (such a squeezing), he will have more accuracy and skills related to the more complex task (like putting on toothpaste). Research suggests that when an individual’s speed on the completing the simple motor movement matches that of a typically functioning peer – he or she will have increased skills on the bigger daily living tasks (Twarek, Cihon, & Eshleman, 2010). So basically, the idea is if you practice all the small little skills and get them fast and almost effortless – the bigger tasks that combine all of the little skills will be more successful. It makes sense, right?

How does this apply to my students?

For your students working on foundational level skills and daily living tasks – identify areas of need. Look at what tasks require physical prompting on a daily basis. These are likely areas where the student has weak performance on these big 6 + 6 skills and have some motor delays. Select which skills you want to work on. Conduct a short (15-20) second timing to determine the baseline. Compare it to your performance or a peer’s performance to see if there is a deficit. If there is, practice this skill in a fluency timing every day. Set an aim and work towards that goal. This resource gives some great and simple ways to target each skill.


Hold out an object towards the child, once they reach for it – move the object. Continue moving the object and counting the number of times this student reaches for the object during the time interval.


There are a lot of cool manipulatives you can use for this skill. I have used a large chip clip, squeak toy, and spray bottle. Track how many squeezes the student does in a specific time period.


Grasp & Release:

Combine two movements by working on picking up items and releasing them into a bucket or large bin. This is a great and concrete tasks that really helps not only build these skills but also attention.


Twarek, Melissa & Cihon, Traci & Eshleman, John. (2010). The effects of fluent levels of Big 6 + 6 skill elements on functional motor skills with children with autism. Behavioral Interventions – BEHAV INTERVENT. 25. 10.1002/bin.317.


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