Handwriting Skills


    Moira Sullivan, M.A., O.T.R.


    When children struggle with handwriting, school can become a challenge rather than a fun place to learn.  What can parents do to help their children become more proficient at writing?

    In order to write, several things need to be working well.   Ask yourself:

    • Can my child see clearly?  Can she tell subtle differences between shapes?  Do his eyes work together to track moving objects or to move across a page?
    • Does my child have adequate strength and stability to sit in a chair and focus on what is going on around him?
    • Can my child pay attention to what is important and filter out what is less important?  This includes not only what is seen, but sensory input such as noise, movement, etc.
    • Does my child have adequate control of her shoulder/arm/hand?

    There are many ways to build your child’s handwriting skills, the best part is they’re fun activities the whole family can do together.  The key is to build endurance in the torso and shoulders for greater control at the hand, to build strength and flexibility in the muscles of the hand, and to increase the brain’s ability to use visual information.   Here are some of an occupational therapist’s favorite “tools”:

    • Board games teach in-hand manipulation, visual skills such as pattern recognition, and sequencing skills.
    • Using play-dough, finger paint or regular paint increases hand strength and in-hand manipulation skills.
    • Building with blocks teaches about spatial relationships.
    • Climbing, running, jumping and ball play builds core strength and endurance.
    • “I Spy” games build visual figure-ground and problem solving skills.
    • Classic children’s games such as marbles, jacks, and cat’s cradle build in-hand manipulation, spatial awareness, and visual tracking skills.
    • Digging in a box of beans to find hidden objects or to scoop and pour builds arm strength and visual figure ground skills.
    • Games have been developed for the iPad and other devices which can help with these skills as well.  Have your child use a stylus when practicing writing with these devices, no-one writes with their index finger.

    When there is a clear difference between a child’s ability and their completed work, it may be time to have an evaluation done by an occupational therapist to see exactly what is getting in the way.

    A recent study published in the November issue of Neurology found that handwriting challenges can continue into the teen years, for children on the spectrum.  It therefore becomes crucial to address handwriting early on.  The ability to take notes in class and convey ideas through handwriting is fundamental to academic success.  The process of writing also helps with absorbing concepts and internalizing them.  Knowing the areas of impairment will allow us to strategically identify techniques that will help children with ASD improve their handwriting.


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