Developing good handwriting skills is crucial for school-going children since it is critical for school success. However, children with autism tend to have specific handwriting difficulties. For instance, children with autism tend to struggle in forming letters than do neuro-typical peers of the same age and levels of intelligence. For instance, as shown in the figure (Fuentes, Mostofsky, & Bastian, 2009, p.1535) below, children with autism tend to write in a way where there are sharp points to sections that should be curved (e.g. “o” and “s”). As handwriting is a complex skill that relies on several sub-skills, such as “visual and motor coordination, cognitive and perceptual skills, as well as tactile and kinaesthetic sensitivities,” it is understandable that children with autism display difficulties in handwriting.
Identifying the components behind poor handwriting can inform the intervention strategy needed. Here are some observations you can make about your child’s handwriting:
Firstly, check your child’s grip. There are various types of grip where pencil grips evolve as children grow older. The ideal pencil grip should allow your child to write legibly without feeling tired after a handwriting task. The dynamic tripod grip “refers to the use of the thumb, index, and middle fingers so that they function together and perform a well-coordinated movement.” Moreover, both the ring and little finger rests on the table to provide stability in writing. Secondly, check the strength of your child’s hand. Is your child using too much strength such that their pencil breaks often or that your child is easily tired from writing? Is your child using too little strength such that the letters appear too light on the paper? Your child may not be able to control or may be unaware of the amount of strength he or she is applying. Thirdly, a good body posture also matters as poor posture can result in fatigue or strain during handwriting tasks.
What are some ways to improve children’s handwriting?
1. Grip: Pencil grips can be useful to shape your child’s tripod grip. A fatter and shorter writing instrument, such as a broken crayon, has been recommended for younger children to familiarise themselves with the proper grip before moving on to a pencil.
2. Strength: If your child is writing with too much strength, get your child repeatedly squeeze his or her hand into a fist as tight as possible and then relax by stretching the fingers out. Practise writing with a relaxed hand. If your child has too little strength, games to improve their fine motor skills can help improve their ability to control their pencil. Activities include using a pencil to poke through something firm (e.g. a playdoh), squeezing bottles, or picking up small objects using tweezers can help develop hand strength.
3. Posture: Ensure that their forearms and hands are resting on the table, stabilise the paper with their non-dominant hand, they are sitting upright, and their body is facing the desk squarely.
4. Pattern sequence: Engaging in pattern sequence activities (e.g. bead sequencing activity) improves children’s visual-motor integration.
5. Colouring: Get your child to colour within the lines for thick and then thin borders.
6. Tracing: Tracing is crucial for improving children’s hand-eye coordination. Use highlighters to draw out straight and curvy lines, simple shapes, simple drawings, and letters. Your child can then trace using a pencil so that they become more familiar with various strokes.
7. Copying: As compared to colouring and tracing, copying requires more skills such as orthographic processing and the ability to replicate what they had just seen. Get your child to copy the targets (i.e., lines, shapes, drawings, letters, and numbers) they have already mastered for tracing. You can do this by folding a paper into half and getting your child to copy on the right side of the paper.
Overall, handwriting is a complex skill where it relies on and involves several other skills before children can learn to write legibly. Do reach out to professionals to help your child improve their handwriting skills.
Written by Sylvia.
21 Activities for Children with Special Needs to Improve Handwriting. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.performancehealth.com/articles/21-activities-to-improve-handwriting-in-children-with-special-needs?fbclid=IwAR1vgZCDRnwdi3Kh7v0Y05Q20voOHrKYZ0d5Jz13RmvFqNzyDZcrwpATM3g
Bara, F., & Gentaz, E. (2011). Haptics in teaching handwriting: The role of perceptual and visuo-motor skills. Human Movement Science, 30(4), 745-759. doi:10.1016/j.humov.2010.05.015
Fuentes, C. T., Mostofsky, S. H., & Bastian, A. J. (2009). Children with autism show specific handwriting impairments. Neurology, 73(19), 1532-1537. doi:10.1212/wnl.0b013e3181c0d48c
Occupational Therapy Helping Children. (2019, September 10). The Importance of Good Sitting Posture for Handwriting. Retrieved from https://occupationaltherapy.com.au/the-importance-of-good-sitting-posture-for-handwriting/
Selin, A. (2003). Pencil grip: A descriptive model and four empirical studies. Åbo: Åbo Akademi Univ. Press.