Day 21: Handwriting for the Child with Special Needs

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With the influx of technology, it appears that handwriting (printing or cursive) is becoming a lost art.  For children with special needs, tapping or scrolling with one finger is often easier than holding a pencil and scribbling on paper, making handwriting almost obsolete in some situations.

Traditionally, handwriting is taught by tracing letters and then repeating them several times on one line.  Of course, this works when children have good eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills to boot.  What does your child do if he cannot hold a pencil properly yet?  This post will show you that handwriting does not have to be fully replaced by technology.  Your child can have success with this art in his own way.

 

Handwriting screenshot

There are many free handwriting worksheets pinned on Pinterest. Do not start with these just yet. Decide whether your child is ready for handwriting at all.

A word about the benefits of handwriting

You might be asking yourself: If technology can help my child with writing, why bother with handwriting? 

While I agree that technology has its place, when it comes to handwriting, the benefits for overall development are huge.  The Wall Street Journal ran an article in 2010* that highlighted the research done on the brain in relation to handwriting.  In short, the study showed that handwriting helps with memory, fine motor development, and idea composition.

Of course, you are the best person to judge what your child can and cannot do.  If you believe that skipping handwriting and using technology is best for your child, then please follow your gut and your child’s OT recommendations.  I do want you to read the tips below and try to apply some of them – even if the goal is not for your child to hold a pencil to write a 500 word essay.  There are great benefits for your child – especially if he only works on the first recommendation.

Why handwriting may be a challenge for children with special needs

  • Children with visual-motor delays may struggle with properly holding the tools required to handwrite.
  • Children with cognitive delays may not comprehend the purpose of writing.

Handwriting for the Child with Special Needs 2

Suggestions for adaptations/ modifications for teaching handwriting

  • Readiness.  No matter how much you want your child to learn to print, you cannot force this skill if your child is not ready.  Right from the get-go, ask yourself where your child is at developmentally, and be honest about his readiness for handwriting.  If you begin too early, you may be causing more harm than good.** Since so much is required before a child learns to handwrite, you want to work on those skills first (ie: eye-hand coordination practice activities, pincer grasp development, using a tool in the hand, etc.)  Ask your child’s OT what the prerequisites for handwriting are and work on those first.
Alternatives to worksheets for children with special needs

You will be able to find plenty of worksheets and workbooks with printing/cursive outlines. Check with your child’s OT to learn whether your child is ready to put pencil to paper.

  • Strengthen the body.  One of the prerequisites your child’s OT will share with you is that the proprioceptive system has to be developed.  Since writing requires the use of the hands and fine motor control through applying different pressures in the hand, (including crossing the midline), the proprioceptive system needs to be strengthened.  What exercises can your child’s OT offer to target fine motor skills?

Basic Shapes for Beginners eBook

  • Provide trunk support. Provide adapted seating for your child, as required.  The trunk and lower body need to be fully supported in order to tackle handwriting.
  • Feel the strokes with the body.  Before ever picking up a pencil, have your child practice the lines and shapes with his body.  Painting, drawing, modelling, yarn play, cutting/ pasting, shape practice are all activities that are intermingled and can help not only build those each of those other skills, but the skill of handwriting as well.  In the air, with a flashlight, with a stick, etc., you can have your child “draw” circles, lines up and down, lines side to side, a cross, a square, a triangle, etc. You can use workbooks intended for print practice as inspiration for drawing in the air, floor, wall, etc.
  • Include verbal routines.  Remember “Zoom, zoom, zoom” from painting activities?  Why not continue that verbal routine with drawing side-to-side, and say, “Round, round, round” for the circle drawing, and “Up, down, Up, down” for vertical lines and so on.
ribbon play for movement for the child with special needs

A ribbon wand makes for a great extension of the arm. Work hand-over-hand at first to get your child to “draw” the lines and shapes in the air.

Have you started handwriting with your child?  What has worked for you?

Reference:

*How Handwriting Trains the Brain (The Wall Street Journal article)
**Handwriting Readiness: Locatives and Visualmotor Skills in the Kindergarten Year (study by Marr, Windsor, and Cermak)

The steps that follow the list above are more in-depth – all depending on what your child is able to do.  If you’d like to talk about books, materials, handwriting style, or even how to help your child with cursive, we can work one-on-one. 

Learn how I can guide you

Dysgraphia

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