Handwriting struggles can be some of the most challenging obstacles children and young adults with autism face as they’re growing up. Without the skills to write clearly and effectively, many kids pull away from their studies and experience issues with low self-esteem. Parents can also feel frustration as they try to teach what they feel is an essential skill for independent living.
As difficult as it can be for children on the Spectrum, there are lots of ways to improve handwriting skills for those with autism. Here are few tips we’ve found that can assist parents and teachers in helping and encouraging the budding writers in their lives.
Fine Tuning Fine Motor Skills
The act of handwriting combines many different fine motor skills into one big communicative job. Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, however, often lack fine motor skill development necessary to write without difficulty. Focusing on building those skills can help boost a child’s writing performance.
Therapy putties and hand exercisers are fun toys that help build strength in the hand as they squeeze and knead during play. Modeling clay is also very effective in not only building strength, but practicing manipulation as they pull off bits and pieces to roll, twist and flatten in their hands. Other activity toys like peg boards, safety scissors and lacing beads provide fun and creative ways to practice fine motor skills like pinching, pulling and more.
“Warming up” the hands with a few fine motor activities before handwriting practice can be a great way to help boost performance and self-confidence, too. Try having a child engage in a few finger exercises before sitting down to practice. Even a few playful rounds of Thumb Wrestling can help get fingers squeezing, thumbs stretching and hands ready to write.
The sensory difficulties experienced by children with autism can also lead to poor handwriting skills. Without the right amount of sensory feedback and stimulation, these children often struggle with things like knowing how much pressure to use to the best way to grip a pencil. They also required different types of instruction than most children.
For many, weighted and non-weighted grips provide the tactile and pressure-related guidance needed to stabilize and strengthen a child’s hold. These items train the hand to apply the right amount of pinch and push needed to write. Combined with the use of a visual aid such as a workbook, children begin to develop the muscle memory they’ll need to one day transition away from the grips.
Activities that provide tactile feedback such as writing words in modeling clay or wet sand can also be effective in building muscle memory. Other tactile tools like Magnatabs provide a small tactile click as they trace letters and numbers to let the writer know they’re on the right track.
Reinforcing lessons and successes is critical to continued improvement, but too much reinforcement can lead to frustration and resentment. Finding the right time to provide reinforcement without being overbearing can be its own challenge, too.
For those with smartphones and tablet computers like the iPad, there are lots of helpful handwriting practice apps that a child can work with whenever the mood hits them. Whether they’re in the car, on a shopping trip or just relaxing at home, you can always have a fun and engaging handwriting lesson available wherever you go.
Be Flexible With Your Writer
Unfortunately, there is no one magic key to unlocking better handwriting skills. As with most aspects of ASD, parents and teachers must go with each individual child’s “flow” to find the best ways of tackling handwriting challenges. So while it’s important to find a routine, it is equally important to be willing to change things up when some tactics aren’t working.
For instance, break up longer writing assignments into small ones, or try outlining paragraphs before getting started. Keeping tasks small and specific can help reduce a student’s stress level, which will help them focus.
Some kids prefer printing to cursive and vice versa. Some even like to use a combination of the two. Allow the student to write in the style that is most comfortable to them. Successes in their favorite writing style could lead to more confidence when attempting another.
While handwriting is an important skill, it’s good to keep in mind that many do a lot more typing than writing these days. Consider allowing your student or loved one to type their assignment instead of handwriting it out. Tools like Spell-Check and Grammar-Check can also be employed to assist weaknesses in those areas.
Be Realistic About Progress
Studies show that autistic children with handwriting issues carry at least some, if not all, of those problems into adolescence and adulthood. It’s important to remember that, while exercise and practice can help improve handwriting skills, some of their struggles will always be with them. This is especially true in cases concerning dysgraphia, where the issues are deeper than just fine motor skill development and a need for practice.
So celebrate and build on victories, and don’t sweat the setbacks. There’s no race going on to see which child writes better at a certain age. Remember that handwriting is just one of many forms of communication. Helping your child communicate as clearly as they can is the ultimate goal and, with some patience and practice, you’ll get there.