Students with autism often struggle with handwriting and printing legible writing. One of the many skills that our highly accomplished therapists at Lexington Services work with members on is strengthening their handwriting and legibility. Often times children with autism struggle with handwriting because of the sensory qualities of pens, pencils, paper and erasers. Other times, there is a motor struggle for the pinch and grip skills required to write with clarity. Parents and caregivers can help their loved ones improve their handwriting in home so they have a head start or critical support on this crucial skill.
Translating Thought To Text
Part of what makes handwriting so crucial is the ability to translate thought to text. Especially for children of autism that are non-verbal, the ability to write clearly and effectively gives them the opportunity to communicate their needs. At Lexington, we employ a variety of methods to improve communication including the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), but students that are beyond that form of communication yet continue to struggle with verbal articulation rely on handwritten messages to get their thoughts across. It’s important for caregivers to understand that handwriting is not just a skill taught in school for formality. Handwriting coupled with reading helps people understand language and to communicate. For young people with autism, mastery of this skill will improve their ability to communicate so they can express their needs and foster new connections.
The Trouble With Handwriting In Schools
Knowing that handwriting is crucial for communication, it’s possible to see why the Lexington staff works with members to form this critical understanding and why many children struggle in schools not equipped to understand their needs. Often times students with autism struggle with constancy, motor planning and figure-ground issues, resulting in the inability to decipher certain handwriting exercises, particularly cursive. Many experts in the field, some with autism, have revealed the depths of the struggle that handwriting presents in an environment that isn’t sensitive to a student’s needs. Parents and caregivers can help at home to improve handwriting in a safe environment.
Improving Handwriting Skills
While many children benefit from expert intervention from a therapy team, like the one at Lexington, there are many things you can do as a caregiver to improve a child’s ability to write and communicate at home. Here are some strategies you can apply at home:
- Copycat – Don’t make your loved one just follow your directions. Demonstrate, slowly and one letter at a time, how to write letters and communicate their sounds, even if your child is non-verbal. Handwriting without Tears has a great method that caregivers can apply called “Wet, Dry, Try” which gives a demonstration of how to write letters and gives loved ones the chance to practice prior to ever writing on paper.
- Don’t Limit Your Medium – Whether your child has sensory struggles or not, pencils and pens might not inspire them to take up writing as a skill. Get creative and use different writing utensils to inspire some fun. Use different writing surfaces like white boards and use markers or gel pens. Parents can use finger paints or shaving cream in the shower to write letters and practice. You can even get super craft and use playdough to roll out and make letters.
- Use A Vertical Surface – Try using a vertical surface such as a chalkboard or a whiteboard on the wall. This allows your child’s wrist to remain in a neutral position which helps to increase a pincer grasp and a more functional grasp.
- Be Flexible – As with most skills that Lexington offers tips for, be patient and flexible. This skill will take time and understanding.
- Apply Hand Therapy – Because some people with autism struggle with motor skills, be mindful of the effect that an activity like handwriting can have. Practice squeezing with stress balls to improve grip and finger strength or get a stretch band to help improve strength across the whole area.
- Arts and crafts – Use arts and craft time to help children improve their writing. Coloring and painting build up their tolerance of fine & visual motor activities, as well as strengthen the hand which allows your child to be ready for handwriting activities.
For a full list of activities that can be tried out in your home, check here.
Managing Sensory Issues
Handwriting, no matter how commonplace it may seem, is definitely a sensory issue. Grips, shavings, scratchy sounds, hand weakness, distractions, and a whole host of other things sometimes make writing a difficult task for loved ones with autism. While the list of strategies that you can apply to make handwriting easier for your child is long and depends on your child’s sensory struggle, here are a few common things to try:
- Instead of using sensory friendly pencil or pen grips, which only add a bandaid to the struggle, but do not fix the problem, try breaking crayons in half, using small child-friendly markers, or even small gel pens.
- Improve mobility and help children to avoid stiffness or pain with simple handwriting breaks for simple exercises like bear crawls, crab walks, or rainbow arches on the wall.
- For children with tactile input struggles, try using different textures such as sandpaper letters, writing in sand or shaving cream, finger painting or even using technology such as iPads.
We also suggest that parents check out Handwriting Without Tears, which is a great resource for a multi-sensory approach. Each child is different in the same way the every person’s handwriting is unique. Pay attention to what your child struggles with and implement strategies to help.
Let Lexington Help
The staff at Lexington Services is a great resource for parents who want to help their child to master handwriting and to improve their communication. Parents and caregivers shouldn’t have to do everything on their own. Call us today at 480-900-1009 or click here to contact a member of our staff for more information.
To read the previous blog post, click here.