Handwriting’s on the Wall: signs of problem
Remember when your toddler couldn’t express himself with words, so he would act out by throwing tantrums, hitting or even biting? What if the same child in kindergarten developed his vocabulary but had limited dexterity for the written language—is that child any less impaired than he was as a toddler?
According to Nemours Foundation, “Writing is one of the most complex tasks that humans engage in, involving both motor and critical-thinking skills.” It is comparable to building a brick wall. You start at the bottom, adding each skill on top of the previous one. Miss a few bricks, and the foundation for learning is compromised.
Legible handwriting takes some coordination for many children. “Our role is not to teach handwriting, but to target the underlying cause,” says Suzanne Gay, an occupational therapist with Blue Valley School District. “This could include improving fine motor control or strength in order to maintain a functional grasp of the writing utensil, proper positioning of the student in relation to the chair and writing surface, visual motor skills required for the student to form letters and numbers, or visual perceptual difficulties which may interfere with spacing and line orientation.”
Not all children with poor handwriting need extra assistance, though. It only becomes a problem when the child falls behind in school, since teachers rely on the student’s written work to determine whether the child is learning.
Signs of a problem
Very awkward pencil grip
Difficulty forming letters
Inability to concentrate and complete writing tasks
Many misspelled words
Letters or words that don’t follow correct sequence
Incorrect placement of words on the page
Uneven spacing between letters
A large gap between spoken language and writing ability
An exceptionally slow and difficult time writing
The role of an occupational therapist
[Source: American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) 2002]
Evaluate the child’s muscle strength, control, coordination and stamina.
Assess the visual and perceptual ability influencing a child’s ability to form letters and shapes.
Demonstrate proper posture to support correct use of arms, hands, head and eyes
Develop handwriting curricula and collaborate with teachers on effective strategies
Educate families with home activities that promote the development of skills needed in good handwriting
Recommended home activities
If your child has been assessed and therapy is recommended to improve his handwriting, here are a few things to do at home:
Play with modeling clay or play-dough, cutting out shapes with cookie cutters.
Manipulate beads, threading yarn through the beads or straw pieces to make jewelry.
Participate in sports to improve eye-to-hand coordination skills.
Have your child eat with silverware to strengthen his grip.
Practice writing handwritten letters to friends, teachers, grandparents, etc
If you’d like your child’s handwriting to be assessed, the AOTA suggests you speak to your child’s teacher to determine whether an occupational therapist’s assessment is needed. Primary care providers and the special education department director of your school district can also be helpful resources. As always, check with your medical provider with any questions or concerns.
Stacey Hatton is a humorist, public speaker and former pediatric RN. Her blog can be found at www.NurseMommyLaughs.com