Handwriting

The effects of poor handwriting can be wide ranging, influencing self esteem,confidence, educational achievement and potentially work opportunities. This short article aims to raise the awareness of the reader to some of the underlying abilities and skills.

The most common reason to refer a child to an Occupational Therapist is handwriting difficulty, spanning all ages from 4-16 years old and into adult life. Handwriting is one of the most complex tasks we ever learn, not reaching maturity until we are around 16 years old.

The effects of poor handwriting can be wide ranging, influencing self esteem,confidence, educational achievement and potentially work opportunities. This short article aims to raise the awareness of the reader to some of the
underlying ablities/skills that are essential in order to develop handwriting ,discuss what can go wrong and to suggest some activities to try to improve the hand.

Underlying Skills

  1. Muscle development. This is an essential element to any activity that the hand is used for, and in particular writing. The muscles need to work together, with sufficient strength and dexterity, for writing to be successful.
  2. Eye-hand co-ordination. This is the ability of the eyes and the hand to work together with skill, for example crossing the “t” and dotting the “i”, and keeping on the lines.
  3. Visual-perception. This is the ability to see and understand lines and space on paper. In order to be “ready” to write, the child needs to be able to copy certain shapes on paper, lines such as a horizontal, vertical, circle, forward/backward slash, cross and a triangle. Although a child can be gently introduced to writing quite young, he/she is not developmentally ready until these are mastered.
  4. Sensory processing. This is the ability of the nervous system to work helping the body to monitor and control itself, sifting and sorting all the senses to work together. An example for writing would be the eyes (visual system) having to work with the touching (tactile system) in order to write a letter on the page.
  5. Developmentally ready. A child must be ready in his or her overall development (see items above) in order to write at a level appropriate for his/ her age. Starting a child to write before he/she is developmentally ready can be very frustrating for the child (and the teacher) and may even damage the child in years to come.
    A child must also be developmentally ready in their language, reading, and in their understanding.

Things That Can Go Wrong:

A delay in any of the five points raised above can effect handwriting. It may be that the child has a diagnosed condition such as dyspraxia, autism or learning difficulties. The child may not have such a health issue but still struggle.

Other things that can influence writing are :

  1. Tuition. Handwriting is a skill that must be deliberately taught – it cannot simply be “absorbed” or aquired along the way. For example, a child naturally develops the ability to walk without having to be consciously taught, but writing must be specifically taught.
  2. Consistency. Writing must be taught consistently, the same way or method, each time and followed up into each class until the child is proficient.
  3. Practice. As with any skill writing must be practiced regularly, and to my mind on a daily basis.
  4. Detail. It is the attention to detail that makes handwriting readable even in the most untidy hand. Some of these details are punctuation (full stops, commas ), spacing between words, staying on lines, heights of letters and tails of letters, crossing the “ t “ and dotting the “ i “.
  5. Equipment. The table and chairs must be at the correct height with sufficient elbow room to support the arms, pencils need to be sharp and of correct length, and lined paper is recommended.
  6. Modern parenting. Due to our modern way of life, many children simply do not get the experience of using their hands that children in the past enjoyed. The decline in household chores, early school entry, TV and computer gaming can all have a detimental effect on hand development.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

  1. Observe. Watch what your child is doing and talk to them about it.
  2. Talk. Talk to your teacher about any of your concerns, they are there to help.
  3. Activities. You may like to try some activities at home to try and develop your child’s hand muscles. Any activity that uses the hand is great, such as plasticine, play doh, arts-and-crafts, construction toys, paper-and-pencil games, board games, household chores, bat-and-ball games, card games. Computer games are not the best for developing hand muscles.
  4. Get help. If you are still concerned about your child’s writing there are professionals who can help such as your teacher, GP or Occupational Therapist.