Importance of handwriting

One of the key methods a child’s progress and development is often assessed in educational settings is their handwriting. Although it may appear to be an elementary activity, handwriting is actually a complicated process. The task of handwriting necessitates coordination of one’s arms, hands and fingers, eyes, body posture and fine motor skills (pencil grip and forming letters). Moreover, handwriting requires adequate cognition, sensory and visual perception skills. As such, difficulties in handwriting are often borne of problems in areas of visual perceptual, physical or visual motor integration. Additionally, issues within the educator-student relationship may also contribute to the child’s learning.
Handwriting relates to fine motor skills, which is crucial to a child’s development as these skills are required to perform many tasks, including every day, self-care activities (e.g. tying shoelaces, using buttons, grasping objects). Moreover, handwriting is imperative to a child’s overall development and is a necessary skill for employment, communication and engaging with others.

What are some issues that children may have with handwriting?

Common difficulties that children can develop regarding their handwriting include inadequate grasp, poor word spacing or letter formation, slow writing speed, problems with writing in cursive form, or fatigue or pain during the task.

What can an Occupational Therapist do to improve a child’s handwriting?

In general terms, occupational therapy (OT) works with people to promote their independence and ability to perform tasks that they need to. OTs generally do this by either increasing the person’s set of skills or readjusting the environment to better accommodate the person’s needs. OTs also work closely with the person’s significant family members or carers to provide practical ways they can better support the person to be more self-reliant.
In a child who needs help with handwriting, an OT will evaluate the main cause(s) of the issues and provide ways to support the child and enhance these skills. Initially, it is often useful for the OT to learn about the child’s environment and family and social background. Then, once a working rapport has been established between the OT and child, therapy may focus on (depending on the specific difficulties the child is experiencing):
– Improving endurance and physical strength (e.g. by engaging the child in specific exercises)
– Identifying the child’s level of visual/perceptual ability that may affect their use of pens/pencils and form letters
– Enhancing the child’s posture and support better coordination of eyes, hands, arms and head
– Gauge fine motor skills and work to improve areas requiring attention
– Work with the child’s parents, family and teachers to formulate practical strategies to better assist and support the child in school and at home

Unsurprisingly, any therapy involving young children often involves the engagement of the child’s parents or primary caregivers, as this is often necessary to provide ongoing encouragement to the child, as well as effectively utilise what the child is taught in therapy in their daily routine. In addition to thin, parents and family members can do other things to reassure and support the child. This can include engaging the child in sporting tasks that focus on visual and motor coordination, e.g. ball games, marbles or jacks. Moreover, families can get the child used to using utensils when eating (for greater grip strength), employ them in exercises that utilise the hands (e.g. cutting pizza or dough or using scissors), and spurring them to practice their handwriting by writing letters to friends or family.

How long does my child need OT sessions for handwriting?

It is difficult to give an accurate estimate for how long any therapy may be required, as it is often difficult to anticipate how a child will progress, or engage in the therapy and with the therapist. It Is common for children with life-long medical conditions (e.g. intellectual disability) to require long-term therapy, while children with milder difficulties may only need a few sessions. The OT will discuss details of the therapy, realistic goals for the child and their progress, with the child and their family.