Written by Beth Castricum, Occupational Therapist, Change for Life
Handwriting difficulties are a commonly attended issue by Paediatric Occupational Therapists (OT). When this everyday fine-motor task is broken down, reasons as to why so many children have trouble mastering handwriting is understood.
Handwriting is a complex task that requires communication from multiple areas of your brain at once. Involvement of cognitive, motor, visual motor, visual perception and sensory input and output are all required to work together to ensure correct letter formation, spacing words, cursive writing and fine motor speed are all applied at once. Some children learn and develop this skill easily, although, for others, the skill of handwriting may be very overwhelming and can lead to disengagement in seated or school-based tasks; impacting their sense of self, confidence and participation throughout life.
Occupational Therapists are often involved in the process of handwriting when additional needs of a child’s development are highlighted. OT’s are trained in assessment and intervention to identify and address fine-motor difficulties and improve functional outcomes.
While a clinical assessment is recommended if parents have multiple concerns about their child’s development, here are some simple tips to assist parents in building hand dominance and fine-motor strength to gradually increase the basic motor skills required in handwriting. Spend plenty of time outdoors building gross motor awareness and strength (full body movement). Small muscles can only work effectively if the larger muscles have the strength and tone to innervate them, so encourage activities like dinosaur walks, crab crawls and tree climbing to ensure their muscles are receiving plenty of input.
Encourage activities that combine visual perceptual skills with fine-motor input. Such examples as threading small items (blocks, dinosaurs or jewellery) to make a necklace uses both visual and fine-motor input and builds both visuomotor perception and fine-motor strength. Use these cold winter days as opportunities to provide your children with time to trace and draw shapes. Harness attention using your child’s motivational interest such as animals or dinosaurs and demonstrate praise and positive reinforcement for all of their works of art. Tracing shapes is a great way to develop fine-motor precision which is an essential element to handwriting. This is recommended as an activity choice for early childhood, before letters are introduced. Encourage your child to trace over shapes you have made. You can add some interest into this activity by moving across different textures and environments such as drawing with chalk on concrete or using their finger in sand. Once the child has completed a couple of letters with confidence, see if they can then copy the shape next to your shape or with your shape covered up. This offers children a basic introduction and guide into letter formation and develops fine-motor strength.
Using these simple tips can offer your child the basic building blocks for handwriting, which, when performed over time can significantly ease the stress and difficulty of mastering this tricky yet essential skill. Occupational Therapists are often involved in the process of handwriting when additional needs of a child’s development are highlighted. OT’s are trained in assessment and intervention to identify and address fine-motor difficulties and improve functional outcomes. An occupational therapist specialises in helping children with these difficulties. If your child needs help see your GP or paediatrician and they can refer you to an Occupational Therapist for professional help.