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Therapy Tips

The ABCs of Handwriting for Children with Special Needs

Though the use of computers and texting is becoming our mode of communication, handwriting continues to be extremely important in our society. Most of us take for granted that our children will begin to write in kindergarten, and many do learn to write letters, numbers and even their names with little trouble. But for some kids, writing is a serious struggle. They try their best, yet fall short when putting pencil to paper. What could be the problem?

Eye-hand coordination

A child’s ability to move the eyes and coordinate hand movement impacts how one learns the alphabet and how this is translated to paper. Skills affected include copying words from the board and paper alignment as well.


The way a child holds a pencil provides clues not only on how the hand muscles are developing, but also the shoulder, elbow and wrist musculature. Each developmental grasp is affected by the point of stability in the arm. If a good developmental pattern is followed, then accuracy, precision and speed will emerge.

Grip strength

Grip strength refers to how much pressure a child exerts to hold onto a pencil and the correct pressure exerted to write. It affects a child’s endurance for writing, cutting and manipulative tasks, as well as the ability to button, zip, snap and tie a shoe.


Dexterity is the child’s ability to manipulate small objects, a basic skill that genuinely impacts our everyday lives. The coordination of the small muscles in the hands leads to neatness in handwriting. It plays a role in a child’s ability to accurately space letters and words, stay on the lines, and maintain boundaries on the page.

Arch development

We develop horizontal and vertical arches in our hands, which enable us to accomplish a variety of tasks. If our hands were flat, we could not pick up small items from the table, type, hold a cup, tie our shoes or use a knife and fork properly.

Visual perceptual skills

Visual perceptual skills include visual discrimination, visual memory, visual closure, visual figure-ground, visual-spatial and visual form constancy.  These areas give children the ability to write letters, to shape the letters, and to distinguish between similar letters, such as “b” and “p.” If your child is having trouble with handwriting, ask your occupational therapist for help. Alternatively you can check out the Krayon Kids Handwriting Camp, which utilizes the proven Handwriting Without Tears® curriculum. The program focuses on developing skills such as pre-writing strokes and shapes with an introduction to letters and numbers in order to prepare children’s little fingers for kindergarten handwriting.

WRITTEN ON December 29, 2013 BY:


Magda Girao is the assistant director of occupational therapy at the Kaufman Children’s Center for Speech, Language, Sensory-Motor & Social Connections, Inc. in West Bloomfield. She has over 17 years of pediatric experience, and is trained in craniosacral therapy, oral-motor therapy, Handwriting Without Tears®, Therapeutic Listening®, and many other types of therapy. She has worked in schools, clinics, hospitals, community, and home settings, with children from early intervention through high school. Magda’s goal is to create new possibilities for children to excel, and to empower parents to enhance the abilities of their children.