Subscribe now and recieve 50% off all our ebooks as well as updates on all our online special needs resources.
BY Magda

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 April 13, 2011 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.
  • Tracey bresland

    Hi my name is Tracey I have a son who is 7 and he has great difficulty in his handwrighting. The size and forgetting his finger spaces putting capital letters in the middle of a word and forgetting full stops. What can I do as a parent to help him apart fom practising thanks tracey x

  • peter

    me have 2 disablet children and netitet help becouse me and me children liwing in uk 2 monts and no have many thanks

  • Hi Magda.  Thanks for writing such a great concise yet informative article.  I am also an occupational therapist and came across your blog in a general search.  I have developed 2000 worksheets to help children who struggle with handwriting due to poor visual perceptual skills.  Feel free to have a look at should you be interested to find out more.

  • Taz

    Hello, My daughter is in kindergarten and has really bad handwriting. Overall she is pretty smart. She is multilingual, can add and memorize well. She is almost at a first grade reading level. When it comes to writing sentences she does really bad. She is bad at tracing as well. Her traces are never on the line. I am not sure if this happens because she is not paying attention or has an issue. Is there a test she can take to determine the issue ?

  • Chris

    Hi Taz,
     There are a number of tests that can be done to see what could be causing the problem with your daughters handwriting (most of them would have to be done by an Occupational Therapist). Without seeing your daughter’s work, my best guess sounds like she may have some decreased strength in her arms. Some of the sloppy tracing could be due to the decreased strength in her arm, in that she isn’t pushing hard enough on the writing utensil, and that could be caused by an incorrect grip. Make sure she is using a “tripod” grasp (with the pen/pencil held on the pads of the first finger and thumb, resting on the side of the middle finger) on the writing utensil. Some things to try before handwriting (to improve strength) is to do some chair push up’s, crab walking or pushing weight through her arms (bear crawl) to prepare the arms for handwriting or play with some play-dough to increase finger strength. The other difficulty could be caused by a visual motor problem, which causes the child to have sloppy handwriting. My suggestion would be to get an occupational therapy evaluation for visual motor and fine motor skills. This could be done through her school or at a private practice clinic (like the Kaufman Children’s Center). Our clinic (Kaufman Children’s Center) runs a get set for school/ handwriting camp in the summer, which could benefit your daughter. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact our center and ask for Chris.  


Notice: Use of undefined constant fbTracking - assumed 'fbTracking' in /var/www/ on line 52