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  • Nancy

Handwriting Help Hint for Your Child with Sensory Issues

As a professional writer, I know there’s a big difference between writing and handwriting. When our kids are young and in school, however, we and their teachers have a tendency to mush together two different skills. When we don’t separate out writing from handwriting, it can be a big problem for our kids who have sensory processing disorder. We don’t want them to give up on composing a book report, a story, or an answer to a question, just because they are frustrated by having to write with a pen or pencil and paper.

Many kids with sensory processing issues struggle with handwriting, a complex skill made up of many different pieces. You’ve got to hold the writing utensil just right. If the grip is too loose, the words on the page are so faint they’re illegible and the pencil or pen slips out of the child’s hand—too tight, and it’s hand cramps, ripped paper, and frustration. The child has to have motor memory, remembering exactly how your hand and fingers perform a sequence of subtle moves to write a letter. Fine motor skill challenges and visual processing issues can make matters worse. And too often, our kids have to write on worksheets that are visually cluttered with too little space for them to handwrite. Trying to squish it all into those preprinted lines—and judge how close together the words should be—can be too much. How can your child express herself, thinking through her ideas and getting them on the page, when the interface of pen and paper is so cumbersome?

Technology can help separate handwriting from composing. Bestselling romance novelist Barbara Cartland never handwrote a word of her books. She didn’t use a typewriter, either. She lacked what we now call keyboarding skills. Cartland wrote by dictating to a professional scribe.

Whether or not your child is diagnosed with dysgraphia, a learning disability in which writing by hand is extremely difficult, you may be able to get into your child’s individualized education plan (IEP) an accommodation for a scribe: a helper to write or type whatever your child is composing in their mind). However, it’s more likely that your child will have to depend on technology, including dictation apps and software, and extensions to Google Chrome, such as their voice recognition software.

That’s not to say your child should not learn how to print and do cursive writing. But writing as composing is different from handwriting—or keyboarding. I imagine someday we’ll live in an Ironman-type world where computers are holographs. We’ll be able to interact with them as we stand up and dictate to a holographic screen, and then make corrections to the writing that appears to float before our eyes! In the meantime, be sure you advocate for your child at school to be able to use technology to compose if you feel that having to write by hand is making it too difficult for her and keeping her from getting her assignments done. Maybe first drafts could be dictated and the second handwritten or typed. Take the pressure off by separating out handwriting and writing.

Ultimately, you always want to aim for a just right challenge—push your child hard enough to take her out of her comfort zone so she can learn new skills but not so hard that she becomes overwhelmed and shut down. We want our kids to enjoy writing, so separate it out from handwriting where it makes sense to do so.

You’ll find more sensory smart tips and strategies for parenting your child with sensory issues in Raising a Sensory Smart Child, available from bookstores online and in the real world.

handwriting help sensory issues children writing

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