How Occupational Therapy can Help
January 23rd is the birthday of John Hancock, aka the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence! On this day, all over the country the importance of writing is celebrated, with a special significance to occupational therapists, as handwriting is one of the areas of practice we work on most frequently.
Occupational Therapists and Handwriting
Occupational therapists evaluate the underlying components that support a child’s handwriting and provide education to parents and teachers on what techniques they can utilize at home and school to promote improved handwriting skills (AOTA, 2017).
Why Handwriting Skills are so Important
Handwriting skills are essential for children. Even with increasing technology, they remain the primary tool for communication and knowledge assessment for students in the classroom. Ten to thirty percent of school-age children struggle with handwriting and, as a result, may experience negative impacts on other areas of learning, poor academic performance or school achievement, and self esteem (Engel-Yeger, Nagakur-Yanuv & Rosenblum, 2009; Feder and Majnemer 2007; Karlsdottir & Stephansson, 2002; Marr et al. 2003; Saperstein Associates, 2012; Handwriting Without Tears, 2015).
Benefit of Handwriting Improvement
Evidence based studies examined by HWT (2015) report structured handwriting instruction leads to improved writing performance, academic success, and overall student self-esteem (Graham, Harris, & Fink, 2000b; Graham & Harris, 2005; Jones & Christensen, 1999; Saperstein Associates, 2012).
Importance of Early Intervention
Many pediatricians, teachers, and specialists have explained to concerned parents that early intervention for children who are struggling with handwriting can prevent small problems from developing into larger ones (Tyre, 2010).
Nowadays, elementary school teachers and principals notice a decline in handwriting skills. One elementary school principal in Manhattan, Anthony DiCarlo, expressed growing concern with a rise in young children who are experiencing delays in fine motor skills (Tyre, 2010). “Almost all our kids come into kindergarten able to recite their letters and their numbers. Some can even read. But in the last five years, I’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of kids who don’t have the strength in their hands to wield scissors or do arts and crafts projects, which in turn prepares them for writing” (Tyre, 2010).
Struggles with Handwriting can Indicate a Larger Problem
Although instructional handwriting programs can be purchased by parents and implemented at home, most often, children are experiencing underlying issues that have not been discovered or addressed. To successfully produce legible handwriting, many different skills are required, such as visual perception, fine and gross motor control, motor coordination, muscle strength, sensory processing abilities, and cognition are all contributing factors in ability to successfully produce legible handwriting (AOTA, 2017). If your child is not meeting handwriting milestones, the problem likely runs deeper than just the handwriting itself. For more detailed information on how to know if your child is meeting milestones, feel free to reference our article on handwriting milestones.
How an Occupational Therapist can Help
- An occupational therapist is able to step in and assess a child’s specific needs, establish goals, and provide engaging and interactive therapy exercises to improve the foundational skills needed to support writing development.
- Also, occupational therapists use their expertise to analyze and address handwriting deficits in greater depth than can be achieved in the day-to-day operation of a classroom. This is different than what a teacher can provide in a classroom. In a classroom environment, a teacher is responsible for instructing the entire class equally and often aren’t able to provide the extra attention needed for a child with handwriting delays. Occupational therapists can provide individual attention and highly specialized expertise.
What Specifically do Occupational Therapists Focus On?
Depending on the needs of the child, occupational therapists will focus on establishing a functional and efficient grasp pattern, promoting postural support, strengthening fine and visual motor skills, and honing in on proper letter formation, spacing, legibility, writing speed, and line quality. Occupational therapists can then support carry-over in the classroom and provide teachers and educators insights and strategies to help facilitate successful writing practices for their students. It takes a village, right?!
Handwriting is Still Important in the Digital Age Elementary school students spend twenty-four to fifty-eight percent of their school day on paper-pencil tasks, and the demands for writing will only increase as the child continues on to middle school (HWT, 2015). These foundational writing skills are paving the way to your child’s learning and future academic success. If you have concerns about your child’s writing, don’t hesitate to seek advice or intervention! Reach out to our occupational therapy team today.
DISCLAIMER: Information published about one particular disorder does not necessarily apply to every individual who has the disorder discussed in this article. Treatments and therapies are highly individual and must be customized to the needs of each person to be effective. Do not make changes to your/your child’s treatment plan as a result of what you read in this article (or any content published by AASL) without consulting your/your child’s physicians and therapists. This content does not necessarily reflect the opinions of All About Speech and Language or its therapists. To understand the opinions and recommendations of your/your child’s AASL therapist, schedule an appointment with your therapist to discuss your concerns.Tags: handwriting, Occupational Therapists, occupational therapy