Handwriting: an overview

Hand writing is a complex skill with perceptual, cognitive and motor components. It is trickier than it looks, and is easy to take for granted!

Many children who are referred to Occupational Therapy from schools have difficulties with handwriting. It is the Occupational Therapist’s task to assess the child’s handwriting and identify the underlying cause of the difficulties. When the teacher and the therapist work together, combining medical and educational knowledge, the results are often very positive in achieving legible handwriting.

Letter formation requires the integration of visual, motor, sensory and perceptual systems, which children need to develop before they are ready to start writing.

Research has concluded that most kindergarten children who are typically developing should be ready for formal handwriting instruction in the latter half of the kindergarten school year (4-6 year olds). At our clinic we run a number of school readiness programs in Terms 3 and 4 each year with both a teacher and an Occupational Therapist working together. Handwriting instruction is a focus of each group so that children are ready for the handwriting demands they’ll encounter in their classroom!

When a child with handwriting difficulties comes to see an Occupational Therapist, the therapist will need to assess the level of functioning in the following areas:

  • Visual Motor Integration (how the child transfers what they see into motor expression)
  • Fine Motor Skills (hand dominance, in-hand manipulation, functional pencil grip, muscle tone, hand, arm and shoulder strength).
  • Visual Perception (discrimination between numbers, letters and words that are similar; spacing between letters; placing letters on the writing line etc.)
  • Cognition (memory, language comprehension, specific learning difficulties e.g. problem solving and reasoning skills).
  • Possible sensory processing difficulties.

There are a range of fun activities that a child can do to help with handwriting difficulties, and we run a number of group and individual programs to assist children to develop their skills and learn to enjoy the handwriting tasks!  In a game based setting, children will often work on “pre-handwriting” skills before they even know they’re doing it….

An Occupational Therapist will usually provide a programme of activities to be done daily alongside the chosen handwriting programme that focuses mainly on letter formation and legibility.