How to Strengthen Your Autistic Child's Handwriting

By Amber Keefer
Handwriting can be a difficult and stressful task for many autistic children.
Handwriting can be a difficult and stressful task for many autistic children.

Handwriting is a task that isn’t easy for many children with autism. Even autistic children with high IQs can have bad handwriting, reports ABC News. Although not all kids with autism have problems with handwriting, it can be a grueling and sometimes painful chore for some. Low muscle tone can affect an autistic child’s fine motor skills and frustration caused by difficulty writing can increase an already elevated anxiety level even more. Fortunately, there are techniques your child can use to help improve his handwriting.

Provide a slanted writing surface to help your child maintain the proper position for writing. A slant board, which places paper in a better line of vision, can help keep her attention focused on her handwriting for a longer time.

Affix a chalkboard or dry erase board to a wall. Like a slanted surface, a vertical writing surface encourages the wrist extension that steadies the hand. Standing and tabletop easels are vertical options that are also slightly angled. Whether standing or sitting to write, a vertical surface helps a child develop the proper hand and wrist position so that writing flows more easily.

Encourage your child to practice good sitting posture. Have him write at a desk or table and chair fitted to his height. His feet should be flat on the floor and his elbows resting on the table. Proper posture prevents slouching in the chair and gives your child trunk stability for better arm and hand control.

Slant paper based on which hand is dominant. If your child writes at a desk or table, have her fold her hands in front of her so that her arms and bottom edge of the writing surface form a triangle. Place paper parallel to the arm of the dominant hand so that it's positioned at about a 45 degree angle, suggests the Center of Development Pediatric Therapies in Cookeville, Tennessee.

Get your child handwriting tools that will help him hold the pencil in his hand. Weighted pencils, pencil grips and elastic wristbands with pencil attached can make writing more comfortable and give him more distal control that will help him hold the pencil out and away from his body. Raised line tactile paper is a handwriting tool that can help your child if he has trouble staying between the lines.

Eliminate distractions that can interfere with your child’s focus. Concentration is often a problem for children with high functioning ASD, points out Handwriting Without Tears. Since both consistency and practice are especially important for improving penmanship, it may help your child to practice groups of letters that use similar strokes. Taking frequent breaks and extra time to form the letters more slowly may help her with handwriting as well.

Support your child in performing fine motor skill exercises such as sifting sand, finger painting, stringing beads and squeezing a small ball to strengthen muscles in the hand and fingers. Playing with sand, play dough and pegboards are additional activities that help develop fine motor control. Talk to your child’s school to find out if occupational therapy services are available to help him improve his handwriting.

About the Author

Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.