I commonly get referrals for children with handwriting difficulties between 5-7 years old.
There are so many factors to consider when assessing a child who struggles with handwriting. Here are just a few:
1. Core strength – Can the child sit upright long enough to do writing in class? Do they tire easily? How do they manage with gross motor and physical activities at recess or P.E.?
A child must have a strong core to sit in their seat and to support their arms for writing.
2. Shoulder stability and arm strength – Imagine the shoulder to be like a hinge to hold a frame. It must be strong to support what hangs off it (i.e. the hand). Chances are if the shoulders are weak or unstable, it can’t support the hands. This causes the child to tire easily and have poor grasp on their writing utensil.
3. Visual motor and perceptual skills – Does the child use the muscles of their eyes to visually track objects? Do both eyes work well together? Does the child spatially organise parts to draw a picture such as a house or a person? This is necessary on a finer level to form letters.
4. Fine motor skills – Are the child’s thumb and fingers strong enough to grasp and coordinate the pencil? Do they have isolated control of fingers or use their whole hand to manipulate their writing utensil?
5. Body and spatial awareness – Is the child aware of front/back, right/left, top/bottom on their own bodies, when given directions, or to draw and write? These skills are first developed with gross motor skills, on the playground, when building forts from sofa cushions and dining room chairs, playing with blocks and then forming letters.
6. Balance, midline crossing and bilateral integration – Can the child balance in their chair or when sitting on the floor at circle time? Oftentimes a child may slump over the table or have difficulty sitting still at circle time due to core weakness and poor balance. Have they developed a hand dominance? To do this the child must comfortably be able to turn their body and cross midline without losing their balance? And lastly, do they use both hands to play, get dressed, open / close bags, cut, or hold the paper while writing.
7. Motor planning and sequencing – Can the child follow a sequence, problem-solve, do a multi-step task?
8. Attention, auditory processing, and more.
Could we help these kids earlier before starting school? ABSOLUTELY!
Here are some difficulties children who struggle with handwriting often have when younger:
-Disliked tummy time
-Short or no crawling period
-Described as ‘lazy’ and lacking desire to move
-Delayed infant milestones
-Cautious with movement and climbing activities
-Avoided manipulative or constructive play (blocks, Legos)
-Difficulty with hand actions to nursery rhymes
Handwriting is very complicated. There are early red flags and children do benefit most from receiving therapy input early. It’s never too early or too late, however earlier the better. If children have the chance for early intervention, they can focus their energies at school on attention, learning, and playing with friends.