DHA License Number: 00229670-002
Senior Occupational Therapist
(Sensory Integration Specialist)
Are handwriting skills critical to your child’s success. In this digital age, children are swiping and tapping on screens before they are even able to hold a spoon, or put on their shoes independently. What exactly, if anything, are our children losing out on?
As a pediatric occupational therapist, I have had innumerable referrals for improving handwriting over the years. Handwriting is such a complex task, that upon task analysis, there are many underlying components that a child needs to develop, prior to performing this arduous task. So, the Occupational Therapy assessment following a handwriting referral often reveal quite diverse results.
The handwriting wall above, was developed by a South African Occupational Therapist (Bunty McDougall) and is used to explain how the foundational sensory input blocks (at the bottom) feed into, and facilitate the development of the different components or bricks at the top.
The green bricks have foundational components in the vestibular and proprioceptive systems which have a direct impact on muscle tone and postural stability, and this is essential for children to hold themselves upright in their seats and position their bodies for handwriting. Postural control and adequate muscle tone are necessary for stability in order for the fingers and hands to complete the handwriting task. Children who have challenges with postural tone may slouch over the table, and at times may rest their head on their hands or on the desk. This can greatly affect written work, as correct seating posture is essential for ensuring that handwriting mechanics are correct.
Self-Regulation and Sensory Modulation are so frequently discussed and should never be minimalized as children need the ability to screen out irrelevant stimuli and remain seated to maintain an optimum state of regulation when handwriting. These are located very much lower in the wall and highlight the importance of sensory integration therapy for handwriting.
The development of praxis (motor planning) finds its foundations in the tactile and proprioceptive systems. Motor planning refers to planning and executing unfamiliar motor patterns, which is critical for letter formation. Often, therapists will work on motor planning in gross motor areas which contributes to better handwriting.
Hand preference or hand dominance is also essential for handwriting, and the foundations for this are in the vestibular and proprioceptive systems. The light blue block sequence above illustrates that children first begin to use both sides of their body in a coordinated manner (bilateral integration) and further develop midline crossing and then hand dominance.
Vision and visual perception are critical for handwriting, and these are outlined in the pink block sequence. These skills develop early in a child’s life and are refined as children mature. Visual perception is as equally essential to handwriting as motor skills, as children need to visually analyse how letters are constructed, and how to visually space and orient the letters before writing them.
Considering then, that there are so many complex modalities, is it worth the effort to have occupational therapy to improve handwriting for children with impairments, or should we opt to teach children to use a keyboard?
My advice to any parent is to consult with your occupational therapist before making this decision. However, I would like to explore both sides of this issue below.
The case for handwriting even in this technologically-driven age can be summarized as follows:
Should you require additional information on supporting your child’s development in either handwriting or keyboarding skills please contact us.