Fine Motor Skills & Handwriting
Children on the autism spectrum can face a myriad of challenges in many different areas of their daily lives. A number of these hurdles can spill over into the educational arena, and students can struggle greatly with basic tasks such as fine motor skills. Hardship with fine motor skills can lead to difficulty with handwriting in all children, and can be particularly challenging for children who are autistic.
Handwriting requires small precise movement utilizing the small muscle groups of the fingers, hands, and wrists. Because of this specific skill set, handwriting can be a particular challenge for children lacking the coordination or muscle control. This can be seen in the grip used for writing as well as the way the writer forms their letters. Using a proper grip will reduce fatigue in writing; and, as a result, reduce the frustration that can often accompany writing fatigue. Children learning to form letters should pay attention to the proper letter formation to help build the necessary muscle strength; but also to, again, reduce the time and effort required for writing.
Parents and caretakers of children with autism can face additional challenges when it comes to teaching their student the handwriting skills they need to be successful. Keeping an open and creative mind can be helpful when approaching the situation; if your child is interested in a particular activity try to find a way it can be adjusted to help build small muscle control. Use that time and interest to create a foundation before you introduce the handwriting process. Have a child interested in plants? Get a small spray bottle for them to help water your houseplants or garden. Budding artist in your midst? Use small eyedroppers on tissue paper or coffee filters to make colorful designs. Have a kid that loves to make messes? Give them a hole punch and watch the confetti fly. The bottom line, is there are any number of creative ways you can encourage the small muscle development that is critical to handwriting.
Incremental learning is another helpful way to build confidence and ensure successful skill mastery. If a child is still building the necessary small muscle control to make letters, then make letters bigger. That is to say, consider moving from big to small; a large writing utensil on a large surface with large letters to form can help build a child’s confidence before moving on to smaller targets. A variety of mediums can turn a perhaps tedious task into an ever-changing fun project, so regardless of the child’s sensory needs there are multiple ways to effectively use this strategy.
Handwriting is one of the most immediate ways to see the impact of fine motor coordination on skill mastery, but even for struggling students there are a number of ways to assist children to overcome their challenge. Teachers, parents, and therapists can use a variety of tools: grip trainers, muscle-building exercises, incremental learning, and specially designed writing instruments to build mastery and confidence.
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