Children with ADHD often have difficulty learning how to write, also known as dysgraphia. In this post, I will dive into what can be done to help children reach fine motor developmental milestones as they relate to handwriting readiness. I will also talk about what can be done to help those who may be struggling with learning how to write or who struggle with written expression. Please refer to Part One of this series to learn more about ADHD and dysgraphia: The ADHD and Handwriting Series…Part One Let’s get to it!
Number One…Start Early
Take preventive measures by monitoring the child’s development. One of the primary goals of starting my blog is to inform parents, grandparents, teachers, and caregivers of what to expect during the crucial early years. Before children learn to write there are very important developmental milestones that must be met to ensure handwriting readiness. These milestones are typically acquired during the preschool years and equip children with the foundation that is needed to meet the handwriting demands of school.
Is the child between the ages of 3 to 5?
Prepare children for handwriting demands by ensuring that they can form prewriting strokes in preschool or before starting kindergarten. Prewriting strokes are simple lines and shapes that are the basis of all letters. Children must be able to form prewriting strokes before they can to learn how to write letters. Making sure that children are proficient in this skill will prepare them for the very complex task of learning how to write. I’ve purposefully created the Fun Strokes program to teach children this skill. Fun Strokes is a super fun and engaging program that addresses all facets of fine motor skills. Learn more by clicking here: Fun Strokes Prewriting Program
I also recommend having children work on a vertical surface or easel when learning how to form prewriting strokes. Children benefit in so many ways when working on a vertical surface. Learn more by clicking here: Benefits of Working On a Vertical Surface
Is the child in kindergarten?
If you notice a child struggling with learning how to write in kindergarten, take action. This is a crucial time where intervention can have the greatest impact. Work with the child by providing extra support. The following suggestions will help with motor planning, muscle memory, and visual memory.
- Have the child verbalize the stroke sequence for each letter while writing it
- Have the child write the letter with eyes closed in the air
- Provide sensory input by forming letters with various mediums (shaving cream, pudding, whipped cream, sand, Play-Doh, etc.)
Address pencil grip if needed. If a child’s grip looks awkward or if the child complains of discomfort, chances are he or she will benefit from additional support. Learn more about typical development and what to expect by clicking the following link: Pencil Grasp Development: What To Expect
Here are my go-to pencil grips from Amazon:
Always Use Primary Paper
Children this age need the structure and visual guidelines provided by primary paper. Do not try to skip this stage by having kindergarten children write on standard wide- ruled paper. Developmentally they are not ready and this can create unnecessary problems.
In addition to the visual guidelines primary paper provides, some kids need additional sensory input. There are many forms of modified paper that offer sensory input. Providing paper with color contrast and visuals assists children with learning how to orient letters on the line and letter placement skills. For example, the Smart Start paper featured below has a top blue line with a picture of the sun and clouds. This helps children with the placement of tall letters like t, l, and f. The baseline is green with a picture of a flower that represents grass. This helps children to learn that all letters need to be grounded on the baseline. Provide even more support by providing auditory cues like “tall letters start on the blue sky”. Some children need tactile input. Providing paper that offers raised lines allows kids to see and feel where letters should be placed on the line. Here are two of my favorite types of paper from Amazon.
Improve fine motor skills via activities. Here are several fun activities to promote fine motor skills.
Addressing the problem in the crucial primary years is paramount. Try to remediate struggles before academic demands increase. If you’ve worked with the child for a considerable amount of time and they are still having a hard time or very little progress has been made, a referral to an occupational therapist may be warranted. Especially if the child is nearing the end of kindergarten.
What can you do if the child is in first or second grade?
If the child continues to struggle with learning how to write consult with an occupational therapist. Talk with your child’s teacher to learn about your school’s process. He or she may recommend an occupational therapy evaluation. If the child is experiencing problems in other areas as well, additional testing may be recommended to determine if your child needs specialized instruction (individualized education plan also known as an IEP) or a 504 accommodation plan. You may also seek an OT evaluation through your pediatrician. Most major insurances will cover the assessment if it is deemed medically necessary.
What can you do if the child is already in 3rd grade or higher?
Continuing to address handwriting automaticity is still important typically via OT services. Additionally, modifications may need to be made in the classroom via specialized instruction (IEP) or a 504 accommodation plan. If you homeschool, you can also implement these strategies at home. At this grade level, children are no longer expected to learn how to write but to write to show what he or she has learned. Sometimes reducing or eliminating the manual aspect of handwriting is necessary if you want a true assessment of what the child can express. Getting thoughts out of one’s head and onto the paper is the ultimate goal. Eliminating the need to think about how to form letters, how to spell many of the words, and how to apply the rules of grammar will help the child focus on the content they’d like to write about. Typically the IEP or 504 teams will use their expertise to determine what modifications or accommodations would be appropriate and most beneficial. It is important to strive for the maximum level of student participation and independence when determining the level of support needed. There are several options that can be trialed to determine what works for the kiddo. Everyone is unique so there is no catch-all. Children may benefit from one or a combination of the strategies listed below:
1. Graphic Organizers
Help with producing and organizing thoughts with graphic organizers. Graphic organizers are visual thinking tools that prompt ideas and facilitate building those ideas into detailed paragraphs. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt offers over 30 templates of various graphic organizers that you can download for free! Click on this link: Free Graphic Organizers
2. Franklin Spellers
Franklin Spellers are a form of assistive technology that helps children self-correct spelling errors. How does it work? A child simply types in his or her phonetic spelling of a word, and the Franklin Speller will present a list of words that the child probably meant to spell. It helps children learn how to edit or check their work for spelling errors with greater independence. If selected, each word will be presented with a definition. This way the child can figure out if it is the correct word. Some electronic spellers come equipped with built-in text-to-speech functions which are very helpful for those who need assistance reading.
3. Sentence Starters
Sentence starters do just that. They provide the beginning of a sentence to stimulate a thought or idea. The child then builds on that thought to complete the sentence. For example: “What excited me was….; What surprised me most was…
4. Sentence Frames
Sentence frames are fill-in-the blank sentences. The structure of the sentence is already built to support kiddos who have trouble writing a complete sentence. The sentence frame prompts the student to think of responses or words to make the sentence complete. For example: “My favorite ____________ is ____________ because _____________.
5. Word Banks
Word banks are a list of words provided to children to assist them while they are writing. The words provided relate to the content you want them to write about. Children are encouraged to use the words when creating sentences.
6. Grammatical Checklists
Provide checklists to support the editing process. Once the student has written a paragraph they can go over their work using a checklist to ensure that they have started each sentence with a capital letter, used punctuation, etc.
7. Expect neat handwriting ONLY when copying a final draft
Reduce frustration and anxiety by eliminating all other demands (letter formation, spelling, grammar) while developing content. Once finished, the child can rewrite their composition neatly and correct spelling and grammatical errors.
8. Build Keyboarding Skills
As middle and high school approaches, is important to work on building keyboarding skills. Preparing children before handwriting expectations increase will equip them with the tools they need to keep up with the rigor. Having this skill may also reduce the anxiety associated with written tasks. Many websites offer free tutorials, lessons, and games. Spending just 10-15 minutes a day can make a huge difference. Here are my favorite websites:
9. Allow the child to type instead of writing when appropriate
Again, eliminating other demands (trying to remember letter formations, line orientation, spacing, spelling) can reduce frustration, anxiety and yield better content.
Here’s a free infographic that summarizes these strategies.
It is important to continue working on handwriting legibility skills or keyboarding skills to develop as much independence and autonomy as possible. Written communication is an essential life skill needed for both school and the workplace.
Have a suggestion to share? Know of a strategy that has helped a child in your life? Please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear about it!
The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.