I was thinking about how we taught our daughter who has Autism to use a pencil and honestly, I cannot take the credit. Teaching her to write was primarily done with the help of an occupational therapist but I do remember some things that might be helpful to you.
Please note that I am not a therapist and have no official training. You should consult with your doctor and/or therapist for specialized recommendations. I am just sharing things that we found helpful.
Hand Therapy to Build Muscle Tone
Our daughter had weak muscle tone in her hands. The therapist gave us a special pencil grip that would slide on and help Lira put her fingers in the right place but we also had to find ways to build her stamina.
Vertical Surfaces ~ To build muscle tone, we had her paint with water on a fence. The motion of bending her wrist up and down was helpful. We also had her use an art easel and would pin paper to the wall for her to color. Vertical surfaces were important.
Squeezing ~ Playdough and stress balls helped build the muscles in her fingers. Using playdough was actually not easy so we had to start with the softer kind and work our way up. Rolling pins were helpful too.
Stretchy Bands ~ Our therapist gave us a piece of stretchy rubber (read: BIG but thin rubber band) to place tug-of-war games. The tension strengthened her arms and wrists.
Activities to Encourage Writing
Very early in our homeschooling journey, I learned that I had to think outside the box. I gave up trying to teach penmanship and just wanted her to write… anything… that I asked her to write. So, I had to get very creative with our school lessons.
Tag Team ~ We would take turns. I write for a little while and then she writes for a little while.
Change Mediums ~ Instead of using pencils and worksheets, I tried to come up with as many different ways I could get her to write… without making her write. We used finger paint in zip-top bags, shaving cream in zip-top bags and on table tops, sidewalk chalk, paint, dry erase markers, crayons, sand… whatever I could think of.
Oral Lessons ~ Some days, we would just keep our lessons oral because it just is not worth a fight. Seriously… what would she learn if I pushed so hard there was a tantrum and tears?
Change Location ~ I did not keep school restricted to the table. We would have school outside, on the living room floor, in her bed, on the couch… A clip board is a wonderful thing. Lap desks are awesome too.
Your child is unique and cannot be fit into a cookie-cutter. Make sure that the way you approach any therapy reflects the individual needs your child has. Each day will be different. Roll with it.
Apps for Teaching Autistic Children to Write
While some of these apps might not be a perfect fit, just the action of tracing letters on a tablet can move your child closer to writing.
“‘With an engaging, kid-friendly interface and many options to customize and track children’s progress, iTrace is a valuable app for parents, teachers and occupational therapists.”, Libby Curran, People Magazine’s Teacher of the Year”
“iWriteWords teaches your child handwriting while playing a fun and entertaining game. The New York Times: One of ‘The Best iPhone Apps for Kids.’ The Washington Post: One of ‘The best iPad apps for special needs kids.'”
“This is a revolutionary hand drawing software! It is an application that can be traced by hand on paper. You can run anywhere at any time if there is a pen and smartphone stand. You do not need the Tracing paper or light box!”
“Dexteria is Approved by CommonSenseMedia.org * Winner of Editors’ Choice Award by Apps For Children With Special Needs * Dexteria is part of our family of essential apps for OTs * Voted TOP 3 APP in SmartAppsForKids”
“From the creator of award-winning educational apps, Writing Wizard is designed to help every child learn how to trace letters and words through a fun system carefully designed to maintain motivation.”
More Ways to Teach Your Child with Autism to Write
Many readers have left great suggestions in the comments. To make sure you do not miss these golden pieces of advice:
We struggled with this for several years then I gave up. Best thing I ever did.We allowed our Aspie to use the computer to keyboard [for] his answers and this took away the majority of the meltdowns. – Mary
Her A.B.A trained her to hold the pencil, started with finger paints play dough etc, when it came time for the lines she used bendaroos on paper and had her trace above the lines. Their pencil can’t go past them. – Melissa
My son’s o.t. worked a lot with him on his pincer grasp (thumb and index finger) so he’d be able to hold a crayon/pencil correctly and comfortably when he started school. He peeled stickers, picked up little items with tweezers and chopsticks, and played games such as Don’t Break the Ice and Don’t Spill the Beans. – Nancy
Tools to Help Autistic Children to Write
Additional Resources for Helping Your Child to Write
- Understand the cause behind why your child with Autism hates to write and common concerns at Autism Digest.
- The Language Arts Journal of Michigan suggests various teaching strategies for children with Autism who hate to write.
- Learn to teach the pincer grip with Handwriting Without Tears.
What tips do you have for teaching a child with special needs to write?
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