Kids With Autism Need Handwriting Help
As Kids Overcome Autism, Handwriting Thwarts Progress
WebMD News Archive
The problem is that they have great difficulty forming their letters --
suggesting that the problem relates to motor control. That's new, because motor
signs are not classically associated with autism.
"Where they broke down was in the fine motor control when they had to form
actual letters," Bastian tells WebMD. "Their letter 'D' might have a gap at the
top, or they are unable to make the curve match up with the line on a
lower-case 'd.' A letter might have a piece falling out, or have sharp
protrusions rather than clearly curving features. Clearly they have this
problem with fine motor control."
It's not just writing that's a problem, as Toney and other parents already
know. These high-achieving kids also have other problems, such as holding and
using eating utensils in a normal way.
There's no one-size-fits-all solution. But there's a lot of hope. Some of
the kids in the Bastian study had more legible handwriting than some of the
"normal" kids, although it took a lot of effort. Two of the kids with the best
handwriting had been taught by physical therapists to steady their writing hand
with their other hand.
"Physical therapists are very clever," Bastian says. "We can teach kids to
change their grip on the pen, give fatter or weighted pencils -- or maybe motor
practice can be effective. Many of the parents we have interacted with are
happy to know this is a purely motor problem, because it is a bit more
straightforward to work on such things than to work on behavioral issues."
Some kids may do better typing on a computer keyboard than writing with
pencil and paper.
Bastian warns that poor handwriting can't be used to diagnose autism. There
are lots of reasons why a child doesn't write well; but an autism diagnosis is
based on an entirely different set of criteria.
"Parents of children with autism may want to talk to the administration
about whether their child qualifies for physical or occupational therapy, or
ask their doctor if they can have some occupational therapy prescribed,"
Bastian says. "These kids really should be looked at. Because if you are trying
to listen to your teacher and trying to understand her and also having to work
as hard as you can on your writing, it can be very bad for self-esteem and
Bastian and colleagues report their findings in the Nov. 10 issue of