Fine Motor Skills
child has difficulty with handwriting and/or fine motor
skills . . .
Handwriting problems are frequently the result of
neurodevelopmental dysfunctions and their associated
information output and integration problems. These occur
in children who have: a) fine motor-coordination
problems; b) trouble expressing their thoughts on paper;
and c) short attention spans with impulsivity. In my
experience, I have seen many different reasons for
handwriting difficulties: sensitivity to paper due to a
neurological side effect of chemotherapy, and vision or
eye disorders. If you believe that your student has a
"handicapping condition," contact your administrator
about a 504 plan for modification of work and support
from the school.
The following are some suggestions that may help improve
the writing abilities in children with severe problems:
Always encourage the child while avoiding public
criticism. We adults may need to change our attitudes
based on a proper understanding of the reasons for the
Minimize or modify written work. Such an agreement may
remain private (i.e., not known to the child's peers,
who will frequently tease the child for problems they do
not understand). You may want to assign an Alphasmart
keyboard to the child or allow them to do written work
on the computer in the classroom. If you have a strong
feeling of "community" within the classroom, other
children will understand the modification. Contact your
student's parent about accepting computer generated
homework as well.
Increase time allowed for written task completion. By
reducing pressure and anxiety, the child frequently
responds with better written output.
Vary priorities required during writing. On one task,
emphasize organization, good ideas, and legibility,
while on another, stress only the mechanics of writing
(e.g., spelling, punctuation, capitalization). Many
children with developmental dysfunctions can only
effectively concentrate on one or two priorities at a
time - they may "come unglued" when expected to handle
multiple tasks they have not yet mastered.
Stage long-term tasks. For example, a book report or
research project could be broken down into units, with
the child turning in a summary of each chapter, note
cards, outline, etc. This will also teach study skills
that will be a benefit throughout school.
Grade to allow for success. Comments should be positive.
The child who thinks he can't tends to give up.
As soon as possible, introduce the child to typing
and/or word processing. School typing should be allowed
to completely replace written work, if needed in severe
If an ink pen is difficult or to messy to use, try
alternative writing tools such as pencils or felt-tip
pens. Graph paper for writing math problems helps with
the organization and alignment.
Allow printing if cursive writing is too cumbersome and
frustrating for the child.
Try placing a rubber pencil grip on the pen or pencil.
Teacher supply stores have a wide variety of styles,
colors and composition (some are softer than others).
Find one that works!
Reteach the pencil grip. Many children (and adults) have
acquired an awkward pencil grip.
Adapted from "Developmental Variation and Learning
Disorders" by Melvin d. Levine, M.D. 1987.
Educator's Publishing Service. Cambridge, MA.