Autism and writing: how to teach your child to write

autisticwriting

by Jessica Millis

Research has shown that students with autism experience specific challenges regarding the learning process. Learning to write is a critical skill in order for a child to succeed in an academic environment. Writing is a challenge for many autistic students because it involves coordination, muscle strength, motor planning, language skills, organization, and sensory issues.

Autistic children may display these symptoms:
• Marked deficit in communication
• Complete or partial delay in spoken language
• Repetition of words
• Deficit in receptive language
• Deficit in social language and social behavior
• Self-stimulatory behavior such as finger flipping or hand flapping

Some children with autism benefit from augmentative communication devices, such as letterboards, IPADS, and Facilitated Communication (FC).

The importance of writing

Writing allows an individual to translate thoughts into text. It allows non-verbal children to communicate their needs. Writing is an important skill for graduation from high school.


Tips on how to teach children with autism to write

Many autistic children have some level of fine and gross motor difficulty which is manifested through poor handwriting and problems with coordination.

Hand Therapy

Hand therapy is recommended for those with fine motor skill deficits. The purpose of hand therapy is to help the child build muscle tone. An occupational therapists can assist with this therapy and offer professional consultation. Many schools have such therapists. In some cases, the child may be given a pencil grip which can be used to build stamina.

Other hand therapy activities may include but not limited to:
• Involve vertical surfaces – you can further build the muscle tone by asking your autistic child to paint on a vertical surface. As they paint up and down the surface, they’ll develop muscles in their wrist. There is magnetic wallpaper you can purchase that allows children to write on walls.

giraffewallpaper

• Squeezing – this can greatly help build muscle tone. Incorporate stress balls and play-dough until the muscles in the fingers strengthen. Start with something soft then you can increase the hardness as the therapy progresses.
• Stretchy bands – you may also consider getting a stretchy rubber that will help with tension strengthening around the arms and the wrist area.

All these practices are aimed at strengthening the muscle tone which is critical to writing. If they are done correctly, in no time you should have the hand and fingers ready to start practicing.

What activities encourage writing?

Thinking outside the box is important. Get creative! Consider tag team learning where the child copies what you write. When beginning, it’s best to start with shapes. Draw a vertical line and then have your child copy it. Then do the same with a horizontal line and a circle. Create thick lines that make it easy for your child to trace over. It may be necessary to place your hand over your child’s hand. This type of hand-over-hand support can be faded as the child progresses in skills.

When learning how to write letters, big papers with lines is suggested. Again write the letters with fat lines and have your child trace them.

Since the point of all the exercises is to get your child to write, do not limit them to pencils and worksheets alone. Encourage them to write anywhere and with other tools, such as crayons and brightly-colored markers. There are some markers which are fat and shaped like animals.

Farm Animal markers

Farm Animal markers

Art can help with writing

Invest in watercolors and paints! Art can help develop a child’s fine-motor skills and assist with motor planning and the skills needed for writing.

Be aware of sensory issues regarding writing

Many autistic people have sensory issues. Bombardment of sights, sounds, smells and movements surrounding the activity can cause a meltdown when the child is being challenged to learn something new. Many autistic children have trouble sitting for extended periods of time. Make sure you alternate the sitting activity with movement breaks.

Be flexible

Remember writing should be fun! If your child is not in the mood, listen to her and do not push things because you may just end up risking it all.

Every child is unique in their own ways. Not everyone can fit in a cookie-cutter. Forcing a child to do something they are not comfortable with can only create more resistance. Approach a child in a positive manner while still considering their individual needs.

Jessica Millis, freelance writer, editor on EssayMama writing agency and educator at JMU writing courses. Find her on Twitter and Google+

15 Comments

  • For my son, his writing is exponentially improved by being in a quiet, visually non-stimulating environment…
    Thanks for the tips!

  • I posted this on my Pinterest account. Penmanship is important.

  • Angela Berg says:

    My son had other sensory issues that were not immediately recognized. He didn’t like having his fingernails trimmed because he didn’t want to feel the paper on his fingertips as he wrote. He also had a hard time tolerating writing with pencils–the lead dragging across the paper gave him the chills like fingernails on a chalkboard. This is extremely important to consider since many young children are given pencils to write with in the primary grades.

  • This article is ridiculous. To the author: Your child does not need to be “taught” how to write. They don’t need fun animal toys or squeezy adaptation devices. Your child has motor planning issues and possibly dyspraxia, not stupidity! Instead of treating him like an infant, give him a computer keyboard to type and let him be free to be himself. What is this obsession with handwriting?

    • Deepak says:

      Dear Henny, I think u have never worked with autistic kids. Please read to understand not to reply.

      • Kelly says:

        She is right….why are obsessed with making a child write when they hate it and it’s hard for them. Functionally in life as adults we barely sign our name these days! However if you can not operate a keyboard or electronic device to co.minicate you are basically not employable…not at the gas station, burger joint, or Walmart will you see employees writing but using electronic devices. In an office setting you must be able to communicate by email….let’s set them up for the future not the pasture!

    • Handwriting has been shown to have a range of benefits for children, so while assistive writing techniques of various kinds may be useful, why not also find effective, innovative ways to learn handwriting?
      And why be so MEAN, Henny? Someone wrote a heartfelt piece on handwriting struggles and tips and you call then “ridiculous”???

  • Gerda Haskins says:

    I have found this article very enlightening. My 8 yr. old, moderate autistic, verbal granddaughter can read very well, but will not hold a pencil, marker or other writing instruments. She can type with two fingers, but is not a great speller. I think this may be worth a try, grateful for any suggestions that may help.

  • Robyn says:

    My grandson is struggling to hold the pen/pencil/crayon/texta. I am looking for any tips to encourage this as he starts prep next year and will struggle as the curriculum is difficult let alone having ASD. He loves books but doesn’t want anything to do with writing!

  • iftekhar says:

    My son is 5+ and reading in an inclusive school. He has mild autism. He know the alphabet very well and his memory is very sharp. He always used to ask about the new thing like what is it…and he never forget the name of item/people….but the problem is that still he dont want to write…

    • Claudia Torok says:

      Maybe he just has a hard time leaning a bit forward. You could try playing with him airplane, where you hold his body, he is facing the floor and you imitate an airplane while you help him “fly”.
      Kind of like a swing but facing down.
      Try this but if you see he is very uncomfortable, then try to fly him in a different position and very slowly after each day try to slowly get to the “facing down” position.
      This will help him in leaning forward while writing.
      Also, you could use colored paper but not yellow. Yellow and white background might irritate him….too contrasting. These could be reasons why he doesn’t want to try writing.
      They need constant praise even if things don’t go well. If he is trying even for a few seconds, praise him.
      Good luck and I hope these suggestions help a little.

  • amirah says:

    hi am amira pls my son have problem with names of people like calling me mummy , instead he will just say i want to eat or i want to pee. please how do i get to learn how to call people by their names. thanks,

    • Claudia Torok says:

      Hi Amira,
      My suggestion is: teach him with pictures, real pictures of people you want him to recognize.
      Facial recognition is hard for many atypical people.
      Ask him: who is this? And help him answer. Use the same pictures in the beginning, then use different ones with the same people to see if he can transition.
      Hope this help, good luck!

  • Jenn says:

    My 9 year old daughter is considered to be high functioning. Her reading skills are high. She loves to draw but still lacks the skills to write. I have tried the tag team method and had little success but after reading this I see where I may have gone wrong. I am going to try the shapes first then move to actual letters. Thanks for such great ideas.

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