We eat our breakfast with utensils, tie our shoes, and jot notes on our to-do lists without giving these tasks a second thought; not everyone has the fine motor skills to easily access their environment.
Research suggests children with autism spectrum disorder often have difficulty with motor skills and letter formation. Given that motor skills significantly predict handwriting performance, researchers conclude that handwriting training should target letter formation and improve fine motor control.
Learning Without Tears helps children of all abilities, including children with autism, and is utilized by educators and parents worldwide.
Here are ten expert-recommended handwriting tips for helping children with autism succeed in the classroom:
1. Keep it developmentally appropriate
Meet the child where they are in their developmental journey.
- Assessments are the key to establishing a baseline and tracking progress. Use the Emergent Writing assessment, the Screener of Handwriting Proficiency, or The Print Tool® to determine the child’s current level.
- Then, target a student’s specific area of need and ability, such as strengthening, letter play, or just writing their name in capital letters.
2. Provide sensory experiences
Many children with autism need ample sensory input to organize their bodies prior to engaging in tabletop tasks.
- Start by introducing movement opportunities such as jumping jacks, yoga poses, crawling through tunnels, playing on a jungle gym, deep pressure, and even dancing to the Alphabet Boogie.
- During tabletop tasks, help the student stay regulated with sensory experiences, including sitting on a wiggle seat or yoga ball, wrapping resistance bands around their front desk chair legs, using a weighted lap pillow, fidgets, or even doing chair pushups.
3. Work on strengthening
Strengthening is key to successfully completing fine motor tasks! You can work on strengthening students’ hands by having them participate in everyday activities, including peeling an orange or cracking peanuts, watering the garden with a spray bottle, hanging on the monkey bars outside, and playing with Play-Doh® and Roll-A-Dough Letters® during free time. For additional suggestions, check out our Home Program.
4. Use child-friendly language
Fewer words are better, so use consistent and simple language to help students focus their attention, follow directions, and retain information. Download our letter formation charts to teach letters using child-friendly lingo.
5. Engage in multisensory, hands-on letter play
Increase students’ attention and motivation to write without relying on boring worksheets.
- Use our Wood Pieces to build capital letters, or you can even make your own with sandpaper for a tactile opportunity.
- Roll-A-Dough Letters® use dough to roll out letters, and for an additional tactile activity, have students insert salt or kinetic sand inside the blue tray and trace the laminated letter card with their fingers.
- Wet–Dry–Try uses a damp sponge, paper towel, and chalk. If a student is tactile sensitive, try placing a pencil cap eraser on the chalk so they can avoid touching it. If the child is auditory sensitive, dip the chalk in water to decrease the chalk-to-slate sound.
6. Demonstrate, demonstrate, demonstrate
Direct instruction is a powerful learning tool. Words like “my turn” will signal all students to focus on you as you demonstrate, and then “your turn” will prompt the child to replicate. “I do,” “we do” and “you do” add demonstration pieces where the adult and the child are also doing the activity together at the same time.
7. Visuals are key
A visual schedule, like a first-and-then chart, can better prepare children to understand expectations.
- The A+ Worksheet Maker is an excellent way to make a personalized visual schedule that can be used with pictures of activities. When engaging in multisensory letter play, the adult helper should always have their own materials.
- The laminated capital letter cards, together with the Wood Pieces, provide an additional visual or have the child place their wood piece directly on top of your wood piece when building Mat Man® or letters.
8. Support Social-emotional learning
- Songs like “I’m Happy to See You” or “The Hello Song” teach students important social skills. If needed, during the “Hello Song,” alter the lyrics from “Give ‘em your right hand, look ‘em in the eyes, put a smile on your face, and then you say hi” to “Give ‘em your right hand, look ‘em in the forehead, put a smile on your face and then you wave hi.”
- Use Mat Man to talk about emotions in addition to the Feeling Faces activity.
9. Spend just 10-15 minutes a day
Lessons should be short, sweet, and engaging! If a child is not developmentally ready for handwriting, that’s fine! Instead, focus on boosting other important skills, such as sensory motor skills, social-emotional learning, and hand strengthening.
10. Have fun and keep it meaningful
There should be no tears in handwriting, hence our name! Keep it engaging, individualized and purposeful.