Handwriting gets in the way of educating autistic students

Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?

This is a post I have been waiting to be able to write. I have been thinking about a problem I see in my classroom and I appealed to the scientific literature to find potential solutions. As such, this is going to be a hybrid post wherein I will describe what I am seeing and how it fits the literature, and then I will appeal to my readers to help me with the solution.


The problem of penmanship

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When I came into my 3rd-4th grade life skills/small group autism classroom at the beginning of the year, I immediately noticed the sloppy, apparently careless handwriting from my students with autism and ADHD. I attributed it to lack of practice because of the ability of some of my students to escape or minimize work. With time, however, I no longer believe that hypothesis.

We have been working on writing as a primary focus for the whole school year. We started the year by copying a daily schedule off the SMARTBoard and onto an individual sheet for each student, so they would have access to their own copy of our daily schedule. I thought this was a smart idea because it is a precursor skill to copying items into a daily planner for academic assignments so they do not get forgotten. What I learned was that I was forcing my students to do their least preferred task of all, physically writing for >15 min a day to start the day. This resulted in a lot of bad behavior and meltdowns (not tantrums).

In hindsight, I feel really bad for doing this to them. We switched to daily journal prompts requiring only 1-2 sentence answers and I put the schedule on the front board for perpetual visual access. Once the students relaxed and realized they no longer had to copy down a daily schedule any more, they settled into the groove of writing when I asked them to, albeit they did everything they could to minimize the task demands.

Looking at those writing assignments I noticed something, their handwriting was not improving very quickly. That, and the physical act of writing is clearly aversive to all but one of my students, but I think it is because that students could not care less if their handwriting were legible or not. This got me thinking, what if I used computers?


Sample1
Sample2


Computers helped. The kids will actually look forward to writing stories on the computer. They still have significant difficulty with the creativity side of writing and need a lot of prompting, but it is clearly less aversive. Interestingly, I started to get some really interesting and good work out of some of my students. They went from being unable to write to being able to tell their stories!

Now for the science

My science-ing came by accident. I typed “Autistic Writing Sample” into Google and it took me a research paper that quantified poor motor abilities in writing samples (Link). I then went to Google Scholar and typed in “Writing impairments in autism” and clicked until the results made no sense anymore. I struck a few gold nuggets that my friends on twitter were able to send me by email. They involved studies comparing handwriting of ADHD and autism, ADHD alone, autism alone, as well as clarified the role of IQ, perception, and visuomotor integration in writing as pertaining to children and adolescents with autism. Importantly, they showed that the best strategy to ameliorate a lot of these problems is to just write larger (macrographia), a strategy used by a very large number of individual with autism-and very prevalent in my classroom (the examples above from one student show very significant macrographia).

The most important one that motivated me the most was entitled, “The Introduction of Keyboarding to Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders With Handwriting Difficulties: A Help or a Hindrance?” and is located here (I can get you the pdf by email request). This paper suggested my knee-jerk reaction may be right. They found students with autism were more willing to write and had a better perception on writing in particular when allowed to do so on a computer or word processor like an AlphaSmart or Neo. They did not find a “significant” improvement in writing quality, but that may have been due to the low sample size and p-threshold of p<0.01 for significance (they reported a p=0.010 for quality of writing and deemed it nonsignificant). The points the found important provisos are as follows: students need consistent access (not too little access), stigma needs to be reduced, and they need training in typing or else the whole thing is just too difficult.

So what do I propose

I propose the following. I started a GoFundMe campaign to buy Chromebooks, one for each student I have in my class for the end of this year and in coming years. When there are dedicated computers for each student, I will focus writing lessons on the creative process of writing and they will be able to use Google Docs to complete their assignment. This means they physical act of grabbing a pencil and trying to write out their thoughts will no longer impede the creative thinking that underlies creative writing.

To compensate for the relative lack of typing training my students have had, I plan on starting daily typing lessons to assist them in being able to either touch type or hunt and peck with maximal efficiency. Thus making the keyboard an easy way to get one’s thoughts out and on to the screen. In other words, I plan to specifically teach the technology so that the students feel completely comfortable using it on a daily basis to complete schoolwork.

In addition, I will specifically address penmanship/handwriting issues as a separate component of the class using handwriting worksheets (like these) and iPad apps like Wet Dry Try. This will help the students understand how to write each letter correctly as well as giving them the practice they need without having to simultaneously be creative and write with a pencil at the same time. I hope this type of practice will assist the students to automate the mechanics of writing and solidify the sequences of motor movements so they do not require so much concentration as to distract from the writing task at hand and make the whole thing tortuous.


In summary, I want to help my students succeed in school. To do this, they need access to technology on a consistent, reliable basis. This means more than just the 1-2 computers in a classroom or 1 hour per week in a computer lab. I have started a fundraiser so I can afford to place a Chromebook in the hands of each and every one of my students. I honestly believe this will bring their dreams closer to reality, and let some of them access the general education curriculum. Please, please help. Any little bit will make a huge impact. Thanks.

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59 thoughts on “Handwriting gets in the way of educating autistic students

  1. fromthistothatearlylearning says:

    Reflection is key to our practice. Second, being fearless and courageous is another key element when we’re working with children. If it doesn’t work, you try something else. I love your process! Your children are very fortunate to have you! The OT at a previous school I worked at encouraged the use of Smart Boards along with HandWriting Without Tears. Children on the spectrum typically have poor fine motor skills. I work with children on the spectrum but at the preschool level. I’m using Montessori methods to help develop their fine motor skills. Hopefully I’ll have the same results as you! You never know until you try!

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    • Michael H says:

      Thank you so much for this comment. I hope my actions will always help my students progress and that I will be strong enough to recognize my own failings and regroup for their benefit! I will look into more Montessori methods to help develop fine motor skills. I need all the help I can get!!

      Like

    • Casey says:

      It may interest you to learn about the connection between epigenetics and neural processing. There have been many documented reports of improvements from parents of disabled children – improvements in not just handwriting, but behaviors, academics, and health overall. Here are some research articles. You may message the page for videos and shares. It is not a sales page. Learning disabilities 3/19/15 , – Neural processing disorders – auditory, sensory, speech 2/9/15 , various autism posts 3/19/15 , https://www.facebook.com/pages/Epigenetic-Nutrition-International-Medical-Research/1402349870063218

      Like

    • Michael H says:

      True.

      You bring back memories of my former life as a research neuroscientist! Right now I am working well removed from that side, I am focusing on the psychological side of things-what can I do to make writing less aversive.

      I will check out your links!

      Like

  2. Suzanne B. says:

    As the parent of an 11yo boy with ASD and ADHD, thank you for this! As much as I sincerely appreciate my son’s school-based OT, I have had to make it clear in IEP meetings that I wanted her time (the whole 15 minutes a week he is allotted) to be focused on facilitating his keyboardist skills instead of handwriting. My son had years of early intervention for his handwriting deficits (you guessed it, serious macrographia!), including an hour a week of private OT using Handwriting Without Tears and other established protocols. Poor kid has awful handwriting and its readability/neatness waxes and wanes, but I really don’t care anymore. What I want is to help him get his creativity and knowledge out! Working to get my son a computer (not just a word processor, which he resists in his inclusive class) next year. Thanks for helping our kids in ways that are meaningful!!

    Like

    • Michael H says:

      I hope in my classroom that I will be able to provide the keyboarding skills as well as the penmanship practice. On way I want to make the physical act of writing fun is to buy a set of classroom fountain pens that will make writing special (looking at the Lamy ABC). I can do that as well as my daily art practice from Art for Kids Hub to develop fine motor control in the fingers. Separately, I plan to provide typist training (as it has been shown better than keyboarding training for autism based on the ritualistic training methods) to the kids daily so they can master the keyboard.

      Then, let the creativity fly!!

      Like

  3. Brandy says:

    I have learned not to fight my child on writing a few years back. He was supposed to write his spelling words 5 times each but we would have a melt down every time. I had realized he loved when he was at work with me and I’d set him at my desk and he’d be on the computer. Finally after two years of not understanding why he doesn’t like to write he put it into words. He told me it feels “rumbley” in his fingers. His teacher changed the way he did spelling words. We would say, spell (out loud), and say again. At school his test would be on computer, verbal, using magnetic letters, using white board, paint, even using a ruler in the sand on the play ground. He always got 100%. Now we have a new teacher and have had two IEPs and have had to “train” her how he learns. She was shocked at his improvement. I explained he didn’t improve in as much as now you’re actually teaching. One size doesn’t fit all, you need to think out of the box just l I’m excited my kid if you’re going to get through to him. I have chang ed the way I think and it’s allowed me to understand his needs better. He’s now not only writing stories but video taping them and doing concerts and shows for the family. He’s growing in his ability to communicate because we didn’t limit him to pencil and paper.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Michael H says:

      Wow. My students have similar descriptions of their personal hell when they are forced to write. I applaud your efforts and hope you can find great teachers from here on out that will support your son’s needs.

      It warms my heart to hear your son’s progress. I love when kids are able to make a quantum leap.

      I hope I can be that kind of teacher moving forward.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Brandy says:

    I have learned not to fight my child on writing a few years back. He was supposed to write his spelling words 5 times each but we would have a melt down every time. I had realized he loved when he was at work with me and I’d set him at my desk and he’d be on the computer. Finally after two years of not understanding why he doesn’t like to write he put it into words. He told me it feels “rumbley” in his fingers. His teacher changed the way he did spelling words. We would say, spell (out loud), and say again. At school his test would be on computer, verbal, using magnetic letters, using white board, paint, even using a ruler in the sand on the play ground. He always got 100%. Now we have a new teacher and have had two IEPs and have had to “train” her how he learns. She was shocked at his improvement. I explained he didn’t improve in as much as now you’re actually teaching. One size doesn’t fit all, you need to think out of the box just like my kid if you’re going to get through to him. I have changed the way I think and it’s allowed me to understand his needs better. He’s now not only writing stories but video taping them and doing concerts and shows for the family. He’s growing in his ability to communicate because we didn’t limit him to pencil and paper.

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  5. Gina says:

    My daughter has struggled so much with her writing and she is currently in the 4th grade. At this point I don’t see improvements in the near future. She does not cross over. Her brain cannot function in a figure 8 sideways … meaning it affects her ability to write. She resented school, homework everything and she may never feel good about going to school because of forcing her to do better in areas where clearly she can’t.

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    • Michael H says:

      I feel for your daughter. I have a few students in my class that are in the same boat. I have 3rd and 4th grade students and 1 5th grader. Not a single one has “pretty” or even “acceptable” handwriting. I do not want having to write be a torture for them. I want them to love school because they get to feel smart, not hate it because they feel dumb.

      Like

  6. Jen K says:

    In first grade everyone recognized it was in no ones interest to focus on my ASD sons handwriting. He has done all writing assignments on the computer since then (third grade now). He does numbers okay but when he tells me the answer is 5 and then writes a 2 instead, he and I call it “mind-body disconnect”. That was the trouble with writing. Aside from not being neat, I could see his mind thinking of which way the small d goes. And that ruined any flow of what he was trying to say. He still needs prompts with his writing, but he is not anxious when it’s time for writers workshop in school.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Michael H says:

      I actually have a lot of students that show that type of verbal-written disconnect when it comes to math. They reliably mess it up when writing but say it correctly. It is a shame when they are not given credit for the right answer when they clearly said it correctly.

      I agree that the detail focus of b “b to the right and d to the left” will mess up any writing. The self critical perfectionism getting derailed by sloppy penmanship alone is enough to drive some kids to distraction!

      I hope your son gets what he needs and learns to love writing. The creative process is beautiful, and I have a true desire that all kids have the opportunity to experience it that way.

      Like

  7. Jen K says:

    Meant to add, he still works on penmanship during his OT sessions, but that is the only focus at the time. Not trying to create as well.

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    • Michael H says:

      Great! I plan on addressing penmanship separate from “writing”. I think it is important that they be separate until the students no longer have to effort to just put marks on a page.

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  8. Kirsten says:

    My 14 year old son was issued a NEO writer in second grade, thanks to a vigilant teacher such as yourself. It transformed him almost instantly. However, the NEO writers are limited in their ability because they are a very simple word processor. We found that my son was given endless paper worksheets, which could not be completed by the Neowriter typing solution. Thus, he was expected to complete the majority of his work with pencil. The Chrome notebooks you are working to obtain for your students will be an awesome solution to the handwriting problem as long as it is paired with making the curriculum in an accessible format. I have NO doubt that you are on the right track for these kids.

    Additionally, there are so many apps that assist with other issues such as organization, executive function. You will find the Chrome notebooks will a vital tool in each child’s growth. Best of luck to you.

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    • Michael H says:

      I truly hope so. I like the idea of the AlphaSmart or the Neo, but they are far too limited.

      I see a lot of challenges ahead of me with regards to education content. I am going to have to develop a lot of new content so the students can work directly on the screen.

      I look forward to hunting down apps to see just how much I can leverage technology to help my students achieve!

      Like

    • Robin says:

      check out the app called snaptype. It was developed by an occupational therapy student during her internship in a pediatric therapy rotation. You take a picture of the worksheet and then type answers using your ipad. You can adjust the size of your font to fit in the spaces.
      I’ve seen people use this with younger kids to take pic of spelling list and then the student types them 3X each. I’ve seen it used successfully with math assignments. It is wonderful for any fill in the blank type assignment! The free version allows only 3 working documents…the paid version is unlimited! This app is perfect for your struggling writers that have access to an ipad.

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  9. Anna says:

    All of this whole post… All of the comments. I cannot believe we still live in the psychological Stone Age. Zero, and I mean ZERO mention of Dysgraphia, which very commonly runs co-morbid to adhd and autism both. I have all three conditions, and just reading all of this insistence on teaching penmanship and handwriting without tears and it gives me horrible flashbacks to all of those horribly ignorant teachers who had zero understanding of what dysgraphia is and what helps (handwriting remediation isn’t it. You’re right to start keyboarding early.) I am more than just miffed at how many people have zero clue or idea that dysgraphia exists. Constantly shifting focus to handwriting will just piddle away what little self esteem these kids have, I remember all of the handwritten assignments that gave me arm and shoulder cramps, all of the frustration at the letters that won’t form, the words that won’t space, copying stuff over and over is aggravating considering that practice doesn’t make perfect and my handwriting just deteriorates the longer I write. At 31 it still is this way even with just added fine motor coordination. It doesn’t stick. A handwriting disorder isn’t a “learned thing.” You are right that you see your students find whatever way around it to conserve what little spoons they can dedicate to handwriting. I know I seems pretty distressed, but I am seriously miffed that this hasn’t even been brought up even once in any of this writing nor in the comments.

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    • Michael H says:

      I understand your pain. I have 2 students with diagnosed dysgraphia. My wife actually made a bunch of math sheets that specifically address dysgraphia by teaching the basic number sense rather than the more modern ways to learn math. I can always send them to you as a pdf if you like (Just to not charge you for it on teachers pay teachers).

      AMEN that a hearty focus on handwriting won’t work. It didn’t. I was doing too much of it and giving my poor kids an anxiety attack. I pulled back and things are better now. Also, my research suggests the only way to improve a lot of handwriting issues is to write bigger, which clearly is not acceptable in school. So we hit am impasse.

      I think handwriting/penmanship training is important, because there re times we all have to write longhand, but it is relatively rare in my experience. More important for me in school is accessing what my students know and helping them express themselves appropriately.

      Personally, I push to let parents know Wolfram Alpha exists or that you can type math questions into google and get an answer. Despite having passed Calculus III with flying colors, I still pull out my cell phone to calculate a tip or add 3 numbers. Teaching the strategies to know how to set up equations is often more important than the raw calculation. If you can set up a problem using logic, them machines can do the math for you (read: calculators).

      Oh, and I think you might actually be a little calm in tone given your opinion and life challenges with dysgraphia. You are spot on in your opinion and I will strive to do what I can to identify and intervene as early as possible when I see evidence for dysgraphia in my students! Thanks for your comment.

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    • Anna says:

      I appreciate your comment Michael. I really do. I just find that people are so ignorant of the fact that dysgraphia even exists. They know about other sld’s like dyslexia and dyspraxia and now dyscalculia, but what is taking so long for people to know and find out about dysgraphia? It seems that people’s awareness of it isn’t really any further along than it was 10 years ago even (at the age of 17, or almost 14 years ago was when I was evaluated for it under the DOWE- disorder of written expression umbrella and diagnosed, but I am still running into people right and left who still have no clue about dysgraphia).I found this post linked on TPGA (thinking person’s guide to autism), and just had to comment on it. I’m not a teacher (just a former early gen y student who graduated high school in 2002) but know plenty and many of the people in my life who are teachers and I try to educate all of them on this. I agree on focusing on the structure of an equation more than writing out the calculations too, because that is what matters most is if students know how to arrive at the right answer. A lot of the math I use for work I plug into calculators, especially this feeds and speeds calculator I found programmed on a website that calculates things like spindle speed and chips per tooth (I break less cutters that way in the shop if I can double check it through that). Nowadays most of the time when I write, it is for very mundane things like filling out medical paperwork (ugh), leaving a note for my bf if we leave the house at different times (he has a hand tremor so he has difficult writing too and had always been able to read my writing unlike most people), as well as jotting down a few notes here and there for work (making a scratch drawing of something with measurements for me to draw up in solidworks, procedures for how to do something on the CNC mill like different codes and such, etc). Other than that, most of anything I will type out on my ipad or iPhone. For taking notes for an advocacy organization I am in, I have a bluetooth keyboard to use to help with that. I can type pretty fast on it, and have come a long way since 5th grade in typing on old computers when kids paid me in skittles for typing up their dictated and handwritten book reports.

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    • Donna says:

      I was about to add that! My son has severe dysgraphia, with the ADHD/Autism connections. He hates writing and we’ve been trying to get his school to move toward technology to replace all writing as much as possible. We have been using an android tablet that links up to google drive – much cheaper than the chromebook. I think the chromebooks will be great for your students. We also like that the android tablet has a built in microphone, so we are working on his dictation and writing skills. He still struggles to get all his thoughts written, organized and turned in, but the tech is helping.

      It is wonderful that you are recognizing that it is good to work on helping the kids see they can solve their problems by use of technology or other means. I frequently am trying to teach my son that just because he has dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalcula, dyspraxia, ADHD, Autism, EFD – doesn’t mean he can’t do something, it means he has to do it differently – in his own way.

      In addition to the dysgraphia, my son also has some dyscalcula. So, I will look into the Wolfram Alpha. We use the app yhomework, which shows him how to show his work on a problem. He is getting better at this.

      I am intrigued that the severe writing problems are so common in your classroom. It is good to know my son is not alone. Best wishes to you and your class.

      Like

    • Michelle Smith says:

      Thank you Anna for your post. My 8 year old son has ASD and was recently diagnosed with Dysgraphia as well. Before this I had no knowledge of it myself. I appreciate your insight and you sharing your experience. It definitely helps me to understand his struggles.

      Like

  10. bbarnett101 says:

    My son’s last teacher was surprised that he ended up getting the highest scores on the CA testing last year over all 2nd graders in their school. Mind you she had to read all the questions and put down the answers. She said half of the test wasn’t even covered this year. I explained that if he’s wandering around he’s still always paying attention, until you limit his movement by either making him sit still or making him write, color, draw. Then he shuts down or meltdown. I’ve also found having a timer or a metronome helps him. And the same thing never works twice. We would find a way to get him to write, maybe use his favorite color, use a marker that glides easier etc…but it would only last a short while. The teach also came up with cutting (when she has the class fix sentences, like capitals ation and structure etc..) she will print then sentences larger. Cut the corrections out word by word and punctuation. Then the students get the worksheet. The use the cutouts to put it in correct order. She’s also using word searches as spelling test. I have her email so anytime I come up with something new I send her the info. I also love the Facebook page called autism discussion page. He has so much info under his picture section and also power points. Great stuff. And thank you for being such a caring teacher. I have had several that don’t care or just don’t go the extra mile. I am proud when I come across one who loves the children they are teaching.

    Like

    • Michael H says:

      Oh man…he would fit in very well in my class. It is a tragedy when we limit the movement of kids in the room. I actually gave each one of my kids yoga balls to sit on and fidget as much as they want so they would not feel the need to get up in class and wander.

      I have done the sentence construction to work the sentences over the course of a long time, but I found out my kids were far too advanced for that.

      I have gone through the gamut of trying to find which was the preference of each kid. What I learned was, the preference is universally on the computer.

      I hope as your son moves forward he receives the help he needs and access to resources through the IEP process or just by very good, caring teachers!

      Like

  11. Brittany Phillips says:

    This is interesting. I thought it was just my son. He is homeschooled but HATES writing. Counting, science, cooking, singing, everything else is fine. But his handwriting is…well, he hates it. Good to know. Good luck with the campaign.

    Like

  12. includedbygrace says:

    I’m an autism specialist teacher currently working with over 50 autistic children in primary and high school. I agree with you completely and I often recommend using computers, teaching typing and doing the actual motor skill of handwriting as a separate lesson from composition. I too have had similar and pleasing results. Surprisingly, in high schools it is common for children to use a laptop in lessons. Not only ASC but dyslexic and ADHD students too. I am on Twitter as @Reacoutasc and http://www.reachoutasc.com.
    Lynn McCann

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Amanda says:

    I don’t know if this would help anyone, but my son with ASD (Aspergers) and ADHD had unbelievable improvement with focus, fine motor skills, and handwriting after starting on a medication to calm him and help him sleep called Guanfacine/Intuniv/Tenex. His physician said it’s a very mild and safe alternative to other sedating type of meds. I’m a “medication is a last resort” type of parent, but he got so bad he couldn’t stop moving or sleep. This one really helped a lot in so many aspects of school and his life. Being able to write helped prevent a lot of anxiety at school.

    Like

  14. includedbygrace says:

    Reblogged this on includedbygrace and commented:

    I’ve added this article about handwriting and autism today, because it’s one of the biggest issues I deal with in my work in schools and I love how sensible this article is. I have been advising to teach typing, use computers and separate the composition skills from the motor skills of writing for some time…and it often works.
    In church groups we shouldn’t be adding to the stress and asking the children with additional needs who find writing so difficult, to be writing in Sunday Clubs as well. There, at the very least, we should be flexible in our teaching methods…and mindful of the children’s preferred learning styles.
    What do you think?.

    Like

    • Michael H says:

      I think we should effort ourselves to connect with every student or child in a way that best allows them to use their strengths to overcome or compensate for their weaknesses!

      I think your logic is spot on!!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Helen Fernyhough says:

    Your students might benefit from irlen method using irlen lenses. Our son is on the spectrum with high autistic traits and sensory issues but they wont give clinical diagnosis due to social area. He has used colour tints for over a year now. First started from optician’s on cerium lenses for reading and writing only. But he started to want use all the time but they caused other issues all the time. So we went down irlen method. Our son will write now and reads happily. This really needs to be considered in all schools. http://Www.irlen.com education and health need to recognise this together to help these children get correct quality life.

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  16. KBT says:

    One other thing I would have you consider. Prior to handwriting, make sure there are sensory breaks. Vestibular and proprioceptive skills are crucial to handwriting and so often overlooked. Consider chair push ups and even writing on the underside of the table, looking up. Your body needs to be prepared for any activity and handwriting is a doozie if its not!

    Like

    • Michael H says:

      I learned that one early on in the year. We now have lots of sensory sands, exercise breaks (usually Just Dance videos or Cosmic Kids Yoga), spinning chairs, etc. If a students needs, they only have to ask. And they do.

      Thanks for the advice!

      Like

  17. Mary Conneely says:

    The handwriting issue becomes more problematic when children with autism start secondary/high school and have to write essays. Even if a child with autism can write, it is usually a struggle. A lot of teachers don’t realize the amount of effort and concentration needed for handwriting and how this affects children’s abilities to generate content – keyboard skills are definitely the way to go.

    Even if a computer is used, many children with autism have problems with expressive writing. This is a big obstacle during tests. I read a lot about Self regulated Strategy Development as a technique to improve expressive writing. I am now using this technique at home, but wonder if anyone came across other methods?

    Like

    • Michael H says:

      Yes! Exactly. I want to separate the challenges of creative writing/writing anxiety and penmanship/fine motor skills problems.

      I feel that if I separate the two processes, i can dedicate the effort needed to guide my students into being slightly less inhibited when it comes to their thought processes underlying writing. Separately, I can help their penmanship/handwriting skills to improve.

      I just feel by trying to do all at once I am not only being ineffective, but taking large steps backwards because I am causing 2 separate anxiety triggers to go off simultaneously, which is good for no one.

      The self regulated strategy development is what I focus on teaching for a lot of different scenarios. It is nice because it is flexible enough that I don’t have to feel like Procrustes when I try and bring it in.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Leslie mastrianni says:

    This is a subject dear to my heart. Several years ago I wrote an article entitled “Take the Pencil Out of the Process” that was published in the journal, Teaching Exceptional Children. It is available on the net in PDF format. It provides references and information that is supportive of students with dysgraphia or macrographia being able to use a keyboard for written work and especially for math as numeral formation can be so challenging and completely disable a student from participation in mathematics. When the brain has to devote so much focus and energy on using a writing instrument, there is very little left over for the cognitive processes it has to deal with, think about or answer.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Lei says:

    I am Autistic and so is my child. Handwriting is extremely difficult for both of us (dysgraphia), but typing has allowed both of us to be able to express ourselves more. Another thing that you may have not considered is that spoken language, even when possible is often EXTREMELY difficult for Autistic people. Both my child and I often lose speech at times of extreme emotional distress or when we are having trouble processing complex thoughts/emotions. BUT we can both usually still type to process our feelings. So, I think you are on the right track to accommodating the kids in your class in this way. I think it will help them in more ways than you realize.

    Like

  20. milamba says:

    My kids (both autistic) had computers by the age of two and I pushed for them to be allowed to use computers right through school. My son, now 23, has just finished his geology degree and has finally been able to teach himself to write neatly. They both find the fancier calligraphic style handwriting much easier. What I don’t understand is why people have/are taking so long to understand the sensory and executive function problems that many autistic kids have with handwriting. Many of us have known this for years!

    Like

    • Michael H says:

      I am happy to hear that calligraphy may be a good approach. I thought it would intuitively be more fun, I never thought of it being easier.

      Kudos on your son finishing his degree!

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Pam B. says:

    I love that some teachers are really trying to help Autistic kids any way they can and are able to think outside the box. I wish my son would have had a teacher like you when he was in school!!
    To give some credit to the OT who only go to see him one time a year for 15 minutes– he tried the alpha smart but due to the size it was very limiting but it did help some.
    They tried Dragon naturally speaking when it first came out but with his speech issues- stutter at the end of the word, starting over halfway through a sentence– it did not work for him.
    I ended up having him dictate to me word for word what he wanted written.
    I wrote it down and the typed it out. It was a lot of extra work on my part but if it meant that my son had lss frustration then it was wroth it.
    My son is now 22. His handwriting has improved over the years and is much easier to read but he would prefer to use a keyboard if he had something long to write.
    Our issue now is the total lack of interest in doing anything — like his one and only goal in life was to graduate high school and that has been accomplished.
    Anyway– keep up the good work and I pray your students succeed and they and their parents know how much you care!!

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    • Michael H says:

      I applaud your solution. My mother did that for my nonverbal son for a while until he got the hang of free typing on a laptop.

      I am sending that OT all the happy thoughts I can. Situations like that are thankless but make the job worth it!

      I hope your son and you all the best. Thanks for the comments!

      Like

  22. KatieG says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading this article and subsequent comments. Throughout my teaching career in Early Years special ed I’ve struggled with the notion of ‘quitting’ the heavy focus on handwriting in favour of using adaptive equipment & accommodations to allow a focus on phonics and using writing as a mode to express knowledge. Its an interesting subject to consider at what point you can make this shift. I like how you talk about continuing to work on both skills side by side. I’m currently teaching in the Middle East where the art of handwriting is perceived through a different cultural lens, so that’s added an interesting dynamic to my thoughts on the issue. It also adds a very interesting dynamic to the whole notion of supporting children with disabilities, or who learn differently… Most days it feels like I’m heading up a steep hill, so connecting with supportive parents and like-minded professionals rejuvenates my advocacy efforts – Thank-you 🙂

    My favourite website for movement breaks or “brain breaks” is gonoodle.com. they have tons of stuff for all different age groups.

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    • Michael H says:

      I understand feeling like Sisyphus. I am in my first year and have to put those thoughts behind me since I matter to my kids. Even if I do not feel it, they show me.

      It is a tough one in the MIddle East. You HAVE to teach that beautiful script, but it adds a layer of complexity as it is a very subtle and artistic writing. I sort of lean into the art side of things and want to focus on calligraphic writing rather than typical script or cursive so the kids see it as fun and not just as a necessary assignment.

      I LOVE gonoodle! We play around on it when the students need a random break and want to feel like they are doing something.

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  23. lark71 says:

    How did this end up, one year out? I’m working in ABA with kids on ASD. I have a friend whom I want to introduce typing games to , to see if we can give him more options and motivation. Really curious what you found out on your journey , just found you, so I may find the answer to my question further on in your blog.

    Like

    • Michael H says:

      So far what I have seen is that giving some form of alternate response works. I get MUCH high buy in when there is a Chromebook or even mu iPad with a keyboard attached. Students that would no zero work now freely answer questions, and are even more likely to capitalize the first word in a sentence and provide capitalization. I also get MUCH more thorough answers.

      Doing this then lets me have time and space to do a writing program like Handwriting without Tears to teach penmanship and pencil handling skills. I also trick kids by using ArtForKidsHub videos on youtube to have the kids follow along. It helps with direction following, WAITING until the next direction to draw, and pencil/crayon handling skills.

      The downside is, it takes time to teach keyboarding to a lot of kids. One great strategy in a school setting is to use time on Fridays to go to typing.com and play the typing games with the kids, and eventually cover their keyboard so they have to learn to touch type. But that is if speed is important (and with computerized testing I decided it was).

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