Autism and Learning to Write – A Few Tips That Can Help Your Child Write

The team at Stepping Stones caters to various needs and challenges experienced by children with autism spectrum disorder - particular difficulties in the spectrum of communication and learning. During one of our sessions, a parent had asked if we could help her son diagnosed with ASD learn to write.

We are often asked this question and we think it is important to understand why children diagnosed with ASD find it difficult to write.

Firstly, writing needs visual attention. Other pre-writing skills are hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. Children on the spectrum need to understand the concept that pens and pencils (formally known as a writing implement) are used write rather than just scribble.

For children on the spectrum, learning to write is not the only challenge. They find it difficult to make eye contact with a piece of paper. This is due to poor visual attention.

Before teaching children how to write, parents should encourage their children to copy basic shapes and trace letters. The primary focus should be to improve a child’s attention.

Parents can draw flowers, cars, etc. on a piece of paper and show it to the children to arouse their interest/curiosity. The idea of drawing straight lines can be induced using flower stems, and circles using car wheels. Here are a few tips to develop pre-writing skills.

  • Place a large erasable writing board, or a large piece of paper in an upright position so that it is at the child’s eye level. Give him/her few colorful markers and show her/her how exciting and fun it is to draw on a surface.

  • A similar exercise can be performed on the sidewalk as well if the child prefers to be outside. (This exercise is more effective if children on the spectrum do it while standing, as it helps them focus.)

Once children are accustomed to a writing surface, parents can move on to drawing definitive shapes. Circles, a big “X,” straight lines, and zigzags are a good start. If a child makes a big circle, parents can add a nose, eyes, and ears to it and make a happy face. This becomes a teachable moment for him/her.

Parents must never forget to appreciate and/or praise their children when they draw something on their own.

  • Another fun exercise that can be used to engage children is teaching them to trace their own hand. They may find it difficult initially, but after a few hand-over-hand guidance sessions, they should be able to do it by themselves.

  • Parents can repeat similar exercises in the sand when children are playing. Mixing things up often helps children.

Some eye-catching cues can also be employed to improve attention and help children on the spectrum learn to write. Parents can encourage their children to trace lines and shapes. This teaches them the important concept of making purposeful movements with a writing implement i.e. moving from scribbling to writing.

  • Parents can use an inked stamp or small sticker to highlight the start of a line or shape which needs to be traced or drawn. Another sticker can be placed at the end of the shape.

  • Connecting the dots can also be used to implement this exercise.

  • Another exercise is to draw a square and ask the child to make a mark in it. This may need demonstration initially i.e. placing an X in the box.

After these activities are complete, children may be more interested in tracing letters or drawing shapes on a piece of paper.

For more information regarding assessments, cognitive skills, developmental disorders, educational therapy, occupational therapy, please contact Stepping Stones Center. We emphasize acquiring new and appropriate behaviors, while also working on helping the child achieve developmentally age appropriate milestones through evidence-based practices.

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