Children with special needs may struggle with learning handwriting because they have physical or neurological challenges, developmental delays or associated learning disabilities, lack of opportunities to learn or practice, or inadequate support, modifications and accommodations. Students who struggle with handwriting may be diagnosed with dysgraphia.
Expressive students who enjoy learning may lose their interest in school when they start to struggle with printing or cursive writing. Some children may not have developed the motor coordination or physical skills needed to use a pen, pencil, or marker and stay 'between the lines.' Others may have perceptual difficulties so they see the shape of the letters differently and may not have the confidence or grasp to copy individual letters.
There are many high tech as well as low tech solutions for helping a child learn to write. When my son was small, I used an exacto knife to cut out a template for him to write his name on the back of Valentines. When his older sister saw it, she said she would have liked that when she was first learning.
I had also printed up small address labels with messages on them for my son to stick to the backs or envelopes of the Valentines. One said, "My name is -----. Down syndrome is just a challenge. Let me show you what I can do." This was for the parents who might look at their child's Valentines at home - his classmates did not seem to find Down syndrome made him that interesting or different.
Because writing is a complicated process that involves physical skills, motor planning, spelling, and other thought processes involved in any kind of communication, learning to print or write in cursive may benefit a student in multiple ways. Some fonts used in teaching printing are easily connected when a student moves on to cursive writing, and many children find that cursive writing is easier than printing even if the two fonts taught to them were not designed to relate.
Because there are different causes and forms of dysgraphia, researchers and educators often find that individual children benefit from multiple strategies, modifications and accommodations. Some students will need long term support, and others will benefit from short term interventions. Many students with dysgraphia benefit from assistive technology used for written expression and may prefer to use keyboards or other technology even after they have become proficient at handwriting.
Children and teens with physical challenges or limited mobility may use Morse code; some find keys or buttons with pictures or words on them that stand for phrases or whole sentences useful when they write. Word prediction software and other innovations continue to make writing easier for children and teens with special needs.
Some children are not taught to write at school because their diagnosis, physical abilities, or performance on evaluations predict they won't be able to learn. Because such a wide variety of students with similar diagnoses have learned to write and communicate how important it was for them to accomplish this goal, there has been a strong advocacy effort for opportunities and best practices to be offered to children growing up today.
Most students with dysgraphia or other obstacles have been able to learn handwriting in spite of their challenges. Parents often contribute to this effort by helping their sons and daughters at home, whether they have directions from a teacher or specialist, or must to do their own research and develop materials themselves. Sometimes the only way to persuade administrators or educators that a student will benefit from support or accommodations is demonstrate how much our children have learned at home.
If you have had difficulties with handwriting while you were in school, you might feel uncomfortable and inadequate about teaching your child at home, but the strategies that you discover at your public library, bookstore or on the internet may help you understand what you needed while you were growing up. I hope you find the support, encouragement and information available that will help your children develop their full potential.
Browse at your local library, bookstore or online retailer for toys or game suggestions and book titles like Handwriting without Tears
What Learning Cursive Does for Your Brain - Psychology Today
OT Corner: Handwriting Mastery Begins
Before the Introduction of a Pencil
Endangered Species: In Defense of Cursive Writing
Connecting the Dots Between Handwriting and High Scores
Jane Farrall: Lots of alternatives - "Pencils" for everyone