Handwriting still matters, and it matters just as much to kids on the spectrum. Teaching handwriting to kids that have difficulty focusing and that learn better with individualized instruction can be a challenge for any teacher, including special education teachers in a self-contained classroom. For teachers in an integrated classroom, it can be an overwhelming struggle.
Some kids with ASD are even discouraged from working hard to improve their handwriting. It sounds unbelievable to think of educators discouraging learning a foundational skill, until you talk to teachers. They are pressured to prep for standardized testing and need to show progress in math, social skills and behavior management. Handwriting instruction just doesn’t seem to be that big a priority. Some teachers will say “Well, he will be keyboarding next year, and maybe he could use voice recognition software soon.” Often what they are thinking is that they mostly use worksheets and writing programs that they were never trained to use, let alone adapt for these students. They have minimal staff who can teach keyboarding and software use. They don’t know how to improve a child’s handwriting when they don’t know how to teach it well to begin with. What they need is a method to teach handwriting that can adapt to each child’s needs.
My answer is the Handwriting Without Tears program, adapted to be learned slowly and with more repetition. Children with ASD can have any of the other struggles that are seen as impediments to handwriting: poor pencil grip, difficulty with visual-spatial skills, poor bilateral (two-handed) coordination, etc. The colorful and abundant lines of Fundations will fail the kids that cannot focus and aren’t able to incorporate the imagery they offer. Tree, grass and airplane lines are hard to keep straight and translate onto a page. Top, middle and bottom are concrete and simple phrases. Worksheets that bounce back and forth between a single baseline and two or three or even four lines are confusing. Connecting the dots? Don’t get me started on how poor a choice that is for kids who micro-focus and miss the big picture.
HWT workbooks and concepts are simple, and the principles of good writing are clearly stated by the teacher, and repeated directly and indirectly all the way through to cursive. It turns out that cursive might even be easier for some of these kids to master. Their simple form of cursive is so much like printing that they can possibly use it by the end of second grade.
Take a look at this handwriting program (you can get free downloads on their website!) and consider the possibility that handwriting could get a lot easier for kids with ASD when the curriculum supports them well.
Need ideas to get to full toilet training? To understand how to craft a plan, read What Makes Potty Training An Autistic Child Different
What are your recommendations when HwTears and Fundations aren’t helping? In some ways, for some users, HwTears in particular is doing the opposite of helping.
Thanks for asking! I would recommend widening the lens to look at more than handwriting. Sensory processing, strength, core stability and visual-perceptual issues that are not fully addressed often become treatment goals before handwriting instruction can take off. I don’t know any handwriting program or approach that can completely evaluate or resolve these concerns. I also recommend developmental optometry evaluations at times.
In the cases I’m asking about, these have all been looked at by the OTs and other professionals involved (I am not an OT, so I was not part of that) and have been found to be good: the OT, PT, etc., didn’t see anything needing to be addressed in these areas. The handwriting problems remain.
Sadly, there aren’t a lot of therapists that focus on handwriting. Especially providers in the school setting, who rarely have backgrounds in neurology or vision assessments. This will change in time, so don’t give up trying to find someone great!