My 12 year old boy has beautiful handwriting but he holds the pencil awkwardly and he presses very hard. We have tried all kinds of gadgets and have tried writing with a pen (erasable because he is a perfectionist) and nothing has worked.

I found your web site and looked at your checklist. I know he does not come anywhere near a disorder because he is a straight A student and well adjusted socially, but I certainly saw some of his "pet peeves" in those lists. I do not believe he is in need of any therapy, but I would like to help him with his writing style.

I am very concerned about middle school and the increased amount of writing. He just started complaining about pain in his wrist and I believe it comes from the writing. Can you please give me some tips?

Thank you


Handwriting issues are fairly common with our SPD kids. You report he has some possible sensory related pet peeves, but feel he is quite functional academically and socially. I understand your primary concern is due to increased need for writing in the middle grades, and the pain he is experiencing with writing tasks.

First, I would suggest a medical examination since this pain is a recent change, and not a symptom of general low muscle tone he might have had for years. He could have an underlying problem, that is causing him to feel discomfort. Barring any physical problem, there are strategies we use with our SPD kids that might help.

Because his pencil grip is unusual, this can cause strain in his hand, and he may be using compensatory motions while he writes causing stress to certain muscles in his hand, wrist, and fingers It's also possible that even his arm and shoulder could be affected, depending on the grip. One of the strategies we use is exercising these areas with squeezie type fidgets several times a times a day to increase hand muscle strength. Using a weighted product (like a small 3 pound dumb-bell?) by grasping and holding it with fingertips, hand facing down and lifting the weight with fingertips and wrist, several times a day may increase strength and endurance.

For additional exercise, we spread modeling clay that does not dry out (about $1 at a department store) across an old cookie sheet, and by using that

as a practice writing surface, with an old pencil, or chinese chop stick, this provides resistance and exercises the muscles of fingers, wrists and hand.

Having him write on a small chalkboard for practice, using a very small piece of chalk, will help with finger position and strength. Prior to writing, it may help him to brush his hands with a stiff bristled brush, as if he were scrubbing in for surgery. This stimulates and awakens the nerves in the fingers and hands to help with modulating the pressure on the pencil. If he begins to feel pain, he may be able to stop, stretch his fingers, brush again, then resume writing. We frequently use a mechanical pencil, medium grade, to provide consistency with the lead and the amount of pressure needed to keep from breaking it.

Having a variety of pencil grips available so he can choose the most comfortable may relieve some of the strain of writing for him.

Speaking with his teachers and asking for a minimum modification, such as extra time to complete written work, math sheets with the numbers already printed, so he only needs to write the answers, or possibly utilizing a friend or teacher's aid to allow him to dictate, instead of writing all answers during tests may help. Allow abbreviations in some writing (such as b/c for because, w/ for with). Have your son develop a repertoire of abbreviations in a notebook. These will come in handy in future note-taking situations.

Check your son's keyboarding skills. It may help your son to learn or improve keyboarding skills to increase the speed and legibility of written work. There are many fun keyboarding programs available he could do at home, if you feel his typing skills could be improved.

You also might want to consider an adaptive writing pen, called Pen-Again, just made for kids and adults who have these problems. Other adaptive pens can be found here: Ergonomic Pens

If you are considering assistive technology to help your son, take a look at Dragon Naturally Speaking 9. This program would type as he speaks reducing the need for long handwritten reports and easier note taking.

From increasing functionality and muscle strength, to assistive technology, your son has many choices for strategies he can use to help himself continue to be as successful as he wants to be. Good Luck!

Michelle Morris
Administrator, SPD International

Comments for Handwriting

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To much pressure
by: Anonymous

I have found the best way to lighten pencil pressure is to put a small ball in the non-dominate hand, and ask the student to squeeze the ball. They can't put much pressure down on the pencil while holding the ball tightly in the other hand.

Another thought for handwriting
by: Grandma Mary

I am a middle school regular ed teacher, and also have a granddaughter with mild SPD. We have a SPED inclusion classroom, so there are always a number of students with issues--sometimes involving writing. I might suggest an Alphaboard. This is an electronic keyboard, which can be plugged into any printer to print out what has been stored. The student can carry it, it is lightweight. There is a small window display about 2 inches by 2 inches to confirm what is being written. There is no monitor, so it can sit on the student's desk, and not hardly be noticed. A simple explanation to the class that someone needs some handwriting assistance has worked fine. It is hard plastic. It can store many documents until there is time for printing. It comes with a carrying case, so it can go home with the child and come back. It will print from any printer with a simple USB cord. If in the IEP, or maybe even not in the IEP, many school districts will supply one. Ask! Enlist a SPED teacher to help you advocate, if needed.I would much rather have a student use this than try to grade really poor handwriting. Hope this helps.

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