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The Handwriting Concern

Picture of Heather York, Handwriting Specialist

In the latest informative session of the Dysgraphia Life Webinar Series, we were pleased to host Heather York, an occupational therapist and handwriting specialist, to address the critical topic of handwriting difficulties in children. For those who couldn't attend this session entitled, “The Handwriting Concern: A Practical Guide to Recognize and Remediate Handwriting Issues”, you can find the full webinar recording here.

A few of the topics covered during the session were:

Importance of Handwriting Skills:

Heather York underscored the significance of handwriting as a fundamental life skill integral to cognitive development. Despite living in a digital age, the necessity to write by hand persists across various contexts—from classroom activities to filling out forms and personal note-taking.

Recognition of Handwriting Difficulties:

York provided an in-depth look at the signs of handwriting challenges in children, such as hand pain, poor handwriting, and avoidance of writing tasks. She stressed early recognition and intervention to prevent these issues from impacting a child's creativity and ability to convey ideas. She also pointed out the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, how cancellation of in class instruction set an unprecedented disruption in children's education, specifically in handwriting. Some students regressed from what they knew and others literally stopped learning handwriting skills.

“It's important to assess and correct the problem, because when a child struggles with handwriting, they spend their energy and attention on the physical motor processes of writing instead of thinking creatively or developing their ideas. And poor handwriting can result in less length and quality of their content. ”- Heather York

Cursive Writing:

Praised for its convenience and efficiency, a cursive writing program was recommended by York for its user-friendly nature for parents. Cursive handwriting, she added, could improve children's writing fluency, legibility, and spacing.

Assessment and Remediation:

If a child struggles with handwriting, York advocates for a professional occupational therapy (OT) assessment. She notes the additional coordination challenges some children may face and discusses targeted strategies for remediation, such as multisensory learning techniques.

Resources and Tools for Practicing Handwriting:

Heather York delved into the mechanics of a functional pencil grip, emphasizing the adoption of a tripod or quadripod hold. While acknowledging that some children may develop unique adaptations due to joint issues, she argued it's essential to start with proper techniques to dodge future complications.

“Learning how to hold a pencil correctly developing a healthy grip, it just, it doesn't automatically happen. It has to be taught.”

To bolster fine motor skills, she encouraged activities like playing with playdoh and kinetic sand and she underscored the importance of using size-appropriate writing tools. Utilizing size-appropriate writing tools like golf pencils and small crayons can promote a stronger grip and fine motor skill development, York noted.  She pointed out that her favorite grip protocol is called the “tip grip protocol.” You can find a video of that here.

Creating the Proper Workspace:

Creating a conducive writing environment is crucial for a child's focus and gross motor skills. York suggested reducing distractions and providing a dedicated, appropriately sized workspace at home. She advised on proper height-appropriate seating, including potential use of sensory booster cushions and slant boards, combined with a distraction-free location to facilitate focus and gross motor competency.

Explicit Handwriting Instruction:

There is no substitute for explicitly teaching handwriting, asserted York. If a child's writing remains illegible or incorrect despite instruction, she encouraged revisiting the teaching approach while considering multisensory and age-appropriate techniques. York enthusiastically recommended the wet-dry-try approach from Handwriting Without Tears, an which she described as a multisensory boon reinforcing sensory feedback and motor skills.

Link Between ADHD and Dysgraphia:

The webinar concluded with an acknowledgement of the frequent co-occurrence of ADHD and dysgraphia. York provided recommendations for managing students facing these dual challenges, suggesting hand-on activities and allowing for movement to enhance focus.


Thank you to everyone who joined live! Your questions and chat made for a dynamic session. In case you missed it or wish to revisit Heather York’s valuable advice, the full recording and mentioned resources are available here.

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