I’d like to preface this post to reminding non-OT readers that, while we are sometimes known as “handwriting experts”, OTs are so much more than that!
Handwriting is the functional outcome that’s impacted in the student’s daily life, but handwriting itself is made up of a variety of underlying sensory-motor skills.
Let’s break it down.
How sensory processing impacts handwriting
Many people don’t realize how impactful an integrated sensory system can be on the development and refinement of handwriting.
For the purpose of this blog (and your time– I could seriously talk about this stuff ALL DAY), let’s just consider the simple activity of writing your name.
Here are just some of the needed sensory related skills to write your name:
- Tactile: You need to be able to discriminate the feel of the pencil in your hands to know how to properly grasp it.
- Proprioceptive: You need to have a good sense of body awareness to accurately judge how much pressure to push with the pencil and how hard or how soft to grasp the pencil. You also need to have a good body awareness and postural control to be able to sit up straight
- Vestibular: You need to be able to maintain your head in an upright position and to notice if your body is leaning so you can adjust your posture.
- Visual: You need to be able to accurately judge and plan the use of the lines you’re writing on, be able to block out irrelevant visual stimuli in the environment that would distract you and to notice the sizing and orientation of letters.
How gross motor skills impact handwriting
Handwriting is typically thought of as a fine motor skill, and many don’t realize what gross motor skills are needed as a prerequisite to handwriting.
- Core and postural strength/endurance to maintain an upright position at a desk
- Stability of the shoulder girdle and trunk muscles in order to fully access and recruit smaller fine motor muscles
How fine motor skills impact handwriting
These are the skills that most people think of when considering what kinds of underlying skills are required for handwriting. Take a look and see if there are any I left out, or if there are any skills you hadn’t considered before!
- Efficient use of intrinsic hand muscles in order to coordinate small pencil movements (precision)
- Separation of function in the hand muscles so one side of the hand can be stable (ring and pinky) while the thumb, index and middle finger and control the movement of the pencil.
- Age appropriate grasp
Higher level skills needed for handwriting
As you can see, there are many foundational underlying pre-requisite skills and abilities that are required to be able to appropriately participate in a school-aged activity such as writing your name.
These sensory and motor skills, when well integrated, come together to allow for refinement of some higher level skills that are directly related to handwriting. Some of these skills include:
- Visual motor integration
- Bilateral coordination
- Crossing midline (find out more about how crossing midline impacts daily function)
- Letter recognition and motor planning for writing letters (learn fun hands on ways to practice letter formation)