By: Laura Petix, MS OTR/L

One of the most common referrals I get is to assess handwriting skills and “awkward” pencil grasps. What counts as awkward? And if it is awkward, how do you fix it? Is it necessary to fix it? 

What does a functional grasp look like?

If you haven’t read my post on development of a pencil grasp, first check it out here. It has all you need to know about how the hand develops and what a functional grasp looks like. 

The first thing I check for in a grasp is an open webspace. This is the space between your thumb and your index finger. An efficient grasp allows for an open, circular webspace. Less efficient grasps that are difficult to sustain typically display a closed webspace. 

                       Open Webspace

Closed Webspace

The other things I look for are related to the output of the fine motor activities in relation to the grasp. For example, I look at: 

1) Quality of lines (e.g. if they’re shaky and bumpy vs. straight)

2) Legibility of letters 

3) Precision of strokes, shapes drawn or letters written

4) Ability to keep up with peers (both in quality of output, speed of output and duration of output)

When do you need to use a pencil grip?

If a student shows a consistent immature grasp, such as a fisted or digital pronate grasp past the age of 4, I would introduce a grip to help promote a more mature grasp pattern. 

If a student shows an emerging mature grasp, meaning that they sometimes show the ability to use a tripod or quadruped grasp, but they just can’t sustain the grasp for a certain amount of time, then I would just continue to build the grasp pattern by using things like broken crayons or short pencils. 

If a student shows signs of: fatigue AND/OR displays poor legibility of letters or precision of drawing, or shaky/weak lines, then I would introduce a grip. 

Best grips and hacks to use

*with affiliate links* 

The crossover grip is typically the first kind of grip I introduce, especially to preschoolers who need just the right amount of support and cuing for where to place their fingers. Note the open webspace, and opposed index and thumb fingers. 

This grip provides little “pockets” for finger placement, for those kids who need an added level of structure and cuing for finger placement. It even includes a pocket for placement of the middle finger, which some kids have a hard time placing appropriately. 

Many students have a hard time controlling a long pencil, as the shaft of the pencil sticks vertically up, rather than resting back against the webspace. This handiwriter strap can help direct long pencils in the resting position, though admittedly, this makes it tedious when you need to erase. My go-to hack is using shortened pencils as they allow more control from little hands. 

This twist-n-write is perfect for students who have lax ligaments, low tone, or just tend to hyperextend their index or thumb joints. It may look like an awkward grasp, but it’s quite comfortable and still promotes an open webspace. 


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Laura Petix, MS OTR/L

I’m an enneagram 6, so my brain is constantly moving. My OT lenses never turn off and I can’t “un-see” the sensory and other developmental skills that go in to literally every activity. I love taking what I see and breaking it down into simple terms so parents can understand what goes into their child’s behavior and skills.

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