Writing was an art I fell in love with when I was in grade 5. It was through weekly journals and the use of a thesaurus that I discovered the beauty of words and how they can be strung together to impact others. When first learning that my son’s diagnosis would mean a global developmental delay – I didn’t even think as far as academics.
Over time, I began to feel the heartache of not being able to share one of my greatest passions with my own child. However, as his teacher, I’m seeing that all that sorrow was unnecessary. Although he might not write a great Canadian novel (how many of us will, anyway?), I’m realizing that his future may include the very beginning stages of writing – even if in his own way and with the assistance he requires. This post will show you, that like me, you don’t need to despair about your child’s future with writing.
A word about writing
The tips in this post goes beyond handwriting, although they are somewhat linked. Writing is also linked to reading. I’ve chosen to separate each of them to give you concrete tips for each category, but do not dismiss their connection.
In order to write, a child ordinarily needs to have handwriting skills, as well as an understanding of the written word. However, [pullquote]just because a child cannot hold a pencil properly to handwrite, does not mean that he cannot partake in the skill of writing. Similarly, just because a child cannot yet read, does not mean he cannot tackle the task of writing. It might sound impossible, but I will show you how this is achievable. In so doing, you help to build all of the other skills your child will need to acquire (ie: handwriting and reading).
I have put writing in front of the literacy post since writing is much more concrete and ties in with both handwriting and drawing skills and makes a great link to reading.
Why writing may be a challenge for neurodiverse and disabled children
- Children with cognitive delays may not comprehend that print contains a message.
- Children with visual-motor delays may struggle with tracking print while writing.
- Children with learning disabilities may have trouble identifying and producing letters and words correctly.
Suggestions for adaptations/modifications for writing
- Model. My son may not understand what it is that I’m doing just yet, but he witnesses me writing at different parts of the day – with paper and pen. Recently, I’ve been sitting closer to him while I write. Since he’s been experimenting with different writing/ drawing/ painting tools in the last two months, he’s intrigued by the pen wobbling up and down and gliding across the paper. He often comes close and tries to grab the pen, but he also observes. He wants to keep seeing it wiggle. He’s also noticing that I’m producing something with that pen. He sees scribbles on a page, looks at me, looks back at the scribbles and the wobbling pen, and giggles. When I stop, he signs MORE. I will say, “Mama’s writing. Writing.” I might say exactly what I’m writing too, “Apple. Banana. Cereal,” (if putting together a grocery list). This seemingly simple and meaningless act is huge for him. Eventually, he’ll want to imitate what I’m doing. In fact, many times I give him the pen just to see what he’ll do. He mostly lets it go, and asks for me to do it instead by signing MORE. But, I know it won’t always be this way for him.
- Read. Even if reading will be tackled in the next post, it’s worth mentioning that it’s important to show your child that the symbols on the page mean something. Point to words as you read. “The train said, ‘Choo-choo’. It says ‘Choo-choo’.” It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t read. You’re trying to make the connection that those black marks say something important.
- Begin where your child is at. Is he developmentally ready to understand the skill of writing? If not, back it up. Can he draw? Can he scribble? Can he tell you or sign what he wants to say? Even if it’s just single words at this point, you want your child to be able to write anything, in his own way. My son isn’t here yet, so I’m going to continue working on building vocabulary through signs, and build fine motor skills through drawing, painting and other fine motor activities. But, if your child can speak a word or two, or can scribble a line and tell you what it represents, you’ve got yourself a writer on your hands!
- Transcribe. Be your child’s writer when he can’t do it for himself. If your child says, “Bird” – draw the bird (if he can’t do it yet) and then write the word. “Ah, bird. Look. Bird. Bird. Mama wrote bird.” You can pin it up somewhere central and go back to it from time to time. “It says, ‘Bird’”.
- Start a journal. Bind up some blank paper and call it a journal. You don’t want to limit your child with lines because this isn’t about handwriting skill-building. You want to encourage your child to make meaningful communication with you through “writing”. If your child can already draw/ scribble, allow him to “write” in his journal daily. Then, transcribe what he “wrote” by asking him what it says. Read it to him from time to time.
- Use technology. If needed, use technology to make the writing possible. Ask your child’s SLP what can be used to target the skills required for writing and set-up a plan. You might have to dish-out some money for this yourself, but always test it out with the equipment offered at the rehabilitation center to be sure that it’s a fit for your child. Not all technology works for all children with special needs. (I will touch on technology in a future post in this series.)
- Keep it light, enjoyable and authentic. Never take away the delight in writing by harping on spelling or mistakes or anything when your child is first exploring writing. You want him to feel successful at what he’s doing, so celebrate the littlest scribbles. And, always connect the writing to things that are meaningful for your child. If your child wants to “write” about cars by drawing about cars, then, HURRAY!
- Give him time. No matter what stage of writing your child is at, always give him the time he needs to develop the skill in his own way.
What works best for writing for you and the children in your life?
Like everything else in this series, this post only briefly touches on the art of writing. Depending on the child’s needs and developmental level, the recommendations would differ greatly. If you’d like personalized strategies, let’s do that in a one-to-one call.