Akron occupational therapist handwriting

When Your Child Can’t Write His Name Yet: Tips From an Akron Occupational Therapist

Even though we live in a world where it seems everything these days is typed, mastering legible handwriting is still an important life skill – starting first and foremost with one’s name. If your child has reached the age of 6 and is still unable to write his name, it may be time to consult with an Akron occupational therapist.

It’s true that as a society, we tend to push kids to start writing very early – perhaps even before they’re developmentally ready for the task. Some children are able to do so by age 4, but many typically-developing children won’t put in an honest effort until they’re 5 or so. However, if they’re nearing age 6 and still haven’t made progress on this front, they may need some additional help to get going.

How Can I Tell My Child is Ready to Start Writing Their Name?

Determining when exactly a child is ready to write has been the subject of some in-depth discussions among occupational therapists. One occupational therapy study from 1994 held that kids who could copy at least nine forms on a widely-used visual-motor integration test (basically a series of lines, cross strokes and shapes) could most likely copy letters. For most kids, this is about 5 years and a few months. The model in question starts with imitating and then copying these pre-writing shapes. The idea is kids should at least be able to make the basic shapes that are going to be the components of letters.

Although this is undoubtedly a key part of the ability to write, you may find in talking with an Akron occupational therapist for kids that there are few other indicators we try not to overlook. These include things like:

  • Pencil grasp.
  • Table positioning with proper biomechanics.
  • Identification of letters (or components of them) to identify how they’re the same or different.
  • Ability to follow visual or verbal instruction to form the correct letters.

When it’s all broken down into smaller steps, it becomes obvious that handwriting is one skill that actually consists of many different skills – all of which must be mastered to achieve the task. All of that considers a child is fairly typically developing. In occupational therapy, many of our patients have difficulties in one or more of these areas, which could mean their readiness for handwriting may be delayed.

Pushing a child into writing before they’re ready will not only result in ample frustration, they may start practicing the wrong way (building bad habits) or compensating for certain deficits in a way that will impair them later. They’re going to feel discouraged, but beyond that, correcting for overcompensation of poor fine motor control, posture and visual motor skills gets tougher to correct the longer they practice that way.

When a child develops a skill for which they aren’t quite ready for, this is referred to as a splinter skill, meaning it exists on its own because the skills required to do it haven’t yet been mastered. A child may be able to write his or her name, but from their perspective, it’s really little more than a familiar drawing. They know what it looks like, but they don’t know the meaning of the letters.

How an Akron Occupational Therapist Can Help

We recommend starting with all upper case letters (even though that’s not really how we typically write our names) because formation of lower case letters is a more challenging. Keep in mind too that if your child has a longer name, it might take them a bit longer.

An Akron occupational therapist has certain tools that can help younger kids develop good habits, including starting with different mediums to make it fun (Play-Doh or shaving cream) and practicing pre-writing shapes. Ultimately, we can work our way into lined paper and pencil grips.

The bottom line is that while you don’t want to push your child before they’re ready, it’s important that if you have a concern, you talk to your pediatrician about a referral for occupational therapy services because you don’t want them falling farther behind their peers on this important skill.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – is a pediatric therapy center providing speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy and ABA therapy to children with special needs in Northeast Ohio. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email. Serving Brecksville, Akron, Cleveland and surrounding communities in Northeast Ohio.

Additional Resources:

Handwriting, AOTA

More Blog Entries:

Cleveland OT Talk: “Why Would My Child Need Occupational Therapy?” June 19, 2021, Akron Occupational Therapy Blog