Tell-tale Signs of Handwriting Delays

As I wrote the title to this post, I had a flashback to my school days, and all the writing we did back then (binders full of handwritten notes)! I remembered my hands being fatigued, sweaty, and cramping. I could barely move my fingers after writing for a bit because I had been gripping so tightly to my pencil. I really did not enjoy this part of school…and let’s face it, handwriting is a BIG part of school, especially in the latter years.

Did you or your child have a similar experience?
Does your child complain when they are required to do handwriting tasks?
Seem slow at it or rush through it (to finish as quickly as possible)?
Have a tight grasp (like mine) or too loose of a grasp?
Hold the pencil awkwardly?
Place too much or too little pressure on the the pencil?
Do they fatigue quickly from handwriting?
Do they have difficulty stabilizing the paper with one hand while writing with the other?
Do they have to turn the paper to complete written tasks?
Do they lay their head on the table or too close to the the paper?

These are just some of the signs that your child may have underlying physical delays that make handwriting extra difficult. I did not know about occupational therapy while in elementary and high school, nor did my family. Had we known, I probably would have benefited from it myself. I could have used interventions to improve my shoulder strengthening and fine motor strength, grasp, and dexterity.

For some children, increasing their legibility and the ease with which they can perform handwriting tasks may be as simple as making it a priority to have your child perform finger-strengthening tasks, like:

  • Playing with play doh
  • Baking (kneading dough)
  • Crafting (tearing paper, using scissors, hole punches)
  • Games/activities using tongs

(Pinterest and Google offer lots of great ideas on things you can do to increase fine motor and grip strength.)

Often the delay may not be that easy to correct. As a pediatric occupational therapist, parents and teachers often want me to help with their child’s handwriting. That is usually their greatest concern because, to the untrained eye, it is the noticeable problem area. My job is to look beyond the obvious and discover why their handwriting is a challenge for them. Is it a retained primitive reflex? Decreased Bilateral Coordination? Visual-Motor Delays? Weakness? Decreased Dexterity? Generalized weakness?

Q: If I have a concern about my child’s handwriting, why should I seek occupational therapy services? 

Because, if not addressed, difficulty in handwriting can lead to some or all of the following:

  • Frustration and inability to keep up with peers in classroom
  • Decreased self-esteem and a increased dislike for school
  • Poor grasp- leading to compensatory strategies that are not appropriate for task and inefficient, causing fatigue of muscles
  • Increased difficulty in other areas of academics as they age if there are underlying physical delays that have not been treated (as listed above)
  • Difficulty with self-care tasks such as buttons, zippers, opening various tops/jars
  • To be proactive against frustrations by child, parents, and teachers
  • Frustration and difficulty with these tasks can cause negative behaviors and outbursts due to low self-esteem and frustration

To view helpful charts related to developmental milestones please see the links below: 

Fine Motor Developmental Chart

Written Communication Development Chart

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns please contact me! I offer free developmental screenings. A screening will determine whether a full occupational therapy evaluation is warranted or not.


Christiana Cooper, OTR/L
Kaleidoscope Occupational Therapy LLC

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