Chalkboards allow mistakes to be quickly erased, boosting writing confidence.
Handwriting can be a difficult task to learn, particularly for children with cerebral palsy. Decreased coordination and hand weakness can cause frustration for a child with cerebral palsy trying to learn this skill. Parents, teachers and caregivers can make the process less stressful for a child with fun strengthening exercises and writing activities.
Cerebral palsy is a non-progressive condition, meaning the brain damage responsible for the disorder does not get worse over time. However, the condition persists throughout life, affecting the ability to move and making daily tasks challenging. Handwriting is a complex skill that requires hand strength, control of fine finger movements, visual understanding and controlled eye movements. Cerebral palsy can adversely affect all of these areas.
Strength and Fine Motor Control
Poor hand strength and lack of fine motor control can affect handwriting with cerebral palsy. These issues can be addressed with strengthening activities, fine motor training and different writing surfaces. Resistive putty exercises can be performed to strength grip, squeezing the putty flat and reshaping it into a ball. Pinching putty between the thumb, index and middle fingers strengthens muscles used to hold a pencil.
Proper sitting posture reduces strain on the arm muscles, improving control with writing. A slanted writing surface encourages a child to sit up straight, improving posture. Large-handled writing utensils are easier to control than regular pens and pencils. These items can be purchased or made at home by wrapping quarter-inch foam around a pencil, held in place with duct tape.
Motor planning is the brain's ability to tell other parts of the body how to perform a task. Motor planning difficulties affect handwriting skills with cerebral palsy. To address these issues, writing tasks should be broken down into several steps. A child can trace dotted lines and outlines of individual letters while saying aloud what she's doing. This provides the brain with auditory information, reinforcing motor learning. Hand-over-hand writing -- with the adult's hand on top of the child's -- provides assistance with drawing letters. As the child improves, the adult's hand can be moved back to the wrist, then elbow for gentle guidance until the child can write by himself.
Visual perception is the brain's ability to understand what the eyes see. Cerebral palsy can cause difficulty with visual perception, affecting handwriting. This is addressed by providing small amounts of information with lots of practice time. To visually teach the child how to form a letter, the adult demonstrates writing, explaining the process at the same time. This provides the child's brain with visual and auditory information to reinforce learning. These skills are best learned in a quiet environment with minimal distractions.
Visual Motor Skills
Visual motor skills -- copying patterns or shapes -- are necessary for handwriting. Cerebral palsy commonly affects visual motor skills. Letters can be made out of clay, pipe cleaners and other household objects to reinforce patterns for handwriting. Tracing dotted letters and words also improves these skills.