As I was researching for this post this morning, I came across a stern warning: Whatever you do, DON’T force a child to hold a pencil correctly as they are learning to write; they may not be developmentally ready. I’m sure this is just one of many opinions on the subject, but something about the warning resonated with me. If I leave Noah alone, he uses a beautiful modified tripod (two fingers on the top surface of the pencil instead of one), and his writing is functional. If I come along and try to “help” him by forcing his fingers into a correct tripod grasp, writing becomes too frustrating and he loses control of the pressure of the crayon. The truth is that the way children grip writing utensils is largely developmental. Because Noah’s Down syndrome brings some pretty significant developmental delays, it is no surprise that at age 6 he would still be using a modified tripod grasp. Most typically-developing children move on to a perfect tripod by age 4-7. At some point it will be time to help him find a perfect tripod grasp if he hasn’t found it on his own, but today is not the day.
For those of you whose children are ready for the tripod grasp, http://www.writeoutofthebox.com/tips.php is a great site for fine motor work where I found lyrics to a song that teaches correct handling of a pencil. If you click and wind up at their site, scroll down to the “Sleeping Fingers, Busy Fingers and Pillows” link for an explanation. From their tips page, scroll down to “Fingers and Pillows” song for the actual lyrics.
Instead of working on a perfected tripod grasp, Noah is focusing more on foundational issues concerning the hand and fingers like in-hand manipulation.
In-hand manipulation: the ability to move and position objects in one hand without the assistance of the other hand. http://www.therapystreetforkids.com/fm-inhandmanip.html Examples:
- Place a piece of string or paper in front of the child. Give the child 6 nickles to hold in his dominant hand. Have him lay down one coin at a time along the line using only his dominant hand. (He will have to use his finger and hand muscles to move the coin from the center of his palm into the spot between his thumb and index finger.)
- Place 5 coins near the edge of a table in a horizontal line, leaving space between each coin. Have your child use his dominant hand to push one coin at a time to the edge of the table, flip it with his thumb and push it back away from the table’s edge. Repeat for all five coins. Experiment using different coins to see which are easiest to flip and which are hardest (thickness and size may matter).
- Have your child use his dominant hand to grasp a pencil using the tripod grasp. Without using the other hand, have your child use his fingers to “walk” his fingers up and down the pencil. The goal is to be able to do this while keeping the pencil steady.
- Peg Boards – If you have an easel, use it to prop up the peg board; otherwise, a horizontal surface is fine. Have your child store as many pegs as he comfortably can in his dominant hand and insert the pegs into the peg board using only the palm and fingers to manipulate each peg into a pincer grasp and then into the board.
What have I missed? Any ideas to add to the list?
- Helping kids with disabilities write and draw: crowd-sourced suggestions (lovethatmax.com)