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PEN TO PAPER, and how to make it more fun.

Many children and young people don’t enjoy pencil work, but this is more common in those with Autism, and can be the source of lots of frustration when you know your child is absolutely bright enough to be able to do the work, but the request to ‘write’ is the real barrier.

Those on the Autistic Spectrum often have differences with their fine motor skills, and sensory processing difficulties mean that holding a pencil may actually be uncomfortable - it might hurt their fingers, or they aren’t sure how much pressure to put through it. Writing and mark making might be spidery, large and mis-formed. Delays in gross motor skills also mean that muscles have to work much harder to sit in a good position to hold a pencil and mark make, and proprioceptive sensory differences mean that they may struggle to keep themselves seated, still and grounded in order to complete the task. Difficulties in motor planning mean that, although the child might recognise the letter and know what it should look like, they cannot recreate it as the message from brain to hand, and vice versa, gets confused.

This is often combined with an anxiety of managing the demand from us, needing to process our verbal instructions and sequence the instructions and actions correctly. If you don’t enjoy mark making or writing, and haven’t wanted to take part then you will feel a sense of failure, and become understandably despondent towards the activity. If you are very rigid in your thinking it might be difficult to manage making mistakes, and children might re-write and rub out many times.

This is where we see the cycle start - writing hurts and I can’t control my pencil, I’ve done it wrong, I’m not going to write now, I’m further behind my peers, I hate writing because it makes me feel silly and still hurts, writing makes me anxious....

There are some things we can try: • Explore writing and mark making tools until you find one that is comfortable - chunky pencils, bark pencils, rubber band grips, biro, white board pen, paint brushes, fingers, rollers. • Work on fine and gross motor skills away from the table top work - big mark making on the floor/ windows, use sensory resources like corn flour, sand, water and bubbles, playdoh and putty. • Forget the mark making for a while, concentrate on fun finger gym games. • Explore work positions - try standing up, laying on the floor, sitting on a yoga ball, knee sitting. • Make writing tasks clear and explicit - proved a box or template with clear lines, some children benefit from letter grids (you can use squared paper), so they know where to put their letters. • Use task management boards - do they know where to start, what the end point is, what they need and how many lines you expect from them? Give a visual example. • Make use of technology. Type, record, video, dictate. This is the way of the future, and where writing will always be an essential life skill, our youngsters will probably use much more tech than we ever did! • Make tasks achievable - help the child to be successful and start to build resilience by ensuring they can complete it, even if you know they can do more. Reward instantly and with something personal to them - Minecraft tokens, talk time with a special person... • Make sure the resources are available - ensure that everything they need for the task is immediately available and visible. Any added social demand in having to ask for something might be the tipping point. • Remove the other demands - if you know your young person doesn’t manage noise well, take the work task to a quiet environment. If you know they don’t work well right before lunch, then don’t schedule the challenge for that time.

Make it fun. Make it meaningful. Make it personal.

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