Wednesday, February 6, 2013

10 ways to help kids with disabilities write and draw

Reader Momttorney was asking about writing instruments that could help her four-year-old, who has challenges with fine-motor skills. I'm no expert though I play one in real life; over the years, I've found a bunch of stuff that's enabled Max to draw and write. I'm sharing here—please add your ideas, too!

First up: positioning paper so it's easy for your child to draw or write on. The Adapt-Ease Ergonomic Slant Writing Board above is durable and BPA-free. 

You can smoosh Crayola Model Magic around a pencil, pen, marker, crayon or piece of chalk to give it grip. 

One of Max's occupational therapists used to wind self-adhesive wrap around pencils and crayons to build them up and make them easier for Max to grasp.

 Max's school OT recently sent home this Bip Gear Pen Grip; it holds pencils, pens and crayons. Max prefers foam tubing (which you can see him using in this video). It also works well for utensils.

The Writing Claw helps kids grasp crayons, pencils, pens and skinny markers; Max isn't yet ready for it, but it looks helpful.

Alex Creamy Crayons are chunky-ish and glide really easily.

Max has used Finger Crayons (aka bulb crayons aka chubby crayons) for years. Especially purple ones.

Abilitations makes Egg Ohs Handwriting Grips that makes holding pencils easier. 

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Max likes the app game iWriteWords for tracing letters and numbers; abc PocketPhonics and Writing Wizard  are other good options.

OK, your turn: Please share strategies and suggestions for products, tools and apps that have helped your child draw and write. 


  1. My Max has hypotonic CP. We like to keep the crayon rocks by Clementine Art around (non toxic, soy wax). Also, the super fat triangle crayons (Melissa and Doug).Last, my 4 year old's teacher last year taught us a great trick- if you take one of those big black binder clips and put it around a pencil/crayon, the kids will naturally grip it correctly. Strange, but it worked.
    Good Luck Ellen and Momttorney! - Prof. Mommie

    1. Can you post a picture of what you mean with the binder clip, please? I've clearly not had enough coffee because I'm sitting with my clip and my pencil not sure how to do this in a way that will help. :) Grasp is a 'thing' here too so we're always looking for helpful suggestions. Thanks!
      ilyssa :)

    2. Crayon Rocks are one of our favorites too.

    3. I haven't tried the binder clip idea---thanks so much!

  2. I use clipboards or just hold the paper down on the table with my right hand if ever I need to write by hand.

  3. Ian loves the iWriteWords app too! His 4K teacher was floored when she discovered he could write almost all the letters of the alphabet. I told her I owe it to this app!
    Ian's OT at school puts a piece of chunky therapy tubing on an iPad stylus so Ian can hold it better. The hole through the middle us the perfect size for the stylus! She gave us a piece to use on our stylus at home great!

  4. SO many great resources and recommendations for parents in this, Ellen! Thanks, as always.

  5. I just purchased the Letter School app. It uses fun pictures and movement to guide appropriate direction for tracing letters.

  6. Great information as always. I want to add one more. With my son being 10 we are still struggling with writing. I honestly think I put to much faith in our school systems and now have taken the lead on this. One item I can add and we use this because my son has major issues with SPD, he uses weights for on his wrists when writing.

  7. I saw an idea taping crayons to the bottom of a matchbox car. I think max would love that!

    1. Genius! I would have to do that with a Lightning McQueen car, but we have small versions. I'm trying it! Thanks, Julie.

  8. To teach Boo how to draw a straight line, we put paper on an easel and gave her a paint brush. We showed her how to reach up and then come down in a full body motion. The exaggerated step really helped her.

  9. I second the slant board. My son's OT was just telling us about how he writes so much better when using a slant board.

  10. Great ideas Ellen x
    Coop uses a slant board at school which a parent made him.
    He uses his ipad everyday to do his "writing" as it will be a very long time until he had any pen control .

  11. Thank you thank you!!! Ordering a slant board NOW!!! Genius!!! So many great ideas. . . .

  12. Hi there Ellen
    I love your Blog. I love in the post where is Max practising the letter L- I love how happy Max is with himself.
    I have mild CP right hemiplegia and am interested in the workings of the hand.
    I thought you might find the below quote interesting .The quote comes from a book– Robert McCrum’s My Year Off.

    The Hand
    It was the Greek physician Galen who pointed out the exquisite engineering behind the human hand, it’s astonishing capacity for manipulating an astonishing range of sizes, shapes and weights, from a log to a heap of seed. ‘Man handles them all,’ Galen noted, ‘as well as if his hands had been made for the sake of each one of them alone.’ So the hand can be shaped into a hook grip ( to pick up a bucket), a scissors ( to hold a cigarette), three-pronged vice (to hold a pen), a squeeze grip (to hold a hammer) a two-fingered grip (to turn a key) a disc grip ( to open a jar) and a spherical grip (to hold a ball), and each one of these everyday manoeuvres involves an astonishing range of cerebral activity
    My Year Off- Robert McCrum

    Best Wishes Jane

    1. Jane, I love that quote. Since having Max I have become very aware of what it takes for bodies to function. I have sat and just watched my fingers go up and down. I have mouthed sounds, feeling the way my tongue moves. I take none of it for granted, and it has given me some understanding of just how much effort Max has to put into hand and mouth movements.

  13. I like drawing with colored pencils and writing poems that impress my English teacher

    Making the most out of each day
    And overcoming disability. One day he'll be able to play the
    Xylophone with purple keys

  14. Great list, Ellen! You are an OT in disguise. As an OT, I am a huge fan of slantboards. I wrote a post about how to make an inexpensive slantboard out of binders:

    My favorite handwriting app is LetterSchool. Ready to Print and Shelby's Quest are fantastic pre-writing apps. All created by OTs!

    Here's a post about how I made an adapted crayon for a student with cerebral palsy. This might be helpful for some of your readers.

    The writing claw can be great for older students.

    I need to check out those creamy crayons! I haven't seen those before.

    Thanks for sharing this great list!

  15. LOVE your blog! We use a 3 inch binder with a black alligator clip on the side to hold the papers instead of a slant board. Just the frugal gal in me... Also have used the rubbery drawer liner underneath the binder to hold it in place if it is slipping around. We have also put washers over the end of short stubby pencils to give them some weight and sensory imput for my girl.

  16. So great to read this!! I can't seem to concentrate long enough on anything lately (too many things going on!!), but I am really looking forward to trying a few of these ideas! My younger son has Autism (officially he has PDD-NOS). But he also seems to have low muscle tone pretty much all over his body. I don't remember ever being told exactly what was going on, I just know he has weak strength when trying to write, it's hard for him to control and he tires VERY quickly. As a baby he could not keep a pacifier in his mouth for more than a couple seconds and when drinking from a bottle, formula would just come running out the sides of his mouth. I would need several "burp rags" nearby and something always under his chin and around the sides of his neck, or both of us would be soaking wet. He is also behind in gross motor skills, but has improved a HUGE amount in that area. Of course language and social skills are not his strong suit, but he's very creative. Even though he meets the criteria for autism, he's not typical at all! We are having problems with him getting what he needs (insurance has a 30 visit limit on OT/PT/speech and even though he was approved for autism benefits through our insurance, we can't afford the copays and 25% coinsurance for each visit!!) He also doesn't seem to be aware of a lot as far as physical touch or something. I don't remember how the OT put it, but when he was younger and starting to eat solid food, he would just stuff his mouth totally full, too full for him to even chew. She said that he couldn't tell that there was anything in there until there was a lot....I'm not explaining that right, but.....

    Anyway, he's now 7 and in 1st grade. Everything is hard for him at school, so I'm just trying to find ways to help him! I have a Kindle Fire HD, does anyone know of any apps that might be helpful on that? He tends to freak out if he even suspects a game is "educational." I think it's because of all the stress he's had to deal with at school (LONG story).

    Anyway, can't wait to make a list and start trying some of these ideas!!

  17. Hi, We were shown the WriteRight pencil grip by our son's OT She highly recommended it .Our son loves it with it's dolphin shape and cute face. All I can say is that it has helped him tremendously. They have a website, for purchasing.

  18. I am an adult with cp and i struggle with fine motor i can hold a normal pencil now with years of practice using a slant board is a godsend and the thing i really struggled with is curversive writing still form some letters oddly i am sure but i can handwrite my mom is a teacher and spent a few summers working on that piece now i am trying to teach myself to sketch its odd to be unable to put the images from my head and be unable to get them onto paper

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Thanks for sharing!

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