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Handwriting vs. Typing: Where do we draw the line?

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist; Real-life Skills Program Manager and Coach, NESCA

For many of our students with dysgraphia, or those who struggle with the fine motor precision and the skills necessary for written output, digital tools and accommodations that promote the use of tech and keyboarding in the academic setting are immensely helpful. These tools allow our students to show their knowledge, demonstrate their written abilities, and fully access their curriculum.  When implemented correctly, these accommodations can have a huge impact on a student’s academic career. While all of this is true, it is worth discussing whether fully taking away the need to produce and practice handwritten work is leaving some of our students at a disadvantage.

When working with adolescents and young adults to help figure out future career or education plans, I am consistently reminded of the fact that despite our continuing transition toward a more and more digitally-based world, the need for handwriting has not disappeared. While we absolutely do not need to be handwriting essays, papers, or long letters sent via snail mail, there are aspects of almost every profession and daily life that require the skill. Here are a few common issues that I am seeing pop up that speak to the need for some continued practice –

  1. Job or rental applications. While some of this has moved over to an online format, many of these still need to be filled out appropriately and legibly by an applicant.
  2. Jotting down notes. The importance of this skill should not be diminished. Whether taking a phone message, making a grocery list, or writing down a phone number, most young adults are expected to be able to read their own handwriting at a later date, or leave a message for someone else who will need to be able to read it.
  3. Vocational responsibilities. Many of our students with disabilities choose to forgo the traditional college path and find a more suitable career field to pursue. Many of my clients have become successful carpenters, mechanics, or other tradespeople. These fields all require vast skill and talent, and often require employees to mark down measurements or make quick notations.
  4. Signing documents. Many banks, institutions, and legal documents require a handwritten signature and initials on any paperwork.

While I am not advocating that we take away accommodations from our students who do not have the foundational skills to write long paragraphs or essays, I am advocating that we stop fully eliminating the demand. By expecting some quick, consistent practice of handwriting, we are building a skill that will be needed multiple times throughout life. I would suggest that students who are being given a keyboarding fine motor/visual motor accommodation, also continue to receive instruction or opportunities to practice writing activities that are less fatiguing in order to continue to build the motor planning and skill necessary. It is unfair to equate the inability to use handwriting as a tool for academic output, with an inability to learn handwriting as a useful functional tool for life.


About the Author
Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.


To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email or call 617-658-9800.


Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email or call 617-658-9800.