By: Alissa Talamo, PhD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA
After recently participating in the virtual conference of the International Dyslexia Association, two presentations that particularly sparked my interest were, “How Handwriting Impacts Literacy Development,” presented by Carol Armann OTR/L and Kathleen S. Wright of The Handwriting Collaborative LLC, and, “Dysgraphia – Recognize, Diagnose, and Remediate,” by Debi Buchanan, Ed.D. and Sheryl Frierson, M.D., M.Ed.
Within those webinars, research was presented that demonstrated the importance of handwriting and fine motor skills development, as those skills resulted in not only improved literacy skills, such as letter writing, but also kindergarten math performance, and these skills are associated with ongoing reading and math achievement as late as 5th grade (Dinehart et al 2013). Additionally, identifying early handwriting challenges and providing systematic handwriting instruction can reduce the number of children who ultimately will require special education services (Beringer, V& Wolf, B 2016).
Some fine motor skills necessary for the development of handwriting include in-hand manipulation (e.g., precisely picking up, manipulating, and releasing objects), graphomotor (e.g., handwriting strokes, lines used in forming letters), and visual-motor integration. Dysgraphia is an impairment in handwriting, characterized by deficits in legibility and/or fluency. However, it is not exclusively a motor impairment, but is a disruption in the coordination of the mental image (e.g., which letter, which way does it go? Where does it go in the word?) and motor output (e.g., motor sequencing, motor planning) that are required for legible and fluent handwriting.
As students move through the grades, handwriting becomes an essential component in gaining reading and writing skills. Handwriting fluency is particularly important as non-proficient hand writers cannot keep up with their ideas (Graham, 2010). While, positively, there are programs that can help students with graphomotor output challenges, such as speech-to-text programs, teaching early writing skills is essential to building literacy skills, as effective handwriting instruction has been linked to improved letter recognition, letter formation, spelling, and written composition (Berringer et al 2002, Graham Harris, &Herbert, 2011).
Depending on your child’s age, you can encourage fine motor skills development through fun activities. As examples, some good resources are https://napacenter.org/fine-motor-activities/ and https://www.understood.org/en/articles/6-fine-motor-activities-for-young-kids. If you are concerned that your child is not reaching outlined milestones in their development of the underlying skills necessary for writing accuracy and efficiency, consider asking Early Intervention (for children under 3 years of age) or your school district for an occupational therapy evaluation to determine if your child would benefit from specialized supports. For school age children, an occupational therapy evaluation to determine the functional level of your child’s writing skills would also be appropriate.
About the Author
With NESCA since its inception in 2007, Dr. Talamo had previously practiced for many years as a child and adolescent clinical psychologist before completing postdoctoral re-training in pediatric neuropsychology at the Children’s Evaluation Center.
After receiving her undergraduate degree from Columbia University, Dr. Talamo earned her doctorate in clinical health psychology from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University.
She has given a number of presentations, most recently on “How to Recognize a Struggling Reader,” “Supporting Students with Working Memory Limitations,” (with Bonnie Singer, Ph.D., CCC-SLP of Architects for Learning ), and “Executive Function in Elementary and Middle School Students.”
Dr. Talamo specializes in working with children and adolescents with language-based learning disabilities including dyslexia, attentional disorders, and emotional issues. She is also interested in working with highly gifted children.
Her professional memberships include MAGE (Massachusetts Association for Gifted Education), IDA (International Dyslexia Association), MABIDA (the Massachusetts division of IDA) and MNS (the Massachusetts Neuropsychological Society).
She is the mother of one college-aged daughter.
To book a consultation with Dr. Talamo or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.