When the handwriting on the wall spells autism
Of 14 kids with ASD and 14 without who were asked to complete a standardized handwriting test, those with ASD specifically had trouble forming letter shapes correctly. Otherwise their handwriting was fine. They spaced and aligned letters correctly and -- perhaps because the test dictated the size of the letters -- made them the right size.
The researchers (from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the
Kennedy Krieger Institute, both in Baltimore) speculate that the handwriting deficit likely stems from the poor fine-motor skills associated with ASD. They observed that among the kids with ASD who performed best on the handwriting test, two clenched the forearm of their writing hand with their non-writing hand as if to steady themselves as they wrote, a technique they'd learned at school.
The authors, whose work appears in the journal Neurology, note that earlier research showed that adults with ASD tend to write their letters very large, perhaps to compensate for their difficulty forming the shapes correctly. It's possible, the authors say, that the kids with ASD in this study, whose average age was just over 10 years, hadn't yet developed that strategy.
This is not the first time it's been noted that kids with ASD tend to have poor handwriting skills. The study quotes Dr. Hans Asperger, for whom one of the syndromes on the autism spectrum is named, as writing of a young patient, "this motorically clumsy child had atrocious handwriting...The pen did not obey him."
But why is this observation important? The study points out that poor handwriting can make academic learning and communication difficult and contribute to lack of self-esteem. Therapies targeting fine motor skills might improve kids' handwriting and thus ward off those difficulties.
I have to say that the study makes me reconsider my attitude toward handwriting, though, especially the notion that bad handwriting contributes to the problems noted in the study. Some of the smartest, best-adjusted people I know have terrible handwriting. And not that I myself am a paragon of knowledge or self-esteem, but people have been bemoaning the chicken-scratches that are my handwriting since I was in grade school, and I've never felt my scrawling hand has held me back.
Of course, the impact of poor handwriting might be more substantial among people with ASD or other developmental issues.
How about you? What's your handwriting like? Has its quality -- or lack thereof -- had any impact on your life in general?
Jennifer LaRue Huget
November 12, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: General Health , Neurological disorders
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