FAQ: Helping My Son With Pencil Grasp

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Submitted by Bethany, Atlanta

The principal and two of the teachers at the public school my son went to for kindergarten recommended homeschooling when my son had trouble coloring in the lines and doing other fine motor tasks but was reading at a 5th grade level and doing mental math above grade level. He was not eligible for OT in school because he was not failing. The kindergarten teacher thought he should be held back until he could color in the lines better.

When my son was born he had hypotonia. At 12 months he had a 50% delay in motor skills but was 50% ahead in receptive/expressive language skills. The doctor at the military base would not recommend therapy so my son didn't receive therapy.

At seven we finally got a referral to see a developmental pediatrician and an educational psychologist. We were told that his intelligence was more than two standard deviations above the mean but he also had developmental coordination disorder or motor dyspraxia. An OT told us he had sensory integration disorder. Our insurance would not pay for therapy for this. So again he didn't get therapy. We were told to read The Out of Sync Child Has Fun.

At 11 he developed scoliosis and he now has to sleep in a very uncomfortable brace every night for 10 hours so he is often tired now while still dealing with fine motor issues like his hands cramping after about 15 minutes of handwriting. He thinks part of his problem is the fact that the joints in the top part of his fingers are very loose and bend way back and it takes more effort for him to control the pencil. It is the same thing with a knife. We asked his physical therapist recently if there was something he could do about this problem and he just said to try to avoid bending his fingers back so far and exercise using a squeeze ball, but that doesn't fix the finger problem so we are still looking for answers.

My son does type 50 wpm both on a computer keyboard and on his iPhone and this allows him to take notes and keep up with his writing assignments, but little things like using a knife to cut steak are still a problem. I wish I knew what to do to help him.

OT Mom Answers: Have You Tried This Pencil Grip?

Hi there,
I am so sorry that your son has had such a frustrating time not having his difficulties addressed properly. It sounds as though he has a real blessing of a mother, though!

I was wondering, has your son tried to hold the pencil slightly differently, in what is called the Adaptive Tripod or D'Nealian Pencil Grasp - it is often recommended for people with poor joint stability, whether caused by hypotonia or something else:

Instead of the pencil coming out of the hand in the space between the thumb and index finger, it comes out between the index and middle fingers.

The tips of the thumb and index finger should still control the pencil, and the pencil should rest against the middle finger. Ask your son to try it? It may work well with other implements too?

You can view it on this page of my site.

A Parent Answers:

Hi there, my son was awarded star pupil of the week trophy awarded by the headmistress because of his maths and all rounded academic work in primary school.

My child, I was informed earlier on, had development problems, so after my input teaching him to walk, talk and now school tutoring, I have pulled him on to trophy level and I would like to share this wonderful touching story with you and indeed some of my best kept secrets to my son's success.

I quickly learned early on that my son's pencil holding was causing me and teachers concern. My son had a poor grip of the pencil and his writing at first was very poor indeed, but I just rise to the occasion and when the going gets tough, the tough gets going.

First of all to succeed in good pencil ability I went out and bought alphabet stencils. The stencils force the hand to a rigid path and gradually the mind is programmed subconsciously to follow a certain route to achieve the letter, accompanied to this the child also suddenly loves writing due to this perfect masterpiece, albeit with the help of the stencils.

Accompanied to this I bought my son a stress-ball and he would sit and squeeze this to gain strength in his hands. I would deny any treats till after pencil lessons therefore dangling a carrot to offer incentive to do this; result was a lovely trophy last year and he is gaining knowledge and confidence.

Everything is possible if you focus on succeeding. Hope this helps all parents whose little ones have problems writing.

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