OT Services in the IEP: Handwriting

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My 8th-grade son’s handwriting is illegible. His IEP includes OT, but no handwriting practice.

The school district and OT teacher maintain that handwriting practice is not a function of OT.

If your son’s handwriting is illegible in the 8th grade, you’re right to be concerned.

When children write, they must make a link between their motor skills and their language system.  Handwriting is a special skill in its own right.

Your son more than likely needs direct instruction or assistive technology so he can progress in the general curriculum.

Problems that can impede progress in handwriting are not always apparent just by looking at your son’s papers.

Handwriting Assessment

The OT should conduct an assessment of his handwriting to include observation of:

  • execution
  • legibility
  • speed

All of these skills become increasingly important as your child moves through the higher grades. Teachers use written work to measure how well your son is learning.

When your son needs to write essays, he will have to focus on many different tasks at the same time – handwriting, spelling, grammar, word choice, sentence formation, organization, and planning.

When memory is overloaded, it is even harder to form letters neatly and correctly.

In the list of what an OT does, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) includes:

  • Help develop and evaluate handwriting curriculum
  • collaborate with teachers on effective strategies

1. Is your son’s OT helping to develop curriculum and effective teaching strategies – like handwriting practice?

2. Does your son’s IEP include handwriting goals?

3. Is it clear in the IEP what services the OT will provide in order to help your son meet his goals?

Present Levels

IDEA requires a statement of your son’s Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance. These present levels indicate your son’s unique characteristics or needs.

An example might be – Handwriting that is slow, labored, “drawn,” nearly illegible due to improper size and spacing of letters and words.

The IEP Team’s next question should be “what is the school going to do about this”- specific OT services.

You may need to request, in writing, an IEP meeting to review and revise your son’s present levels, goals and services.

Your son’s OT should attend the meeting as part of the IEP Team.

  1. My 11-year-old son who is diagnosed with ADD handwriting is fair but he can not remember to dot his i’s or cross his t’s. His teacher continues to take 20-70 points off for this and capitalization and commas. I am being told this is school policy. Is there a resource I can quote to support my request to have it added to his IEP?

    • I would add it to the supportive aids and services section where you discuss accommodations needed. You could add to not penalize for capitalization and punctuation unless that is the skill being assessed.

    • My child greatly benefitted from an assistive technology evaluation. I am also giving you a resource below. Google “assistive technology evaluation ” for your state and you may find some colleges may do them for low or reduced costs. Do some research on your own and try to attend assistive technology conferences. Most schools lack such information so you may have to strongly advocate and become the expert. Your school district may or may not pay for the evaluation. If you think long term and if your child may wants to attend college, etc, then an AT eval and using AT will prepare him for the future. Some children do improve with handwriting but most go and use AT and do very well. https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/assistive-technology/assistive-technologies-

  2. Great discussion!… It is unclear why this student is eligible for special ed., and, more specifically, OT. What is the reason for OT service– based on the evaluation what were the weaknesses/limitations, and what are the goals? Is OT focused on something with no bearing on handwriting skills? Is handwriting– or, more importantly, the ability for written expression– being addressed by someone else on the IEP team?

    It is imperative for all students to have a means for written expression. From at least junior high on, typical kids trained in keyboarding can learn to type faster than they can write by hand… and at least by college, word processing generally replaces handwriting, more or most of the time. If a teen reaches driving age without have learned to ride a bicycle, we don’t insist that s/he master cycling before taking driver’s ed. The time for significant improvement in handwriting may have passed– by 8th grade, how much time can be spared in the school day, and how much effort is the student willing to expend?– but with support and effort, it is possible to improve handwriting skills as a basic life skill and a fallback when technology fails or is not available. At this point, the best place for handwriting instruction and practice may well be the home; someone on the IEP team should be able to provide guidance.

  3. My Grandson is in the third grade. His handwriting is basically illegible. Since second grade we have had two OT evaluations. The school says that it is age appropriate but they have exempted him from a handwriting grade. I keep insisting that to exempt him from a grade shows an educational need and they should be providing OT, individualized instruction and accommodations. They have refused. At the most recent ARD, the principle stated “Handwriting and spelling have gone by the wayside, at least in this district.” I am at an end.

  4. My son has mild cerebral palsy which effects his handwriting and fine motor skills. He gets OT services at school. The doctor put on the OI form that he isn’t spastic or hypnotic. She did write that the area of handwriting needs further evaluation and adaption. We got AT for him at school. We are considering evaluate for dysgraphia. He is clumsy and walks on his tip toes.. Would he qualify for an OHI since it effects the educational setting? Thank you

  5. 17 yr. old son has horrific handwriting. I complained every year to his Blue Ribbon-Lower Merion School. They kept saying it was very nice. I am an educator and thought perhaps I am being too strict. Now, he is in private school – they are appalled that this was allowed to happen.

    Parents need to be more aggressive than I was. It is too late to improve it now. Needs to be done in elementary school, not HS. How sad!

    • Agree. Every year it was obvious to teachers and parents that my son needed OT for handwriting. My son was also neglected and has never gotten any support for this much needed help with handwriting. He’s middle school now and handwriting is illegible. Worse than a preschoolers. He needs help desperately that we haven’t bene able to find for him. Wish I had been far more assertive as a parent.

  6. One of the too common problems is how children are taught.

    The goal should be legibility at age appropriate speed. The model alphabet should be the same in the beginning as it is in later grades and in adulthood.

    Educators fail to realize that the common practice has been, and often is to teach a print-like script to beginners, simple letters, drawn primarily with strokes from top-to-bottom.

    Then in second or third grade motor memory for forming letters is turned upside down! Strokes that form letters change sequence and direction for the cursive that is commonly known. It is difficult for many students. Instruction time is too limited to teach a second alphabet.

    I have had amazing success with “Fix It…Write” for middle school age and older persons.

  7. My son’s handwriting was terrible and his pencil grip caused our outside OT to panic. The school ignored this and this hand grip became habit. Fast forward 4 years. to grade 8 –
    He can only print, it is nearly illegible, the letters are about 1/4 inch tall, and it takes him forever (and many pages) to write anything. No one wants to correct his papers. This is now dragging his grades down. Do not let the school pass on this. They need to teach him how to write just as much as they need to teach him how to read.

    • Understand that OT practice takes a holistic approach. Handwriting is never just about the hand. What is the child’s overall ability? It makes little to no sense to expect a child with an IQ of 40 to have perfect handwriting. Sometimes, the focus really should be on how to best help the child rather than how to make the child function in a more “typical” fashion.

      Just my two cents.
      Long-time school-based OT

      • It doesn’t sound like Dad2Luke’s son has an IQ of 40. Dad says the handwriting is dragging his grades down–ie, without the handwriting problem, his grades would be better (or even great!). He probably had decent grades before the handwriting demands increased. Sounds like the kid has dysgraphia and an average to superior IQ! You sound just like my district’s OT. There’s a huge problem in our district of OT’s refusing to help kids with Dysgraphia learn how to write and it has life-long, devastating consequences. They say it’s not their job. But as the article stated, yes, it IS your job as an OT to help kids learn how to write.

        • OT’s are not “teachers”-we are therapists, support personnel. Teachers are responsible for handwriting curriculum. By time kids are in middle school–way too late to change their letter formation habits. (that boat sailed long ago) If I were that student’s OT, I would be focusing more on accessing technology and legibly signing his name as important skills. When writing on paper,use proper lined paper, cues for space between words. “Occupational therapists can evaluate the underlying components that support a student’s handwriting, such as muscle strength, endurance, coordination, and motor control, and parents can encourage activities at home to support good handwriting” skills. .https://www.aota.org/About-Occupational-Therapy/PatientsClients/ChildrenAndYouth/Schools/Handwriting.aspx

          • I am so glad that you said this. I am also a school-based OT. We are NOT handwriting teachers. We can address UNDERLYING SKILLS – it is the teacher’s job to teach handwriting!!!! NOT OT!

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