What is the Answer for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders?
By: Roxanne Thompson, OTR
Children with autism spectrum disorders have many great thoughts and ideas to share with the world they live in. Giving them a method of sharing their written ideas is an important challenge we face as therapist, educators, and parents. How do we know what will be the best option for these gifted minds?
Written production is sharing our thoughts and ideas through print handwriting, cursive handwriting, or typing. When exploring written production for children with autism spectrum disorders, it is important to explore all options. There are times that print might be easier for some kids and cursive might be easier for others. Ideally, giving children options is best!
In today’s world of technology, keyboarding is now a viable option for many kids. We are able to express our ideas through keyboarding, just as we have done for years with pencil and paper. If keyboarding is being considered with a child to use for written production, we must look at the skills needed for keyboarding. First, keyboarding is a two handed activity. Unlike handwriting that only requires one hand, keyboarding requires bilateral coordination. Bilateral coordination is the ability to use both sides of the body at the same time in a controlled manner. Children will need to coordinate both hands together to have full command of a keyboard.
Keyboarding also requires motor planning skills. Motor planning is the ability to conceive, plan, and execute a skilled, motor act in the correct sequence from start to finish. We sometimes think keyboarding will be easier for children that have difficulty motor planning with handwriting. We many times see the same motor planning difficulties with keyboarding. Some individuals with autism have difficulty with initiating movement, so this may be a challenge to overcome whether with pencil or keyboard. Many individuals with autism also have difficulty with sequencing so teaching written production is frequently more complex than being able to manage what happens with fine motor skills. It all starts in the brain!
If keyboarding is going to be explored with a child to determine if it will provide them with functional written production skills, it must be taught! We cannot just place a computer in front of them and expect then to have speed and fluency with typing. Keyboarding must be taught using a developmental sequence of skills to get the most effective outcome. There are many typing programs available, but few address learning keyboarding in a developmental sequence. Keyboarding Without Tears is the companion to the popular Handwriting Without Tears handwriting program. It takes a developmental approach to teaching keyboarding skills. It starts with foundation skills like using the mouse to drag and drop, using both hands at the same time, and other pre-keyboarding skills. As the program progresses, it teaches children how to have full command of the keyboard using both hands.
Children who are motivated by technology, usually respond well to keyboarding. Keyboarding provides visual, and sometimes auditory, feedback that is many times rewarding to children. Keyboarding can take place on a tablet, laptop, or desktop computer.
When exploring written production options for children with autism spectrum disorders, we must take many factors into consideration. Assessing the child’s bilateral coordination and motor planning skills should take place first. Also, looking at how motivated they are by technology can also play a role into the decision. Giving children options for both handwriting and keyboarding will always be best, as we can’t control what they will have available to them. There may be times that there is not a computer available and they will need to rely on handwriting. Seeking the advice and expertise of an occupational therapist will help when exploring written production options. An occupational therapist will be able to determine if a child has sufficient bilateral coordination and motor planning skills needed for keyboarding, as well as, differentiating between printing and cursive skills. It is important that therapists, teachers, and parents are working together to give these children a functional method to express their thoughts and ideas.
An occupational therapist can also address underlying coordination and motor planning weaknesses so a child will be more prepared to learn and improve written production skills, whether through handwriting or use of a keyboard.
Speech & Occupational Therapy of North Texas has occupational therapists with extensive experience who love to help children! In Frisco, occupational therapy is available at our clinic located near Parkwood and Warren. Occupational Therapy is also available in our East Plano and McKinney locations.
For more information about our services, please call us at 972-424-0148. We would be happy to have an occupational therapist talk with you about your concerns.
For more information about Handwriting Without Tears visit: www.hwtears.com