One defining aspect of my life is my love of writing. I enjoy finding new topics to write about, gathering and putting my thoughts about those subjects onto a page, refining these ideas as I go, and receiving feedback when my work is completed.
While doing research for this column, I found articles regarding the physical act of writing and why some people with autism struggle with it. This reminded me of my elementary school years when it seemed that every writing assignment was a battle for me to complete. Throughout those years, handwritten assignments caused me a great deal of anxiety. I did not understand why I was so anxious, but I have come to the realization that my writing problems had nothing to do with finding the right words in my mind and everything to do with my physical limitations. These included:
- The inability to hold a writing instrument correctly;
- The inability to regulate consistent writing pressure;
- The inability to maneuver a writing instrument on paper.
These issues were attributable to my weak muscle tone and fine motor deficiencies. Add to this a constant, unceasing stream of potentially distracting sensory overload which affected me daily, and one can start to understand why handwriting was such a challenge for me and can be for many others on the spectrum.
This revelation also jogged my memory regarding the many exercises and activities my therapists, teachers, and parents employed to help me develop my handwriting skills. Some of the therapies I remember include using a variety of hand/muscle strengthening tools, playing various rubber band games, and doing molding clay activities. I also used paper with raised lines and an assortment of pencil grips. The raised-lined paper helped me to better contain the shapes and sizes of my letters allowing my words to be formed correctly. The pencil grips came in many different sizes and shapes and helped me obtain greater control of my writing instruments.
Learning to play the piano also greatly contributed to my increased hand strength and finger dexterity. Another activity that I benefited from was learning the valuable skill of typing. I learned from an early computer game that is as old as I am called “Mario Teaches Typing.” This skill not only helped my hands physically, it also introduced me to another form of expressive communication.
Looking back, I can see that these therapies, tools, and activities along with many others have aided me in so many different ways and have only become noticeable now that some time has passed. For instance, the typing program was just a game based on a character I was intrigued by that I enjoyed playing, but today I see how much this learned skill has impacted my life. How could I have ever foreseen my typing this column on a laptop computer while I was playing a video game? Being able to type and use a computer has had the unexpected effect of circumventing many of the issues that plagued me as I struggled with my handwriting. By writing in this manner, I am free of the anxiety and physical challenges that presented themselves when I was younger. My wish is that those who have similar challenges will be introduced to methods that may help them with their own set of unique issues and that others will be willing to provide them with such opportunities. They may not understand what is being done for them, but in time, the events of the present may become clear and reveal their usefulness. These days, I rarely compose anything more than thank-you notes and birthday wishes by hand but am thankful that my letters, words, and sentences are legible and steady as I do so.