Handwriting and Autism – When Primary School Teachers discipline the wrong way

Autism
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Handwriting and Autism

My hands shake, they always have.

I was never fortunate enough to go to Kindergarten and had to get by learning how to hold a pen, pencil or crayon the way I assumed it should be done. I remember watching my parents and siblings and studying their grip around a pen. I mimicked it but felt that it was uncomfortable. I was obviously never exposed to activities to develop my fine motor skills properly, so I adjusted my grip to a level of comfort, a self-taught way to draw shapes and to try and copy the symbols I saw, which I later learned were ‘letters’ and ‘numbers’.

The tremor in my hands always seemed to trigger the same question from observers: ‘Are you nervous?’.

‘No. I am not, my hands just shake.’ was always my response.

This did not always put their minds at ease and without fail people always assumed that I would struggle to do daily activities. They would more often than not try to assist me with everything: carrying glasses, cups or mugs. Treating me like I had some kind of a disease. It frustrated me, because in my mind I was more than capable of doing every basic task they could.

When I was 9 my teacher saw my hands shake and asked if I was afraid of her? She did this in front of the whole class and obviously they started laughing at me. I was not afraid of her, my hands just shake.

When I was 10 my teacher at the time noticed that I held my pen incorrectly and tried to rectify the situation by threatening me with getting spanked if I did not toe the line. I told her that it was uncomfortable to hold my pen in the traditional way and that I had my own way of gripping my pen. This explanation did not sit well with her and I got a hiding for just trying to explain that ‘I got this’.

This left a scar on my psyche, and I started to trust teachers less and less.

I also have a different way of fastening buttons on my shirt, I do not use my thumb and index finger, I use my thumb and middle finger. This was also frowned upon by our PE teacher when he saw it as me struggling with what he called ‘a basic life skill‘. Again, I did not struggle, I was just doing things my way.

When I was 11, 12 and 13, I had to rewrite some of my tests because the teachers were not impressed with my handwriting. Apparently it was ugly. I was okay to form capital letters, but the lowercase letters seemed to take longer when I had to form them and inadvertently ended up like the scribbles you see on a Doctor’s note… I had to adapt by writing slower and concentrating on writing in the style of the other kids in my class. I eventually got the hang of it, copying others I mean…

When I was 14 and in High School, I adopted a strategy that would serve me well into my adult years. I decided to use only uppercase letters. I would just increase the size of the first letter in a sentence and would use smaller versions of uppercase letters for the rest of the letters in the word. I got less criticism and it seemed to pass the acceptable criteria for legible handwriting.

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Well into my 20’s after reading up on all the symptoms of people with hands that I shake, I settled on ‘Essential Tremor‘ as the impediment I had. I would use this as a self-diagnosed condition whenever people noticed my hands shaking.

I still write like a medical doctor and sometimes I wonder whether people at work can read what I have written. The funny thing is, I can read what I wrote. I think that is all that matters, right?

Fast forward to the present, with my newfound knowledge of Autism and that I am on the spectrum, I finally understand why my handwriting is unique, and I like it!

2 thoughts on “Handwriting and Autism – When Primary School Teachers discipline the wrong way

  1. I have dyspraxia as well as autism and my handwriting was always considered ‘bad’ at school. So they made me take handwriting lessons… which forced me to join up my writing. And the once legible ‘bad’ handwriting became completely unreadable. Thanks, school.

  2. I also hold my pen/pencil wrong. I use four fingers instead of the traditional three, probably because my fine motor skills are poor and I needed the extra stability.

    I had pretty poor handwriting growing up as well. Unlike you, I couldn’t always read my own writing, so I was one of the first people to bring a laptop into my college classes to take notes. The teachers didn’t stop me for some reason, which is fortunate.

    To this day the only way I can produce legible writing is either to write painfully slowly, or to use a slower bastardization of my handwriting style and calligraphy I learned in a middle school elective course. Something about the different way you write the letters helps make it easier to read.

    Thankfully for my sanity and everyone else’s eyes, printers and word processors have become the norm.

    This was a good read, thanks for posting it!

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