Having slow handwriting can be very distressing for children during timed tasks such as tests and exams.  I often get panicked phone calls from the parents children in higher grades about this.  Unfortunately a slow handwriting speed is usually only identified in higher grades, when children simply can’t keep up with volume of work required.  But the causes of a slow handwriting speed actually need to be identified and corrected early on in a child’s school career.

What causes handwriting to be slow?

Speaking in general terms, slow handwriting is usually caused by either a slow processing speed or by a poor pencil grip.

A slow processing speed will make it difficult for a child to work at the same pace as his peers.  It may also mean that he may take longer to arrive at an answer.  But in no way does it mean that the person isn’t smart.  Very intelligent people can struggle with a slow processing speed.

Standardised global assessments usually include tests of processing speed.  If a person is found to have a slow processing speed, they may be eligible for a concession granting them extra time during tests and exams.

A poor pencil grasp can also lead to slow handwriting:

Ideally, we want children to make use of an open-tripod grasp.  (Please see video for more visual detail).  When teachers notice poor handwriting in young children they will usually refer the child to an Occupational Therapist.   But older children tend to have developed habits in the way they hold their pencils and the way they write that are very difficult, if not impossible, to break, even with OT.

When you are holding your pencil incorrectly, it requires movement of the elbow or shoulder to write.  Whereas with with a functional grasp. you only need to move your fingers in order to manipulate the pencil.

What can you do?

Improve a child’s pencil grasp by:

  • Using triangular pencils
  • Using plastic pencil-grips that fit on the pencil
  • Have the child hold a small object in the palm of his hand while writing

Older children with poor handwriting might also qualify for various accommodations / concessions during tests and exams.  Learners with significantly slow handwriting may apply for extra time during tests and exams.