Cursive Writing as Part of OT
If you are of a certain age, you probably remember that once you entered the third grade, penmanship was one of the subjects on your report card along with English, reading, and arithmetic. Every classroom bulletin board displayed charts of how capital and small letters were to be written in cursive, and of course, your teacher had such perfect script writing, that she herself could have handwritten the Declaration of Independence. t was believed that you absolutely had to master cursive to succeed in school, whether it was for note taking in class or writing a book report.
But, when was the last time you hand wrote a letter to your Aunt Bessie? It's probable that you quickly dashed something off using a word processing program on your laptop computer, or more likely yet, you emailed her or used social media to say "hello". In an August 2013 issue of USA Today, it was stated that 41 states no longer require cursive writing as part of the public school curriculum. Cursive writing has lost its relevance in today's education arena.
Printing is still acceptable in most classrooms, even at the upper elementary school level, but children in all grades are learning competence at computer skills. The youngest students, even those in preschool, are typically exposed to the computer and are learning how to keyboard. It makes me a little embarrassed to think that I took my first keyboarding class, which was actually called "typing" as a high school freshman in 1966!
Developing handwriting skills has historically been an essential part of school-based occupational therapy. New federal legislation in the 1970s related to disability and to children may have been the impetus for the surge of special education programs in schools. Occupational therapy seemed to be a natural fit within these settings. The foundation of school-based OT is to train in skills that facilitate success in school. Though there is clearly an overlap with services that a pediatric OT might provide in a medical setting, the differences are more obvious.
Occupational therapist and occupational therapy assistants (OTA) are part of the Interdisciplinary Team (IDT) at school along with general education and special education teachers, literacy specialists, school social workers and psychologists, physical therapists, speech and language pathologists and other professionals. The focus of occupational therapy in schools is to determine measurable goals and a plan for achieving these goals. Components of OT programs at school include but are not limited to activities of daily living such as donning and doffing a jacket at school and doing zippers, gross motor skills to be more successful in physical education classes, and handwriting.
Handwriting skill is essential for success in school for a number of reasons.
Being able to successfully complete readable written classroom work and homework papers is required for all students. After all, if the content is acceptable but illegible, how can a classroom teacher possibly even assess that the student has the mastered the concepts?
But being able to communicate in writing involves not just fine motor skills but also visual perceptual abilities and sensory functioning. These areas are the cornerstone occupational therapy in most any kind of setting. Indeed, fine motor skills to hold a pen or pencil in a functional tripod grasp facilitates acceptable handwriting, printing or cursive, to correctly formulate alphabet letters, and also to hold the writing implement firmly enough to make marks on the page. Additionally, there is motor skill required to support the paper with the non-dominant hand and rotate the page in the case of cursive writing.
But what about some of the skills involved in handwriting and specifically cursive writing that occupational therapy services typically address? Left-right discrimination and crossing the midline are challenges for students with perceptual motor deficit whether from cerebral palsy or a wide away of other neuromuscular issues. Problems with spatial relations are apparent during any sort of writing task such as line usage, letter spacing, letter size, or in the case of cursive writing, letter connections. Cursive writing can help a student improve sensorimotor functioning.
Chicken or egg, which comes first? Indeed, a student needs to have overall better functioning to be successful with writing, whether it's printed or in cursive. But, conversely, success with cursive writing can improve and further develop gross and fine motor, coordination, and sensory integration skills including praxis and motor planning. Cursive writing with its forward slanting letters and connections is clearly different from printed letters learned in the lower elementary grades.
There are many reasons why occupational therapist should include cursive writing as part of treatment planning for students in school-based settings. Cursive writing is typically quicker than printing as the pen or pencil is not supposed to leave the paper, and experts claim that cursive is easier to accomplish, though that idea could be subject for debate, especially for some of the trickier upper case letters such as "J", "Z", or "Q".
Though competence in keyboarding for success of students in elementary, middle school and high school should, of course, become part of OT programs, cursive writing, in my opinion and that of some experts in the field of education, still has its place in today's fast moving electronic paradise. Being able to read cursive is important is deciphering documents and events in history in the same way that reading old German script assists with genealogical research, or old Hebrew symbols for understanding biblical passages, or Greek for mythology or other readings.
Being able to create a signature in cursive is a necessary skill as well. Certainly in today's online world, one can use last year's adjusted gross income (AGI) as a "signature" when completing income taxes on the Internet, or use some other password or security question to assure that you are who you say you, but truly, it's just not the same.
Cursive writing should continue to be part of occupational therapy treatment planning in school -based settings. It just makes sense. Printing, cursive, and keyboarding are not mutually exclusively skills and should be learned by students.