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A Technology-First Approach to Handwriting and Autism Spectrum Disorder

The diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has been increasing over the last 40 years. In 1970 it was estimated 1 in 10,000 children were diagnosed with ASD and today a prevalence rate of 1 in 50 is reported[1][2]. While we don’t quite know why there has been an increase in diagnosis, we do know that there is a responsibility to ensure that children with ASD are given the tools to succeed in life.

What’s the link between ASD and Technology?

Children are able to block out surrounding stimuli to focus on their touch screen task

Early school years are a crucial time for the development of various skills ranging from physical, cognitive and social-emotional. ASD has an effect on all of these areas and it’s important to cater to each child’s strengths and weaknesses so that they have the greatest chance for success. While there certainly are areas that children with ASD may struggle with, studies have suggested that people with ASD benefit from technology-based learning[3]. The advantages that tablets and computers provide cater to some core deficits of ASD. For example, technology-based learning provides a specific focus of attention due to reduced distractions from outside sensory stimuli. Learning with technology can provide an immediate, predictable and repeatable response. This is great for learning new skills such as handwriting!

ASD and Handwriting Issues

Work on letter formation and fine motor skills to improve handwriting!

Handwriting skills are essential for success in school. Interestingly, research shows that children with ASD don’t show differences in their ability to size, align and space their letters[4]. However, they do show difficulty in the forming of letters compared to peers. Also, fine motor skills were predictive of handwriting success in children with ASD. This means that a child who has ASD AND poor fine motor skills is at risk of struggling with handwriting. How do we address this issue? Well, to start we have to specifically train letter formation skills and fine motor skills. This means lots of tracing practice and multi-sensory learning (Children with ASD respond to visual stimuli well). Add in some hands-on play to improve those finger muscles and dexterity too!

Technology-Based Handwriting Practice

In order to cater to the strength of children with ASD we are developing a handwriting system that promotes handwriting practice AND fine motor skills while using a touch screen. Technology has great potential for facilitating learning in the ASD population. Our Hold It Write stylus trains the proper handwriting grasp with three ergonomically placed buttons. The LED light flashes green when all buttons are pressed correctly (tripod grasp) giving the child a great visual stimulus. Our handwriting application provides fun letter/shape formation games for repetitive and motivating practice!

Using Technology to Keep Track of Progress

By collecting and analyzing handwriting data during application use, our software can flag specific difficulties in handwriting and recommend games. The parent, teacher or therapist can track a child’s progress, while the child continues to have fun playing with their Hold It Write stylus and application.

Using the Best Parts of Touch Screens

Touch screens have taken a hit lately for their negative effect on children. We’re here to re-frame the way children use technology. Through handwriting, we can make touch screens an incredibly valuable tool for learning. We strive to create healthy connections with technology for our children.

Check out our website to learn more about our handwriting solution!


[1] Blaxill, M. F. (2004). What’s going on? The question of time trends in autism. Public Health Reports, 119, 536-551.

[2] Kogan, Blumberg, Schieve et. al. (2009). Prevalence of parent-reported diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder among children in the US, 2007. Pediatrics, 124, 1-9.

[3] Grynszpan, Weiss, Perez-Diaz, Gal. (2014). Innovative technology-based interventions for autism spectrum disorder. Autism 18(4). 346-361.

[4] Fuentes, Mostofsky, Bastian. (2009). Children with autism show specific handwriting impairments. Neurology. 73(19). 1532-1537.

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