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Handwriting Without Tearms

Special Needs

Using HWT with Children who have Disabilities

Handwriting Without Tears® is the handwriting program of choice for children with disabilities. Here are some activities you can incorporate with your therapy.

Fine Motor Activities

To help children with fine motor delays,use the first 15-20 minutes of a session doing fine motor work. If children are delayed in their fine motor skills, they will likely need extra help with handwriting. Spend the last 10 minutes of a session forming letters.


Be very repetitious. Prepare the child for what you are going to do and the letter you will teach. Photocopy workbook pages so the child can practice the lesson more than once. Children who have autism and are high functioning tend to relate well to tangible hands-on materials. Use the Magic C Bunny to incorporate socialization and interaction. Use as many multisensory experiences as possible. Children who do not respond well to verbal cues (language) tend to do well with the HWT program. You can demonstrate many of the teaching techniques with few or no verbal cues as the child attends visually to the task. Teacher demonstration and child imitation are the keys to successful handwriting.

Down Syndrome

If the child really struggles with writing because of low tone, have them write in all capital letters. Use a modified pencil grasp. Use several multisensory activities and repetitions. If the child has a classroom assistant (IEP aide), allow extra time for the child to practice handwriting. Because the child may be easily distracted, you may want to schedule extra time for breaks. If the child has low tone, adapt seating in the classroom and at home. You may also want to work on extra fine motor activities to strengthen the hands. Be sure to assess the child’s comfortable size of writing.

Poor Vision

 If a child has poor vision, modify teaching materials appropriately. Use brightly colored paints with a bright contrasting mat (black and white works well). Enlarge all workbook pages. Use a larger slate for capitals and numbers (11×17). Use a window guide to grade the size of handwriting. Double lines can work well for children with poor vision. You may need to enlarge or thicken lines with a marker until the child is comfortable with the chosen size. Providing a texture on the lines will also help the child locate the line position.

Cerebral Palsy

To help a child with cerebral palsy, begin by establishing good positioning. If the child is in a wheelchair, try using a lap tray during writing time for support and stability of the arms and shoulders. If the child only has use of one extremity, clamp down paper and other materials using a clipboard clamp screwed into the lap tray. If the child has problems with muscle tone, try an adapted pencil grip for more control of the pencil. Children with cerebral palsy may do better initially writing in capitals, which are developmentally easier to read and write. If the child has perceptual or visual problems, it may help to enlarge the worksheets and darken the print.

Asperger Syndrome

Children with Asperger syndrome can focus too easily on one specific topic. If you find it difficult to lead the child into a different topic, use the focus as an opportunity to practice handwriting. Be very consistent with the child. Remove distractions from the area that may interrupt handwriting. Give frequent breaks and consistent rules. Be careful when using abstract teaching strategies; these children tend to take things very seriously. Often, concentration and compliance are challenging, so children may struggle with handwriting, fine motor skills, or perceptual delays.


Dyslexic children typically struggle with organization and using language effectively. Often, they struggle with writing because letter formation is not automatic. The HWT teaching techniques help the child develop good habits: starting at the top with letter formation; learning a left-to-right flow in the sequence of reading and writing; and learning consistent, child-friendly terminology when learning letter formation. Help a child with dyslexia in the following ways:

  • Use the Slate and Gray Blocks to correct letter and number reversals.
  • Introduce Wood Pieces to teach correct formation of all capital letters.
  • Use the double lines to teach consistency in placement of letters on the lines.
  • Teach letters in groups of similar strokes, as taught in the workbooks.
  • Provide many opportunities for review and mastery lessons.


Children with dysgraphia have trouble producing written language due to poor motor planning. They struggle with organizational skills and movements that need to be in an automatic and specific order, such as the formation of letters for writing. Children with dysgraphia can be very scattered in their writing habits. You can help organize these children in the following ways:

  • Teach the shapes (parts and pieces) of the letters using the Wood Pieces Set and the smiley face mat.
  • Use the Slate and Gray Block Paper to correct capital letter and number reversals. The smiley face will become a consistent reminder of the starting corner and will orient the child to the left side of the Slate.
  • Provide visual models for the child to follow.  Refer the child to the pictures in the workbooks that give additional visual cues for letter formation.
  • Provide many practice sessions to develop patterns for letter formation.
  • Teach the letters in the recommended groups of similar strokes to help develop consistent patterns of letter formation.