Monday, May 14, 2012

Left-hand dominant children and writing

We’ve had a request to address children who are left-hand dominant and the difficulties that they face when learning to write.   As we know, left-hand dominant children make up a small minority of children.  Typical classrooms are right-hand oriented, presenting unnecessary difficulties for the left-hand dominant child.  Left-hand dominant children have additional challenges when learning to write.  As their hand progresses across the paper, they cover the letters that they have already written, presenting spacing problems as well as possible smearing of previously written letters.  These children will not have the visual guidance of being able to see the letters that they have already written in order to form a word.  Some of these children will develop strange grip patterns in an attempt to see what it is that they have already written. 
So, how do you, as parents or practitioners, assist the child to develop good writing skills using their left hand?  First, try repositioning the paper so that he/she will use a good grip while being able to see the letters that were previously written.  Practice prewriting lines and shapes using this paper positioning.  Have the child draw squiggly lines and shapes. 
Here is one way of positioning the paper for a left-handed child.  Note that the letters written are visible for the child. Smaller children may need the paper to be taped to the table to prevent it from moving from this position.  It is important to monitor for good grip patterns when a left-handed child first begins to write so that he/she becomes comfortable with the grip.
Lastly, remember, it is important not to force a child to be right-handed.  Allow the child to naturally pick the hand that is more comfortable for him/her to write.  We realize that there are children that, for pathological reasons, use their left hand to write, sometimes in an awkward manner.  These are not the children that we are referring to.  Those children may need to seek out the professional assistance of an Occupational Therapist. 
Please feel free to post questions regarding this, or, to post ideas/solutions that have worked for you. 


  1. This is such an important topic to address! Turning the paper is such a help and should be done for right handed students, too (so that the right-hand corner of the paper is pointing up, creates natural movements in the arm this way).

    I am currently working with a left handed kiddo in the clinic and I've found it can also be helpful to make a photocopy of his blank writing worksheet (so now there are 2 blanks), overlap one on top, and then slide it down a few inches so the photocopy of what he's working on is visible directly above where he's writing. Does that make sense? This way he can clearly see what he's supposed to be copying because it's above his hand and paper, rather than being under his (left) writing hand so that he constantly has to pick up his left hand in order to see what he's supposed to write. As he progresses through the sheet, just slide the top paper down to reveal the next line of prompts. I hope that makes sense!

    I've also found the Handwriting Without Tears workbooks are great for lefties, too, because the letter prompts are placed in spaced out boxes across the page -- there is space for a righty to look to the box on the left of their writing hand, and there is space for a lefty to look to the box on the right of their writing hand. So regardless of handedness, they will still be able to see the prompt.

    Thanks again for bringing up this topic!

    Christie Kiley, OTR/L

  2. Wow, great idea! I will have to try that.
    Would love any other ideas from OTs or parents.

  3. Hi! I'm from Argentina and i'm sutdying OT and looking for information about how the OT can help left handed people. Besides, how the intervention may facilite the learning of writing, cutting, and the use of others elements with the left hand.

    I'd like you to send me some information about books or studies related to this topic.
    yours faithfully,

    Corina Bacella

  4. I'm a mom of a left-handed Kindergartener who needs some help holding his pencil to control his writing better.

    I know left handed people are in the minority, but I'm still surprised at how few resources there are for parents trying to help their children. Everything in school is centered on right handers, with little to no consideration in showing left handers how to meet the same goals.

    I've been given right-handed materials to work with my son at home to strengthen his grip, acknowledging he is left-handed but doesn't qualify for services. Any thoughts/ideas would be welcome! (The first idea I'm implementing is showing him how to position his paper as currently he keeps it straight up and down in front of him.)

    1. As one of our contributors, AND the mom of a left handed kindergartener!, I can tell you that handwriting is not one of his favorite activities. He uses what I call a modified tripod grasp, which means that he holds the pencil with this index and middle fingers opposing his thumb. In fact, although it is considered in testing to indicate a grasping delay, my 9 year old son (a righty) still holds it that way and has handwriting in the middle of the pack on the 4th grade wall. Is this how your son holds it? Or is it something more funky looking?

      One of my son's favorite things to do is take a little Lego power ranger head 'along for a ride', by holding it in his palm while he is writing. It helps to keep other fingers from sliding back up onto the pencil into a much more open fingered grasp. Use whatever is tiny enough that he can fully grasp the pencil.

      We love to make Gak and play with play dough, putty, anything stretchy like that will help him strengthen his fingers. Play a game where you poke holes along a log of play dough and have him place each finger in one. Digging coins out of play dough is also a fun finger strengthening thing.

      Try using clothespins to pinch along a shoebox to make a fence for toy animals, draw smiley faces on one side of a poker chip and have him turn them over to reveal it using his thumb and index finger. Any of these things that strengthen his dexterity skills (how he uses his fingers and thumb together to manipulate things) will help his grasp become more functional.

      Keep us posted!