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3D to 2D. Why can handwriting and drawing be a challenge for some people?

Handwriting is a high functioning task that requires 14 skills. These include motor skills (GM and FM and motor planning), cognitive skills (attention span, memory, language), and sensory processing skills (body awareness, balance, tactile and visual input).

We use all of these skills together to perform handwriting or drawing.

For example, let’s write down the word “chocolate”. What skills do you need? First you need to be able to recognize the letters in order to spell the word (cognitive skills). Then you need to perform it down on the paper (motor and sensory processing skills).

Why does my child dislike drawing/coloring? Why does my child have difficulty with drawing or handwriting?

We are able to understand and recognize the words, shapes, letters with our eyes and brains but it can be difficult to draw on paper with our hands. We look at objects with eyes in 3D, but we perform drawing or handwriting in 2D on paper. Our brains need to represent 3D objects on a 2D surface.

Drawing and handwriting often require abstract thinking, which can be challenging for some people or children, especially for ASD.

Moreover, drawing requires a person’s motor skills, cognitive skills, and sensory processing skills. In ASD, abstract things can be difficult for them, and they often struggle with motor skills and motor planning.

3D drawing vs “flat” or 2D drawing.

Both are representations of the flower in the vase. We use a high level of abstract reasoning in order to take what we see (the flowers) and transfer it to the page.

Mirror writing

For some kids, you may see mirror writing or writing backwards during handwriting. It is common to see on kids, and it is a learning process for them to learn handwriting.

An example of mirror writing

Development of handwriting:

Children start with learning to write by identifying the alphabet. They progress by recognizing letters in words, and eventually begin to produce letters on paper.

Same process applies to drawing. Children start with scribbling. As they are able to recognize and initiate basic shapes, they will be able to draw different things, such as a car, a person, or animals.

Handwriting/drawing milestones:

Age 1 – scribbling

Age 2 – Able to imitate vertical and horizontal lines and circles. Imitation: watching someone’s demonstration and attempting to do what they see.

Age 3 – Copy letters, horizontal and vertical lines “|”, “-“, and circles. Copy: able to copy the shapes with pictures or models shown.

Age 4 and 5 – Copy cross “+”, “/”, “\”, square, and “X”

Age 5 – Dominant hand established, some ABC and numbers

Age 5 and 6 – Most ABC and name; triangle

The milestones are for references only. Every kid has their own pace and development.

How can I help?

Drawing can benefit children in a variety of ways and to increase their creativity and imagination. It’s good for children to develop a habit and interest in drawing and coloring, even if they’re just scribbling. Some children may dislike coloring or drawing because it’s challenging to them. We can engage children in fun, like drawing in sand, drawing with fingers, with bubbles or shaving cream. Make it fun and draw with your children!

I am proud to be an occupational therapist. Ella Wu, OTD, OTR/L Doctor of Occupational Therapy
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