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  • Bridget O'Hara

How can an Occupational Therapist help my child's pencil grasp?

One of the most common reasons for an Occupational Therapy (OT) referral is for a child that may be experiencing handwriting challenges and/or they present with an ‘awkward’ pencil grasp.


The development of pencil grasp is a common concern for many parents, and teachers. Having a functional pencil grasp, allows a child to not only write neatly, but also at a reasonable speed without fatiguing easily. A poor pencil grasp means the hand and finger muscles are not working effectively, which not only looks awkward, but can be a source of pain and discomfort for the child.


What many people don’t know is that a child has a natural and expected pattern when developing their pencil grasp. Pencil grasp development can be categorized into primitive, transitional, and mature.


Primitive Grasps


1. Whole Hand Grasp/Palmer Supinate Grasp- (Typically between 12 months-1.5 years).


2. Digital Pronate Grasp/ Pronated Wrist Grasp- (2-3 years).



Transitional Grasps


1. Four Fingered Grasp- (3.5-4 years)



2. Static Tripod or Quadrupod Grasp- (3.5-4 years) - Small finger movements do not occur



(Above Images: Pencil Grasp Development, Erhardt, 1962)


Using the small muscles of the hand and fingers play a huge role in the development of a “functional” pencil grasp – that is that a pencil grasp that allows refined finger movements. A poor pencil grasp (“not functional”) tends to inhibit the finger movements, which results in the child moving from the wrist or arm to write.


The most effective way to hold a pencil is the dynamic tripod grasp. The pencil is resting between the thumb and index finger and the middle figure is used to support the pencil.


Another functional grip is the dynamic quadrupod grasp , where the pencil is positioned between the thumb, index and middle fingers, the fourth finger helps stabilize the pencil and the fifth finger is tucked away. It is considered functional for the pencil to rest in the web space to assist the child to move and guide the pencil during writing and drawing task.


Mature Grasps


1. Dynamic Tripod Grasp- (4-6/7 years) Small finger movements do occur



(Image: Tripod grasp, Your therapy source, 2019)


2. Dynamic Quadrupod Grasp- (4-6/7 years) Small finger movements do occur



(Image: quadrupod grasp, teach handwriting, 2018)


If you are concerned about your child’s pencil grasp, but they can keep up with their peers in the classroom and their writing is legible, monitor and note any hand fatigue, pain and/or deteriorating work (particularly as the load increases). In this case we would recommend an OT assessment to help figure out why your child may be holding their pencil awkwardly so we could work on the skills that your child is missing.

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