by Kate Gladstone
Handwriting matters. Technology doesn’t always work — and even if we never write, we must decipher others’ handwriting. (Many of us on the autism spectrum never managed to read cursive: even if we can write it). Furthermore, we are often evaluated on the basis of handwriting. My earliest handwriting memory involves a readiness test for kindergarten. Difficulties here would have classed me “unready”— but the examiner accidentally discovered I could read.
I also remember asking grownups why letters looked so different in books than on worksheets and elsewhere …
Grownups told me these were “the same.” I was bewildered. Even more perplexing: grownups scribbled —
The kindergarten bus driver’s surname, for instance, apparently started with a backwards 3 and a regular 3, according to his window sticker:
Why? What for? Grownups said…
- No reason, no anything — “that’s just how it is”
- “It’s always been like that”
- “I don’t know what you mean”
- “Don’t think about it —you’ll get confused”
- “When your older you’ll understand”
Much handwriting training is autism-hostile. Handwriting curricula/expectations are usually self-contradictory — even within a single district, school, or program. (Programs with internally contradictory requirements include the majority of programs marketed as “consistent.”) For instance, students with form constancy issues and/or figure-ground issues may not equate all of these shapes as the letter s…
Students with these issues and/or motor-planning issues may not process exactly where the letter ends and the join begins (or exactly where a stroke changes direction). This happens whenever the handwriting model’s structure fails to make this motorically and visually clear.
Another early memory: As my doctor wrote a prescription, I asked why it was scribble.
His explanation made even less sense to me than his writing:
“There is printing, and there is writing, and what you write isn’t writing because it is printing, because printing is writing that is for reading, while writing is writing that is for writing, although of course it is also for reading. So will you please be a good girl and stay quiet, so that I can finish writing this prescription and you can go home?”
First grade meant workbooks: we were told to copy everything just as it was shown.
I did my best …
The teacher threw a fit! She showed me the work of another student.
I asked what made mine wrong, since I’d given details he’d left out. I was then sent to the principal’s office … Please keep in mind that ambiguous instructions confuse and impede Aspies. When our best efforts at understanding are penalized, we often stop trying or caring.
Next year, with cursive, I couldn’t see which parts went where, or why:
Letters had homogenized! Any shape might mean different letters at different times.
The “same” letters had different shapes for different grownups…
The letters “F T” in three cursive forms.
I much later learned that this is true internationally:
Source for large chart: manuscribe.org — school models in France, Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands … to note a few!
Confusion increased when letters changed after b/o/v/w.
Remember when you tell students “all letters start at the same place,” they don’t. Print-then-cursive requires three sets of starting points and motor patterns for each lower-case letter. This can impede writers who have motor issues, working memory issues, and/or form constancy issues.
To help Aspies understand cursive, show us how cursive happened! We can see and understand factually accurate patterns better than we can memorize, recall, and use the what apparently arbitrary.
Learning how cursive happened was my gateway to handwriting function and handwriting comprehension. (Unfortunately, I did not begin learning this until the age twenty-four, when I desperately attacked my dysfunctional handwriting by combing through 500 years of handwriting textbooks, finding what worked, and discarding the rest. Making sense of handwriting should not depend on cursive.)
The earliest published textbooks on handwriting used a semi-joined form, with letter shapes unchanged whether joined or not.
This page is from the very first: produced in 1522.
Later textbooks complicated things:
When instruction presumes complexity, many of us are barred from handwriting competence. Fortunately, writing a difficult script isn’t the only way to learn to read it (or the only way to get beyond printing). That’s why I devised the free iPad app “Read Cursive” which teaches cursive reading without requiring cursive writing.
Even signatures don’t legally require cursive. BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY (8th edition) defines “Signature” — as whatever you produce as your signature:
“A signature may be written by hand, printed, stamped, typewritten, engraved, photographed, or cut from one instrument and attached to another, and a signature lithographed on an instrument by a party is sufficient for the purpose of signing it, it being immaterial with what kind of instrument a signature is made. . . whatever mark, symbol, or device one may choose to employ as a representative of himself is sufficient . . .”
“The name or mark of a person, written by that person at his or her direction. In commercial law, any name, word, or mark used with the intention to authenticate a writing constitutes a signature. UCC 1-201(b)(39), 3-401(2). A signature is made by use of any name, including any trade or assumed name, upon an instrument, or by any word or mark used in lieu of a written signature.”
The fastest, most legible handwriters don’t join all letters. They join only the most easily joined letters, and use print-like versions of letters whose cursive version disagrees with print.
(Graham, Berninger, and Weintraub, 1998).
Aspies — and all writers — deserve training and encouragement in the most effective handwriting strategies. These strategies are excluded by conventional (print and/or cursive) instruction.
In 2012, handwriting publisher Zaner-Bloser surveyed handwriting teachers from all over North America. Only 37% actually used cursive for their own handwriting. Another 8% used “manuscript” (print-writing) as their handwriting. The majority — 55% — combined features of cursive with features of print-writing. Why exalt cursive, when handwriting teachers themselves write otherwise? (Zaner-Bloser Handwriting Survey Statistics)
Some curricula do recognize and develop habits typical of fast, legible handwriters, avoiding conventional two-tier (print/cursive) inconsistencies. These include Queensland Cursive, Jarman Handwriting, Getty-Dubay, and Barchowsky Handwriting. One program of special note is the work of a diagnosed Aspie: Jim Bennett. You can see his handwriting curriculum at Studioarts.net. Jim also wrote the best-selling book Calligraphy for Dummies. He and I, as far as we know, are the only Aspies creating handwriting resources.
Simplifiers are in good company …
Mayflower Compact, 1620: handwriting of William Bradford
For me, handwriting has become:
- a special interest and skill
- a path to productive achievement, shared goals and friendships
- a value that others can perceive and experience
One of my Grocery Lists
For handwriting tools and specialty paper click here.
Kate Gladstone teaches and consults on curriculum for handwriting throughout the United States and worldwide, serving organizations and individuals with and without disabilities through individual and group consultations, and workshops. Her involvement with handwriting began through efforts to correct her own formerly dysfunctional handwriting. She helped design two iOS handwriting apps (BETTER LETTERS for the iPhone/iPod Touch and READ CURSIVE for the iPad). Kate is also the director of the World Handwriting Contest, and creator of US Patent #5,018,208 a signature verification system for pen-based computers. To learn more about Kate or to contact her for services please visit Handwriting Repair: Handwriting That Works.