Many years ago, I was asked to assist a group of teachers with screening of children who would be entering kindergarten the following year. Throughout the day, four- and five-year old kids were brought in by their parents; the parents filled out pre-registration paperwork while the teachers had the children perform a variety of activities to check their overall development. At one point, one of the teachers came down to my end of the table and said, “Can you please talk to the parent of the boy in the red shirt? The mom seems kind of anxious because he’s not holding a pencil correctly, and she wants ideas about how she can help him with that skill at home.” I walked over to the parent, introduced myself, and asked her, “Have you tried getting a grip?” The parent apparently misunderstood me, and she said, “YES! Every day I say to myself, ‘GET A GRIP!’ But there’s so much going on, and I’m so nervous that my son won’t be ready to start school!” When I realized that she’d thought I had meant something totally different from what I was trying to say, I reached into my pocket and brought out an assortment of pencil grips and told her, “Let’s start by trying these pencil grips to see if that helps with his grasp pattern development.“
Even experienced A.T. practitioners come across barriers at times in finding the “just right” tool and/or strategy for a client; sometimes the challenge comes from not being able to find a product on the market that was developed to address the specific task with which the individual needs support. That’s when the part of Assistive Technology that involves strategy comes into play; the practitioner may recommend a product that is designed to address a specific problem, or he or she may have to devise an alternate way for a standard product to be used.
In addition to the commercially-available products that have been designed to help individuals having difficulty with producing written output, here is a list of some commercially available products that can serve as writing supports through varied design and/or strategies for use:
The Writing Bird – a writing device for individuals with weak grasp and limited hand coordination. Slides along the writing surface using upper arm strength and a whole-hand grasp pattern. Only slight downward pressure is needed to write. May be used with either the right or left hand. A pen is included, and other standard writing implements (pens and pencils) may be used with the product as well. Cost: $25
*Stetro Grip – one of the first ergonomic pencil grips designed. Comes in several bright colors and encourages a tripod grasp pattern. Due to its design, I recommend this product more often for people with larger hands (older kids and adults) rather than for young children. For use with right- or left-handed writers. Cost: package of 12 for $3.25
*The Pencil Grip – note: that’s the actual product name – this pencil grip is very cushiony and fits children or adults and left- or right-handed writers. It’s important that the user be instructed in the proper positioning of the hand when this grip is being used; sometimes I take a photo of the client using the pencil grip so he/she can be sure it’s being done correctly later. The thumb is placed on the “R” or “L” (depending on the dominant hand of the writer) and other fingers fall naturally into a cushioned tripod grasp. The larger size of this grip seems to work especially well with small hands, helping to maintain thumb abduction and an open webspace. Note: I tend not to recommend this product for use by students who have difficulty with visual-perceptual skills as I’ve seen the grip be frequently misused in those who are directionally challenged. Cost: $1.79 each
*Start RightTM Grip – the pencil grip is uniquely shaped and, like The Pencil Grip, needs to be accompanied with a lesson to address proper positioning when it is issued to a user. Although this product is good for encouraging a proper three-point grasp pattern, I have seen better success with this grip in writers with normal-level hand/finger strength because of the “pinch” that needs to be maintained when it is being used. Correct use of this grip effectively blocks thumb IP extension and facilitates thumb opposition. Cost: $1.79 each
*Big Triangle Pencil Grip – This big, chunky, plastic grip has been around for a long time. The product helps open tight fingers and encourages a tripod grasp. It’s unusually large opening is designed to easily fit on thick pencils and crayons. It’s pretty basic, and sometimes that’s what fits the bill. Cost: $ .79 each
*Grotto pencil grip – The product is relatively new to the market; it facilitates positioning of the fingers in a mature tripod grasp. The finger guards encourage the writer to hold the correct grasp position instead of allowing him to relax into a problematic grasp pattern. The angles of the grip help the user to keep an open web space and good palmer arching. Discourages hyper-mobility at the joints of the thumb and index finger. Cost: $1.65 each
*WriteRight Pencil Grip (aka “The Shark”) – Developed by an OT, this product is new to the market and is a good one to try especially for preschool-aged children. Instructions to be given with this grip are “pinch the eyes, cover the mouth, and wrap your fingers around the tail.” The slightly rough surface provides extra tactile input which serves as a reminder of correct finger placement during use. Two notes: (1) the pencil that comes with the grip is permanently attached, which limits the sustainability of this product; and (2) this product comes in 3 different sizes, and so a measurement of the child’s middle finger must be taken prior to ordering to get a correct fit. Each size works for both left- and right-handed writers. Cost: $10 each
*Egg-ohs pencil grip – this product looks like (not surprisingly) an egg; it’s a semi-firm foam pencil holder that allows the user to hold a writing implement with a whole hand grasp pattern while maintaining an open web space and a good palmer arch. It is a good one to consider for a writer who cannot pinch or hold his fingers in a tripod pattern. Cost: package of 3 for $8
*The Writing C.L.A.W.: This grip is unusual in that it distinctly separates the each finger in a tripod grasp from the other fingers. The letters in the name of the product – “C.L.A.W.” – stand for “Controlling Letters of Adolescent/Adult Writers.” As the name indicates, it is better, in my opinion, for slightly more experienced writers and definitely takes some direction-following ability for proper usage. A photo to remind the user of how the fingers are to be placed within the cups of this grip is helpful, too. It comes in a variety of colors and in sizes Small, Medium, and Large. The part of the grip that holds the writing implement stretches enough to accommodate a regular pencil to a large crayon or a marker. Cost: $1.25 each
There are many brands and types of grips and related products available on the market for helping writers struggling with grasp. My main advice for choosing a grip for a specific user is to consider the size, age, cognitive ability, and functional hand use of that person and then use that information to select a variety of different grips to try with him/her. Like most products used in the field of Assistive Technology, when it comes to recommending a pencil grip, one size does not fit all.
Please feel free to comment if you have found success with other types of pencil grips or related products!