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Child Development and Learning Difficulties



Writing in Williams syndrome: pen or keyboard?

By Admin, on 24 March 2021

Hand-writing is still a core aspect of the national curriculum in the UK. Indeed, the new curriculum, implemented in 2014, focuses even more on hand-writing skills, linking a child’s handwriting to composition and spelling ability. However, other countries such as the USA have dropped handwriting skill from the curriculum as questions have been raised about the importance of hand-writing within a digital age. Think about how often do adults even write with a pen these days and is it not likely that the need to write with a pen will even decrease further when children will grow up?


Writing is a task that requires a number of cognitive processes to come together


One of the arguments put forward as to why handwriting is still important is that handwriting allows children to “feel” the letters and that this ‘learning by doing’ aids children’s spelling abilities.


However, handwriting does not only require complex motor abilities, it is also a complex cognitive skill. When writing with a pen a child engages at least in the following cognitive processes:

1) thinking of the sound they are going to write (verbal working memory)

2) retrieve appropriate visual representation of the sound from memory (visuo-spatial working memory)

3) find appropriate place on paper to start writing (visuo-spatial awareness) whilst remembering to hold the pen correctly (motor skills) and remembering the visual representation of the sound (verbal working memory and visuo-spatial working memory)

4) keep track of how to write the sound (visuo-spatial awareness)

repeat these steps for next sound.


Hence, writing with a pen requires a lot of 1) working memory abilities (processing more than 1 thing/information at the same time in the brain), 2) motor abilities, 3) visuo-spatial abilities. All of these are generally areas of difficulty for children with WS.


In comparison, writing with a keyboard on a computer involves the following:

1) think of sound you are going to write

2) retrieve appropriate visual representation of the sound from memory

3) find appropriate sound on computer (visuo-spatial ability but can memorised) and press button

repeat for next sound.


Therefore, writing with a keyboard limits the amount of cognitive processing (less working memory demands) and minimises motor demands and visuo-spatial demands. This may be beneficial for children with WS, especially when they are asked to write longer texts as even though some children with WS write, their writing can be slow and laborious. In addition, writing longer texts or a story requires children to keep in memory even more information as well as story structure etc, placing an even greater demand on children’s working memory abilities. However, it has been argued that as computers auto-correct and have spell checks, writing with a keyboard may limit children’s spelling abilities. In addition, we can question whether limitations or difficulties, such as handwriting, should be avoided by using a keyboard or receive more attention, practice and support instead.


Writing is important for children: children who read and write more get to develop their language abilities more and better language abilities lead to better writing abilities. However, children who have motor difficulties, as well as working memory and visuo-spatial difficulties, might benefit more from writing with a keyboard than writing with a pen, at least when writing longer texts.