Building Writing Skills in ABA(Applied Behavioral Analysis) Therapy

In the last decade, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy has been recognized as an especially effective and safe way of helping children with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) diagnosis develop different skills. One of the skills that children learn to build is writing skills. 

Writing is an essential skill that reflects on motor control, ability to focus, and language competence. It is recommendable that children start working on their writing skills as early as possible as it will positively reflect on their future academic performance.

At first, building writing skills can seem intimidating and challenging, but in fact, it all depends on the approach and techniques that are used. 

As a therapist or parent, you can use some of the following ways to make writing easier for children in ABA therapy. 


The beginners who haven’t had any experience with writing skills should start with simple activities that demand fine motor skills. Coloring is one of them. When coloring, children use the same muscles that are activated during writing.

You may need to apply hand-over-hand guidance at first. Jumbo or triangular crayons are best for children who are beginning to explore using writing tools since they are easier to grasp.

Another useful activity that can serve as the base for actual handwriting is scribbling. Practicing these skills will make writing less difficult as the children will strengthen their fine motor skills. 

It’s crucial that you set boundaries in coloring and gradually move them as a prerequisite for writing. For example, you can start with a square and a 3-inch thick black boundary. Then, progress to a 2-inch thick boundary, and so on. The goal should be that the children learn how to stay within boundaries.

Another useful trick to help children stay within boundaries is to draw a glue outline around the shape. Once the glue is dried, it will create a bump on the paper that will signal children where to stop. 



One level up from the coloring is tracing. Tracing will encourage more precision and ease the children into movements they use when writing.

Simply write a letter or number and assign the child to trace that shape, that is, to write over the provided letter or number. 

There are cases when children excel when using technological devices. In that case, you can use an app for the iPad that allows the child to practice tracing. Once they get comfortable with tracing on the iPad, it can be easier for them to apply this skill using a pencil and paper. 

Brid Hernandez, a psychologist, an ABA therapist, and contributor writer at TrustMyPaper whose essay ended up among best essay topics 2020 reminds all the parents and therapists that they need to follow up these exercises with reinforcements right away. 

The crucial element is that reinforcement is instant. As soon as the child accomplishes a goal such as tracing the assigned shape, they should receive reinforcement. The reliable repetition of it is what will keep them moving forward and develop their writing skills,” said Brid. 


Copying is somewhat similar to tracing, however, it demands individuality from children. Instead of following the trace, they have to write on their own.

You can write down a letter and number and ask the child to write the same shape next to yours.

This strategy doesn't have to be used only for numbers and letters. Another option is to ask children to mirror your drawing. The important aspect is that children copy the image or writing in front of them independently. 

For this exercise, you can use Paint to create a simple drawing that you can print out and share with the child. Or you can use Subjecto to make flashcards with different shapes, letters, and later on, words that they should copy. 


Before you start working on writing sentences, the children should learn to write letters on demand. They should know how to write both lowercase and uppercase letters.

Gradually move from writing letters to writing words until the children can tackle writing simple sentences. Every child is unique so the progress solely depends on their individual capabilities.

Some children can have sensory issues and consequently, they can have trouble using some writing tools like a pen or pencil. What you should do in that case is to let the child use a thick crayon for writing. They can also find it easier to write on a whiteboard with a dry erase marker. 


Tackling More Complex Writing Tasks

Older children who have mastered simple writing tasks will upgrade to more challenging tasks like writing sentences.

When you assign children with tasks that put their writing skills on the test, you should provide them guidance at all times until they manage to handle the entire task on their own. 

For example, if the child is having an issue with the formation of the letter within a sentence, give them an outline that they can trace. With time, they will become more proficient in following the outline until you can eliminate it and let them independently form the letter. Do that for the whole sentence if needed.

Extra tip: Use big papers with lines for writing so the child will have more space to work with and use a writing tool that suits them best even if it’s a jumbo crayon. 


Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, there are some ABA programs that don’t recognize the importance of writing skills and focus more on oral communication. Writing skills are great for enhancing children’s motor skills, concentration, and more, and therefore, building writing skills is worthy of all effort and time you and the child invest in. 

Keep in mind that writing is an advanced skill and the therapy needs to consider the individual’s age and capabilities. It’s relevant to note that initial consultation is needed to determine whether the child is ready to start building writing skills or do they need more work on less demanding skills first.