Autism, Fine Motor Skills, Art, and the Power of Undo

The power of Technology as an aide for Art

If you’ve ever had anything to do with art, you know the frustration of making a mistake. Those talented few whom we call artists, can take a mistake, and make something of us. The rest of us gnash our teeth in frustration.

A Picture made in Windows Paint with a WACOM IntuosFor some with Autism, however, art and fine motor skill challenges go head to head in mortal combat, like Mas Oyama fighting a bull with his bare hands. Add in a stroke of perfectionism, mix in some added stress by imposing a time restriction to complete the project and you have yourself a recipe for disaster.

But, what if there was a way to practice fine motor skills, and still have an undo button? Believe it or not, such an option exists, and it’s called a Graphic Tablet.

A Brief History of Graphic Tablet Technology

Surprisingly, you’ve actually seen similar technology around for quite some time. In popular media, the original Star Trek series frequently featured someone approaching Captain James T. Kirk with a digital device and a pen with which to sign. You’ve since seen similar devices from UPS and Fedex to sign for deliveries, then in the grocery stores to sign your credit card receipts, then with Personal Digital Assistants from companies like Palm Computing. Then we moved onto laptop computers that had large screens with a stylus pen with which you could write, and then the number of uses went crazy, from touchpads on laptops to smartphones to ipads and android tablets and so on. But, unless you were a graphic artist, you probably never knew about a quietly developing piece of technology called a graphic tablet. Today, however, these devices have reached the level of affordability, and technical function, that I can comfortably recommend them to just about everyone.

Rest your hand

Perhaps the most significant development in graphic tablets is the ability to rest your hand on the tablet as you’re drawing. For most of us, this is a more typical style of writing and drawing. Since the tablet responds to the stylus itself, it’s very much like using a mouse. For someone with fine motor skills problems, this can be a critical factor because the only place the image appears is where the stylus is touching the tablet, much like the only place a pen writes, is where it touches the paper. And, did I mention, no inky hands! 🙂

Sizes, shapes and Options

ECLATT Wacom Intuos Connected to Windows 7 LaptopA wide variety of sizes, shapes, connection styles are available for graphic tablets. If you’re just using it to sign electronic documents, then a small tablet is probably fine. If, however, you are planning on doing any drawing, look to something that is about half the size of a regular piece of paper or larger. This will be even more important when considering fine motor skill issues, but anyone who has used a mouse and run out of space on a mouse pad, or has run out of room on a piece of paper, is familiar with the need for a larger surface area.

There’s also an option to have an embedded screen on the tablet, allowing you to see what you’re writing or drawing where you’re writing or drawing, just like you would on a piece of paper. In fact, with some Android and Apple Tablets you can purchase a stylus to work with your device for the purpose of signing documents and working with graphic arts programs.

No special graphic art software

While programs like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator and CAD have some spectactular capabilites, graphic tablets are not restricted to these high end products. Because the graphic tablet acts like a mouse, as long as you have matched the tablet with the correct driver for your computer, you can use any built in graphic software, like Microsoft Paint on a Windows computer, or Paintbrush for Mac OSX. What’s more, many tablets are sold with software you can install, some even gearing themselves for anime and cartoon production.

Electronic Signatures

Signing electronic documents is a topic worthy of its own post, and I will write one. Suffice it to say, however, that if you can put pen to paper, you can put stylus to tablet and produce the same result.

That’s about it. If you have more questions about tablets, technology or Autism, feel free to get in touch.