PROBLEMS WITH HANDWRITING – WHEN TO SEEK HELP FOR YOUR KIDS
June. As children successfully complete another school year, a collective sigh of relief can be heard. Unfortunately not all parents are able to enjoy this victory, as it seems that their kids squeaked by and barely passed their grade. While it seems that you are alone, trust me when I tell you that it is more common than you think.
As an Occupational Therapist, I have the opportunity to work with children of all ages and abilities. Many of my “kiddos” feel that school- specifically writing- is not within their wheelhouse because they have challenges with writing. While it may seem that the child is lazy, there is usually an actual reason as to the student’s hesitation to perform written tasks. Unfortunately as parents, it is difficult to know if it is behavioral (because it is a child doesn’t want to actually do the work) OR dysgraphia (which literally means “impaired writing”). While it is important to tease out any and all potential causes, as these formative school years can set the tone for high school, college, and beyond- including professional careers, poor handwriting doesn’t necessarily mean a person has dysgraphia.
Behavioral: Don’t be fooled by the illegible mess that your child created. When offered motivators (something of importance to THAT CHILD), this student is able to produce legible written work, using appropriate spacing between words, sizing of letters, and orienting to the lines. Like many people, they tend to rush through non-preferred tasks but are CAPABLE of completing written assignments. At times, it may seem that content is a problem. When even motivators do not help to produce age-appropriate CONTENT, speak to your pediatrician, as the challenge may be attending to the task at hand.
Dysgraphia: Writing requires the motoric skills needed to create the letters, words, and sentences, while drawing upon the thinking skills that are used to communicate thoughts onto paper. “Difficulty” with “writing” / written language, dysgraphia affects one’s penmanship and manifests itself as challenges with spelling, illegible handwriting and trouble recreating thoughts on paper. An Occupational Therapist is an integral part of a student’s ability to recognize the problem, as well as learn adaptive strategies to accommodate it.
Some symptoms of dysgraphia are:
•Mixing upper and lowercase letters
•Varied letter sizes and shapes
•Odd writing grip
•Decreased or increased speed of writing and copying
•Talks to self while writing
•Reluctance or refusal to complete writing tasks
•Crying and stress (which can be created by the frustration with the task of writing and/or spelling).
•Experiencing physical pain in the hand and/or arm when writing
•Poor use of lines and spaces
According to the International Dyslexia Association, there are several different types of dysgraphia. (Side note: There are schools of thought that highlight additional forms of dysgraphia.)
1. Dyslexic Dysgraphia: difficulty writing impromptu text, but drawing and copying of words/sentences/paragraphs is relatively unaffected. Verbal spelling is poor, but drawing and copying of written text are relatively normal. Finger-tapping speed, which is used to measure fine motor skills/control, is normal. Not all forms of dysgraphia are dyslexic.
2. Motor Dysgraphia: difficulty with impromptu and copied text (may be illegible)- drawing may also be challenging. Verbal spelling is normal. Finger-tapping speed is abnormal.
3. Spatial Dysgraphia: Writing is illegible- both copied and impromptu forms. The writing will demonstrate poor spacing between words and challenges orienting to the line. Verbal spelling is normal. Drawing is very difficult. Finger-tapping speed is normal.
Summertime is the perfect opportunity to address the complications that arise due to dysgraphia, as the normal pressures of the school year do not exist. Addressing the issue now will ease your child’s transition into the next school year and assist their journey to success. Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns- or if you recognize your child’s writing skills in the aforementioned list. I can help.