My son hates writing. I am not just talking about the creative kind, I mean the “put the pencil to the paper old-fashioned penmanship” kind. I wish I could say I have some tried and true solutions for this, but the truth is, along with his autism, and his dyslexia, he also seems to have some dysgraphia as well.

I personally don’t like to look for a demon under every rock, but we need to call it what it is. This makes things harder than they could be. Difficulty writing doesn’t occur due to cognitive deficit, it just is. It is often characterized by other lack of motor skills. Some kids might have trouble tying shoes or controlling scissors. There are actually three kinds of dysgraphia: dyslexic, motor and spatial. All cause difficult to read handwriting.

With my son, it isn’t that his writing is that messy…he works at it very hard, even though he hates it. That is probably one of the biggest frustrations for him. He did well when he was younger, but as he is trying to learn penmanship, he has struggled. I chose not to teach him standard cursive, and instead went with Italics. This has eased his frustrations a bit, but he still “draws” his letters more often than not. His writing is labored and slow.

I have worked on introduction to typing instead, because, face it, how often do we write? I am concerned about the hand-written portion of the SAT, not because I am that worried about him taking it (he is, after all, only 10) but because I want him to have the option open to him.

Dysgraphia can leave a child feeling defeated and frustrated. Here are some ideas that may help:

  1. Have the child work on writing less and drawing more. Programs like Callirobics, which teach shape drawing to music can make learning motor control and writing fun. Waldorf education, a huge proponent of organic learning, for the whole child, uses form drawing to teach children how to control their movements. It is believed that this improves their spatial relations and helps them judge where their pencil is on the paper.
  2. Give the child the opportunity to write for real life reasons, the more the better. I have encouraged my son to write Wish Lists, Grocery Lists, funny things he has heard people say, phone messages, dicatation, transcribing from a tape player.. it doesn’t matter what it is, just practice, practice, practice!
  3. Give the child the freedom to use whatever writing implement he feels most comfortable with at the time. Does it really have to be that exact pencil? Does that assignment really need to be in ink? Also, along with that, let the child pick out the grip that feels the best to his hand. Each of my children use different grips for their writing utensils… there are as many out there as there are kids! My oldest uses a squishy silicone grip. My son has used a hard rubber grip. And my youngest daughter just uses a larger pencil, with no grip. Experiment to see what works best for your child.
  4. To enhance neatness, allow a child to use graph paper for lining up math problems. You may find his accuracy for mathematics increases once he is able to construct the problem correctly.
  5. Do not insist upon lined paper with tiny lines for a child with dysgraphia. You will only frustrate him. Instead, let him work up to smaller lines as he grows in control.
  6. Consider teaching the child keyboarding early. Truly, it is easier and cursive is becoming a thing of the past.
  7. Don’t underestimate the value of occupational therapy. A good therapist knows how to help the child exercise and build muscle and control to improve writing.

As a parent, there is much you can do to help with dsygraphia. With treatment, many children gain skills they wouldn’t otherwise have had. Be willing to research and provide materials for him. Make sure he gets a solid background in writing, and that he holds his pencil correctly, forming the words correctly. With your vigilance, he can improve.

Tina Cruz is a writer, wife and mother of three children. The two youngest children have high-functioning autism and the oldest has leanings towards Asperger’s Syndrome. She advocates for autism awareness and education, as well as acceptance. She views autism as a growth process and the opportunity to connect parents for support as a privilege. She is the editor of the Special Needs channel here at Typeamom. Her personal blog can be found at Send Chocolate.

photo of child writing copyright lloydcrew, flickr, used under creative commons license