Dysgraphia in Elementary School

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  • Hi all

    My daughter has a diagnosis of dysgraphia which isn't getting any better, and is becoming a bigger problem as she's required to write more for school. The only recommendations I've gotten is to request typing instead, which many times isn't an option.  (and typing isn't easy for her either, so still incredibly slow).  I'd like for her be able to improve her handwriting at least to the point that writing even a sentence isn't a giant painful chore.  Has anyone had an occupational therapist treat their children for dysgraphia with success?

    You don't say her age. Our son (now 14) has dysgraphia, and in the myriad of other issues he has experienced over the years, it got overlooked and he wasn't evaluated for it until it was basically too late - 5th or 6th grade. The great OT he had told us that ideally you want to catch it and work on it very early, like K/1st. Also (FYI) we have been told that dysgraphia is usually not going to appear in an IEP, meaning the school district won't provide therapeutic services for it, because it can always be accommodated (via a 504) by switching to keyboarding. Which is basically where we ended up - again, there were other issues in play for my son - and he had to quickly become his own advocate and remind teachers certain assignments that were supposed to be handwritten needed to be modified for his plan's accommodation. Finally, in my anecdotal experience, dysgraphia is not a stand-alone condition but rather appears in a constellation with other conditions where it is more like a co-morbid than the root cause.

    My son has this and was dx in 5th - too late to make a real impact. It’s still a problem. 2 things helped - 1. They can be taught cursive - not by you, by a trained handwriting therapist. 2 Typing. He did an online program for 10-15 mins every day, a free one, and was rewarded with M&Ms or something. It was a lifesaver. He did it all spring and all summer and typed 35 wpm by 6th. Now he’s a junior in HS and it saves him. He can get an accommodation for most tests and assignments. Your child will also get time accommodations. Do not hesitate! My son is required to write all day every day at this age. He types faster than I do. His brain is fast so this makes him much less frustrated. Get your child typing right now. I thank god every day for the wise teacher who told us to do this. 

    My son was diagnosed about half a year ago at age 10. I have yet to find any organized therapy for how to support him, most of what I have been told run along the lines of "Just type and use spell check." I wish I could tell you how to find help, but it was hard enough finding someone who believed he had a learning disability, and to put a name to it. Also, yes typing is very helpful but my son still needed to write neatly, for example, using worksheets that are not online, or in math, so he needed help with his handwriting.The best advice I've gotten was to get him nice fat pencils or hand grip adjusters, and to find those workbooks called "Handwriting without tears". They are for preschoolers and Kindergarteners, My son had to fill out those workbooks and to take care doing it very slowly and nicely. It was like learning to write again from scratch, and after just a month of practice, his handwriting got SO MUCH BETTER. I was also advised to beef up his phonics still in the same way, with a kindergarten program called "Hooked on Phonics", but that system was so juvenile he refused to do it. 

    My son was diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia and a bunch of other stuff when he was 7.  He's in his twenties now so I can offer a bit of the long view.  I must start by telling you that writing a complete sentence by hand is still a huge chore for him, and his signature looks like a child's, BUT he is a functioning adult with a college degree and a real job.  Here are some things we did:

    We had him evaluated by Alan Siegel, a neuropsychologist in Berkeley, when he was seven and again when he was a teenager.  With his diagnosis he got extra time on tests, including standardized tests.  Maybe it's less of an issue if things like the SAT are on a computer now, but this was really important in the days of filling in the bubble.

    We took him to occupational therapy with Gail Gordon, who had an office in Orinda.  I don't know if she's still practicing but she was lovely. She had him do hand-strengthening exercises with TheraPutty and squeeze balls, and gave him a special pencil grip.  

    We got the Handwriting Without Tears workbooks and had him work through those.  He didn't love doing it but even he admitted that the results were noticeable.  

    We got a typing program designed for dyslexics -- I can't remember the name of it but the Center for Accessible Technology in Berkeley has typing classes and might also have advice on at-home programs suitable for dysgraphics.  We let our son play more computer games than we might have otherwise because they got him typing -- this was super effective and I have no regrets!  

    We hired a tutor with a degree in speech/language pathology to work with him at school a couple of times a week through elementary school, either in the classroom or pulling him out, in coordination with his teachers (this was at a private school).

    We got Dragon Naturally Speaking, a dictation program, when it was much more primitive than it is now.  It was very buggy and he didn't love it but we pushed him to get used to it.  Dictation software is light years better than it was and he uses it all the time now.

    The most intensive support we gave was that for years and years I sat with him while he did homework and had him dictate to me while I typed.  I did not understand when he was seven how involved I was going to be and for how many years.  I hadn't initially understood that dysgraphia isn't just about handwriting, but can also affect their ability to get words out of their head and on to paper, and then to organize their thoughts into a coherent format.  Middle and high school essays involved him walking around the dining room table dictating his ideas and me typing, and then spreading printed pages out on the table and looking for the thread, and then literally cutting and pasting and filling in the gaps. I was very careful not to suggest ideas or phrasing, but to just ask a lot of questions and point out where something needed to be explained more fully or where he needed a transition. For a while there I was really wondering what my exit plan was! But he gradually needed less and less support, and by the time he went to college he wasn't even letting me proofread anymore.  It was a long journey, and I had to really revise my understanding of my parental role and get with the program, but now I'm glad I didn't withdraw support too soon.  

  • Hello,
    My son is weak in fine and gross motor skills, and we need help to teach him handwriting as he's falling behind in school. 

    Does anyone know of a tutor willing to come to your house and help with handwriting?  We live in Glenview.

    Thank you!

    Before you go down the tutoring route, I'd get your child assessed for dyslexia/dysgraphia. If your son does have these neuro-differences, he will need specialized therapy rather than handwriting help.

    Hi. Sorry your son is having trouble with writing. Here are my thoughts. Since you mentioned that he's having trouble with gross and fine motor, handwriting will be impacted. You can assist by helping him be active, climbing, getting stronger. As he builds his core, posture, shoulder strength, the hands should benefit. I believe there's a gym called Rock The Spectrum that has indoor motor activities for kids. You can also check into occupational therapy for him.

    Just so you know, handwriting doesn't exceed the level of reading. So if is a new reader, his writing should be along the same lines. You might want to try a program called Handwriting Without Tears. I took the training and used it with my daughter and it was great. It helps you know which letters to teach first, groups them with similar strokes, and has physical guides to help the kids - not "copy this" worksheets at all. 

    Good luck with it. 

    I don't know anyone who will go to your house for this, but  definitely check in with your pediatrician about a possible referral to an Occupational Therapist for evaluation.   And of course check with your insurance about co-pays, etc. before you move forward   My kid has dyslexia and dysgraphia.   One thing that really tipped us off was the great difficulty in getting him to put crayon/marker/pen/pencil/etc to paper at all - no matter how available and attractive the writing/drawing materials were, there was active resistance to it.  It turns out  he needed occupational therapy to make it happen!   I was surprised because his coordination and dexterity with small lego pieces and such was just fine.   The OT at Herrick 10 sessions with him.  Each session started out with a few minutes of hand exercises, then writing practice using  "Handwriting Without Tears" workbook.  

    Some of the tips we learned from Occupational Therapy that might be helpful to others:  

    Before school,  play bounce-catch with a soft rubber ball, which warms up the hands for writing. We found a 'pinky' rubber ball worked great, as did a foam rubber sponge ball.  A tennis ball works fine, but is not quite as fun.  For over a year my husband always kept a small bouncy ball (like from a gumball machine) in his pocket and would bounce-catch with my son and other kids at school drop-off and other random moments, and no one ever knew it was a hand exercise.  It was just fun.  Another hand/finger exercise with the ball is to hold the ball to one ankle.  Use the hand to roll the ball all the way up to the chest, then across the front of your body, then down to the other ankle.  Then do the same with the other hand.   

    Another thing that helped was pencil weights and raised-line writing paper.   Adding weight to the pencil was kind of magical.   You can buy pencil weights online or just take your #2 pencil to Ace Hardware and buy some nuts that fit on it (hold weights in place with a rubber band above and below).   Raised Line paper provides additional sensory input as you can feel the lines on the paper in addition to seeing them.  Google it or check out https://www.therapro.com    

  • My elementary aged child has very poor handwriting, composes slowly and reluctantly, and I was advised by a tutor that I might want to get her evaluated for dysgraphia at the public school. I wonder if it is worthwhile to pursue this? Will they just tell me to get my child to type? I would love input from parents who have gone through this. Thanks!

    Hmm, this is a tough one, and you don't say how old your child is. Our 12 yo son probably has dysgraphia but we didn't pursue a formal diagnosis because he already had multiple other more severe umbrella diagnosis, ADHD etc., and was getting accommodations through that 504 plan. I will say that we really found some teachers unwilling to accommodate his handwriting challenges, perhaps because there wasn't a stand-alone diagnosis and perhaps it is an ingrained belief that boys have messy handwriting because they don't try hard enough to make it neat. It has come up even during remote school, when the students had to take photos of the work in their notebooks and upload it... more than one teacher said his wasn't legible. Yeah... no kidding. However, it really isn't clear what professional diagnoses this condition - maybe an OT?? You can also just bide your time until upper middle school when it really should start transitioning to all keyboarding anyway. Finally, give some thought to if dysgraphia is actually a symptom of something else and it might be a better use of your time to investigate that.

    OP here. Thanks for the quick response! My child is 10, in 5th grade. Hope that helps. 

    The solution is the have your child keyboard. The diagnosis helps put that in writing in a 504. My child was able to keyboard all assignments and tests even if it was a paper assignment for other kids. This was a HUGE help. Though math can be tricky since keyboarding isn't really an option. As far as I am aware OT doesn't help at this age. However, someone did advise me to have my child write a few sentences a day that have to be legible. The keyboarding does make it so they practice handwriting less. There is a base level of handwriting required in life - filling out a form, addressing an envelope and those short bursts of writing can be practiced at home. Of course, at 12 there was no way they would do this. Now at 15 they can see the value and are more open to it. Good luck!

    100% I suggest getting a diagnosis. If you child does have dysgraphia, she is going to spend so much neural energy on writing that she's going to be at a disadvantage being able to show her knowledge of school subjects. My son has it, and we tried typing, which did not work for him either. He has an IEP at school (also for dyslexia and ADHD) and since 7th grade, his main concessions have been around the dysgraphia - he uses speech to type, has a chrome book available to him at school, teachers are expected to share notes with him, class assignments that had kids writing and doing something else (like watching a film) at the same time were altered because they were leaving him out. There is no down side as far as I believe. If you want the school to provide accommodations,  you need that diagnosis. A neuropsychologist can diagnose. We used a private one but got the school district to pay for it. As part of the neuropsychological report, the doctor will include recommendations at home and school. We found the school was very receptive to those. We got the accommodations we had been asking for solo once we got that report! FYI, dysgraphia isn't a symptom of something else, it's an independent diagnosis. And it may mean your child will have as much trouble w/ keyboarding as with hand writing. Getting help sooner rather than later will help your child immensely.  I'm always flabbergasted when parents are trying to get diagnoses when their child is 16. They've lost so much time!

    I think it depends on how severe it is and how much teachers are willing to support without. My very smart kid was still doing some reversals in 8th grade, had terrible handwriting and some form constancy issues, but never met the bar for dysgraphia (or dyslexia). From early on, I asked teachers to clarify whether an assignment was to measure writing or handwriting, and he did voice to text (which is quite good!), for the writing exercises. Even in elementary school folks accommodated that without an official 504, and teachers could see that his output was so significantly better that they adjusted. By middle school he was typing most assignments. Now in high school, he is being required again to do some writing exercises in ink, and i think it has been an adjustment, but I think the fluency of writing and organizing he was able to accomplish without handwriting for many years actually has helped him to do better by hand now. His handwriting, spelling and punctuation will never be great but honestly we have so many ways of supporting that, that it's never been my focus. I do think making sure there aren't any barriers to your child being able to compose fluidly will be helpful and build confidence and skills--but you may not need an official dx to do that.

    Hi, I’d be happy to talk with you about this.   I have a lot of experience with my own kids Please contact me directly.   

    Hi there, as a parent of a college age student, I think it would be good to have that diagnosis as you can get note taking accommodations when your kid gets to college. If your child doesn’t need that kind of help now, but is struggling I was taking nose, it is very likely that kind of accommodation will be helpful by the time they are in college. Usually it’s a smart pan or something like that, but if a student is having a really hard time taking notes they assign another student to share their notes with them. That is a really nice thing, and my student had a hard time getting that accommodation even though he has ADHD and several other learning issues. I would think dysgraphia would be a good reason for them to provide note taking assistance.

    Hi! I'm an OT for a school district. Schools can't assess just for OT as it is a standalone service so you may come up against that wall if you make a request for an OT-only assessment. You can request for a study study team/SST or a 504 to address the concerns and the OT will likely be your person of contact for support. As for diagnosis, it needs to come from a neuropsychologist in order to get the diagnosis of disorder of written production. Hope this helps!

    We ended up working with an OT outside of BUSD, because at that point the policy was that if the child wasn't below grade level (i.e. overall) the district didn't need to provide help. It was worth the money, though the long run solution was learning to type. You might want to get an overall learning difference evaluation, which technically the school district is supposed to provide within 60 days of your written request. We ended up going with an evaluation through the UCB psych department because of the gifted/learning disabled situation. A 504 plan can be very helpful as your child gets older -- ours needed extended time on tests to demonstrate their command of the material, and at times turned in typed work rather than handwritten work. The UCB eval is on a sliding scale.

    Our kid was diagnosed with dysgraphia at age 13, and it helped us to understand why she couldn't take notes fast enough for her classes. Taking notes is key, and her accommodations now include getting copies of the slides the teachers use after class. Some students in college even have note-takers as part of their accommodations. They can't alway type their notes in class. So I think it's worth it.

    My kiddo is too young to be evaluated herself, but, as someone who has a formal dysgraphia diagnosis, I strongly encourage you to have your child evaluated. I'm an attorney, and am still embarrassed by my poor handwriting. That said, finally receiving appropriate accommodations for dysgraphia made a huge difference in my educational attainment. (As in my college GPA was higher than my high school GPA.) Times has changed, but I was able to use a computer to type essay responses on tests in college that would have otherwise been required to be handwritten. There may be other classroom accommodations available to your child based on her needs, including notetaking (or access to the teacher's notes or slides), use of a chrome book or laptop in class for written work, etc. Also, in case cursive is still required by any teachers, it could get her off the hook for that (let's be honest, she only really needs to be able to sign her name, and printing is easier than cursive). If she isn't a skilled typist, she could have access to typing training or other assistive technology. Again, accommodations are based on individual needs, and are not one-size-fits-all.

    Finally, don't worry about figuring out which professional does the evaluation-- that's the school district's responsibility once you write a demand to have your daughter evaluated. Also, you didn't share, but if you suspect any other learning disabilities--dysgraphia frequently accompanies other diagnoses, such as ADHD, dyslexia, etc.--ask that she be evaluated for those too.

    Good luck!

    yes, they will tell you to have him start typing. Worked for our son. 

    My 4th grader has ADHD, dyslexia, and dysgraphia, and has had an IEP since 1st grade. There are 2 benefits (as I see it for my kid) of getting a formal evaluation from the school and getting an IEP. One is that my kid qualifies for help to improve his fine motor skills in general, and writing in particular. He has sessions with the school Occupational Therapist for that, and they’ve definitely helped. Two, an IEP can provide accommodations to help your kid in class and with homework. For example, that could be allowing your child to use a computer instead of handwriting some assignments, or allowing extra time to complete work when it’s handwritten. The specific services and accommodations will be tailored to your kid, of course, but having both support and accommodations has been HUGELY helpful for my kid. If this issue is really causing a problem for your kid, I would seriously consider asking for an evaluation. There’s still lots of handwriting in middle school (my eldest is in 7th grade and all of her teachers have the kids taking notes by hand) so I would think about this in terms of future support too. 

    There’s lots of great past advice here on how to request an evaluation for learning disabilities, and what that process looks like. The evaluation itself was long but felt very thorough and I’ve overall been really happy with the services my kid had received.

    Get the diagnosis for sure. My son has this and things have been going a lot better since we got accommodations for it. In the day of computers, why should our kids be held back for a skill that isn't really required? Switching to typing has made everything better.

  • My 7 year old daughter has dysgraphia and I am looking for summer camp and tutor options for her. I have already looked into Raskob's summer program, but it seems more focused on improving reading, rather than writing.

    Please let me know if you can suggest tutors or summer programs in Berkeley (and neighboring areas) that offer dysgraphia-focused teaching methods.

    Thanks so much!

    I have a kid wth dysgraphia and have been in your position,  betting on a magic bullet to get a kid up to speed in a summer. I would urge you to reconsider. My dysgraphic kid benefitted a lot more with support for idea generation, organization and alternate means for getting thoughts onto page. It has been arduous watching it and has taken years, but my kid can, with various work arounds, write a decent essay. Yes, she’s in middle school, but with google dictate and keyboarding, she can do it. Please consider laying off the fixing the dysgraphia and focusing on supporting the thought processes and underlying skills-during the school year. Too much drilling could make your kid hate all aspects of the writing process and could significantly mar the parent child relationship. Panful to watch, but with good learning support during the school year your kid  will make progress. Pushing when still young can really mess with a kid’s confiidence and cause a general strike .  Motor development takes time and some of the basics surrounding the writing process need explicit instruction. But let your kid be a kid. Good luck!

    We went to OT with Gail Gordon in Orinda. However, in the long run you might want to consider an early transition to keyboarding. The occupational therapist should be able to help you with that. I agree with the idea of encouraging dictation. Sensory play is also good -- sand, water, etc.

  • Hi,

    My 8-year old son attends a private school in the area and after a few years of struggling with his handwriting, it has become clear that he needs outside help. Can anyone recommend a good (and hopefully reasonably-priced) OT in Oakland/Berkeley?



    Hi Shannon,

    Our daughter had the same problem and we took her to an OT person at Herrick.  This was years ago, but it did help some.  The therapist used an art therapy approach.

    Re: cost...our insurance (Aetna at the time) paid for it.  We got a "prescription from our pediatrician.  Hope you have good insurance and you can get it covered.

    Good luck,


  • Dear Parents,

    Our 10 year old son {ASD, ADHD, with an IEP ;  )] needs an Occupational Therapy evaluation, especially for handwriting. Do you have someone you can recommend? We live in the San Leandro area. The school district is paying for it.

    Thank you so much!

    I'm not sure how useful this is since it's not near you but Full Circle OT in Oakland has done a great job helping my dysgraphic son who also has sensory issues. We worked with Sasha, but there are many good therapists there.

  • Hello Wise Parents,

    I'm looking for advice to compare schools based on their familiarity and flexibility with learning accommodations.  

    Head Royce.  The Berkeley School. Bentley. 

    My son reads above grade level, high IQ scores but needs a keyboard for writing. He works best with visual spatial math like matching math real.  We will support at home with tutoring.  

    I'm looking for a school that is familiar with high functioning learning disabilities. Flexible with accommodations. And has ample learning specialist  support.  Example:Some places have 1 per grade. Others have 1 per school.    My son would need extra time on tests for slow processing speed and a key board   Fairly simple   

    If any families have experience with these schools or recommendations on others , I would be very grateful   

    Thank you

    You didn't say your son's grade. However, my son in 3rd grade in the WCCUSD has an IEP with extra testing time, among other accommodations, as well as the whole classroom has moved toward keyboarding for all assignments - again, this is 3rd grade (they have 1:1 tablets). So there is no stigma to having terrible handwriting (which my son has).

    I'm not sure what grade or where you live, but consider Saklan in Moraga.  They have been very accommodating for my dysgraphic child.  It's a lovely community and a small, close knit school.

    Hi.  I should have mentioned that my son is going into 4 th grade. Thank you ! 

    You may have trouble finding a private school that will provide such accommodations for your son. Remember that private schools pick and choose their students. It sounds like, when you speak of the accommodations he will need, you are actually envisioning a public school; public schools of course are required by law to provide such accommodations, although of course if you start asking around you will find that it's often more of a "battle" than a given to receive the needed accommodations. Our family will be interested in seeing the responses you receive, because to our knowledge, private schools that accept and accommodate special needs children (especially on the academic rather than, say, physical side) may not even exist. Best of luck. 

    Bentley does not have the learning specialist support you are looking for - it is currently 1 specialist for K-8 and formal testing can be difficult to get. The school is geared towards high functioning kids with parents that look for extra help outside the school. My feeling is that public school has more support for IEP, keyboard accommodations, etc   -anon

  • Hi all - Ive read the archives and am looking for advice on steps and people to speak to re assessing whether our child just has poor handwriting, or may have dysgraphia or some related LD. The issues we see do fit many of the diagnostic criteria for dysgraphia. We are currently in a public elementary school in OUSD. For several years we've coped with nearly illegible handwriting and teachers assuming our child is just lazy and sloppy or not attuned to details. But our child actually tries very hard and has felt shame around this problem - and often has hand pain while writing longer assignments. Approaching middle school the situation has become a bigger problem, and we need to understand what is really going on. I have called a number of the professionals listed on BPN and have reached out to DREDF. But am hoping for more recent referrals and advice from anyone who has managed this particular issue. From what I'm hearing, it sounds like OUSD can push back at assessing LDs and doing the testing required - it sounds like we need to send a formal letter ASAP to get the process officially started. Any advice is most welcome!

    Id ask the school about allowing him to use a tablet or laptop to write. There are loads of typing programs out there. You didnt say if there are any dyslexic signs but you might want to look into it.

    Middle school uses a lot of electronics. Maybe chat to the vp about it.

    Wow- I just want to let you know I think you're a fabulous parent. I've had unremediated dysgraphia my whole life, it was never addressed (it continues to be ridiculed), and were it not for the advent of word processing technology, I doubt I would have made it through grad school.  I'm a speech pathologist (inactive) (not like the calligraphy world was going to call to me! lol), one thing to look into is if Dysgraphia by itself is enough to get services on an IEP. The professional most likely to help dysgraphia is the Occupational Therapist, because they can do the cognitive side plus the fine motor side. PTs, SLPs and special ed or reading teachers cannot, it's outside all of our purviews. You might need an eval by a child Cognitive Psychologist.  Good luck and do let us all know how it works out!! Above all, don't worry!

    hello!  I feel your concern, and went through a similar process with our son in BUSD.  One great resource is www.understood.org.  

    The formal letter is very important, and also getting an outside second opinion to help with reading the tests once you get the results back.  We have an educational therapist who helped us with this process, as the district tried to tell us that nothing was wrong when in fact the results were clear and consistent with a dysgraphia diagnosis.

    Lots of people find external testing very helpful, but it can be quite expensive ($4,000 and above).  So you'll have to shop around, and you may have to push the district to take it seriously if you don't have the money for external testing.

    Our son was helped by vision therapy and we got lower cost add-on testing from the binocular vision clinic at UC Berkeley, but that may not be the case for your son (in our case dysgraphia is related to visual processing differences, and visual memory issues).  UC Berkeley will do a few simple tests for a lower cost, so that may be something to look into.

    Good luck! 

    OUSD will not help you.  I put a request in writing for an assessment for my son.  I filled out some questionnaires and the school psychologist observed him in the classroom for a bit.  They insisted he did not have a problem because he was at or above grade level in everything but writing.  We finally did get a dysgraphia diagnosis outside of OUSD.  I don't have much advice for you except to tell you that you will have to go outside of OUSD for proper assessment and diagnosis.

  • Cursive Help?

    Sep 13, 2016

    My son is learning cursive in school this year and is really struggling. The biggest issue that I see is that he holds his pencil in a fist instead of holding it correctly. All of his teachers (going back to preschool) have tried to get him to hold his pencil correctly and he refuses to even try. Every attempt that is made to teach him to do this ends in frustration for everyone. He's a very stubborn child who has some sensory issues and I think that it just doesn't feel good to him to hold the pencil right. 

    I'm wondering if there are any specialists out there who are good at correcting this issue. Someone who has some techniques for switching his grip other than just showing him how to do it correctly. I would think that we are not the first family to struggle with this and there must be a good technique for this that is different and could maybe make a game out of it or come up with some other way to get him to actually try to do this right. Being the only kid struggling with this isn't providing incentive to do it correctly, instead he just complains about how much he hates school. 

    Any advice/recommendations? Thanks

    Oh I think you need an OT (occupational therapist) for this. In fact I'm sure of it - I have had several friends report the same issue and they have had terrific results with an OT. The school should actually have one on hand, which should be free, but if you have the money, you can just find one on your own -- may even be covered by insurance. 

    Run, don't walk, to an Occupational Therapist!  Your son may be struggling with handwriting due to actual fine motor issues or even dysgraphia.  An Occupational therapist will evaluate and be able to have him do exercises to help strengthen or even suggest a correction that suits him better.  He may also need to use an additional "gadget" on his pencil that will help with positioning.  If your son does end up having dysgraphia (also can be assessed by the OT), then he will benefit from accomodations to writing.  Things like reduction to the amount of physical writing, being given copies of instructions so he wont have to write them all down himself, and being allowed to use a keyboard for long handwriting assignments.  Circle Development Center in Oakland is a good place, but I'm sure there are many OT centers.  (btw, my daughter has dysgraphia so we've been through this process)

    You might want to try teaching him to use chopsticks. They make a helper set and it would show him a different grip. Then he might be more willing to try something different with a pencil. Just an idea.

    Have you tried any pencil grip aids? 


    I would also approach this very very slowly. Try getting him to just hold the pencil, without writing anything, for a week, or maybe longer. After he gets used to that, move on to scribbling for another week or two or longer. Then maybe a coloring book. Then loops or circles or something relatively simple. Finally, try letters. But let him get comfortable with each step before moving on. 

    Dear Mama Bear- Used to teach 3rd Grade and know this subject well. I always started out by telling the children that cursive was an art form...individual expression welcome. Holding the pencil with a fist worries me because that means past teachers didn't address the issue. Now he has the habit. And that part has to be broken. Cursive is correctly taught by first teaching the large "shapes" that make it up. A straight line. A circle, etc. This can be done with watercolors on cheap paper. Use the whole arm. There is also a wonderful program-an oldie but goodie-called Handwriting without Tears. Your son has what we call an affective filter or a brick wall up nice and solid, because he probably has always hated handwriting. Ya' gotta get around the wall sneaky-like. Encourage art work at home and get him to hold the brush correctly. Hopefully that will help because writing with a fist is actually very uncomfortable and uses excess energy from the arm. I would hate writing too!

    If this is a public school his teacher or an occupational therapist may be able to help. They make special grips that slide on the pencil that facilitate the proper hold. I am wondering why this has not been a problem until 3rd grade when they learn cursive? They should have that down by 1st grade. Ask his teacher if the occupational therapist can help.

    My sensory-sensitive kid had a difficult grip too, and what was helpful (didn't "cure" his writing difficulty, but helped him) was the claw pencil grip. You can get a bag full on Amazon, and if you give them to his teacher to use for the whole class, he won't feel so weird doing it. You don't even have to let him know it's from you, to avoid a power struggle.and if kids already use the correct grip, they will find it fun and comfortable and your son might too. The thin soft rubbery grip has 3 deep "cups" arranged around a central hole meant for the pencil, and the tips of your fingers sit in the cups and keep your fingers in the correct position for writing. Good luck!

    You might want to consider the HANDLE Institute, Holistic Approach to Neuro Developmental Development. Local practitioner is Sindy Wilkenson in Lafayette at the Enhanced Learning and Growth Center 925-934-3500. I'm sure she can explain more clearly than can I, but they might say that these issues are not about hand position but neurological development, so through a series of exercises the sensory issues, including the handwriting, are addressed and the more basic connections are strengthened. It's not cheap but the price includes an in-depth assessment, a customized plan for exercises that you do together, a check in a week to see how it's going, then monthly sessions to fine tune and advance the program for six months. I SO wish I had known about this when my son was young enough that I could essentially make him do it. . . It's a positive thing you do together to help him and it's fun. Good luck to you.

    I once received a suggestion for ergonomic issues to hold the pen or pencil between the knuckles of your index and middle finger. Your hand is pretty much in a fist, but with the palm down instead of facing to the side. For me, I don't have quite as much dexterity as with a standard grip (but that could be practice), but it's remarkably easy to write fluidly. I don't know if your son would take to that better any better than the standard grip, but it seems worth a try.

    I can share my experience from a few years ago.  My son also did not have a good grip for writing.  It is a very difficult thing to change.  We tried "grip adapters for writing utensils" which you can google.  These are soft rubber pieces that slide on the pen.  It was no magic solution, but helped me feel like I was doing something.  I just noticed this on Amazon, the Pencil Grip Writing Claw, says it: "eliminates thumb-wrap and fist grips."   I think a fist grip will be even harder to shift, and my thought is to use a completely different shape pen to help your child.  If you google ergonomic pens, you will find some ideas,  the PenAgain, has a completely different grip that your child might be willing to try.   My son never became adept at cursive.  Maybe an occupational therapist would be able to help.  My son's teachers did not have the skills to address the concern.  

    Thanks for all of the helpful suggestions! We will ask about the OT at our next SST meeting. I like all of these ideas and am open to trying anything to get this fixed. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Teaching Kindergarteners How To Hold A Pencil

April 2011


I am curious to find out what kind of handwriting instruction your Kindergartner receives. Does their teacher show them how to hold a pencil and proper letter formation? If so, are these skills taught throughout the whole school year? If not, what is the teacher's philosophy about why they do not teach pencil grip and letter formation? -anon

Our son is Kinder at Thousand Oaks in Berkeley. The first thing they were taught was how to properly hold a pencil. ''Pinch it, flip it & got it.'' was the saying they used. For learning letters, one method used is Handwriting Without Tears. Also they use phrases to learn to write each letter. I think it's call SFA (Success For All) Alphabet Phrases. Example, for a lower case ''a'' they would trace and/or write an ''a'' while saying ''around the apple and down the leaf/stem''. Writing letters correct is practiced throughout the year and we're also given homework to reinforce what's being taught at school. Mommy of a 2nd Grader & Kinder

My daughters go to Emerson Elementary in Berkeley. Two weeks into kindergarten, my younger one got taught the proper grip, and her handwriting as well as her drawing changed instantly from the worst in her preschool to among the best in K. It was simply amazing. There is a lot of work on handwriting, and I think they will even learn cursive before too long! Heidi


10 year old with handwriting difficulties

Sept 2010


I know there was a similar posting a few weeks ago but I didn't catch the advice offered. My 10 year old 5th grade son has always had a difficult time with handwriting and drawing. His penman ship is now legible but far from neat, he still mixes lower and uppercase letters and really only draws stick figures and very simple objects (his work looks more like that of a 6 year old) He is dexterous with other fine motor skills like working with tools or beads, his hands are very strong and he grips the pencil normally. He has no problem with spelling,vocabulary, comprehension or sentence structure but writing is VERY slow and exhausting. His hand can't keep up with the thoughts so he despises writing and generally writes just enough to get by. He has always complained about hand fatigue and that it is physcially painful to write despite holding the pencil correctly and sitting with good posture. We do plan to work more on touchtyping but at this age writing by hand is crutial for school. Any advice on how to make this less painful would be much appreciated.

What you describe is pretty classic dysgraphia. How are his other language skills (reading, writing, spelling)? If it is only the handwriting, you can work with an occupational therapist or an educational therapist who handles dysgraphia. If he works well with you, you could also use the Handwriting Without Tears program, which is available online (HWTears.com), and designed for either classroom or home use. It's pretty great.My own kids learned with it in public school, and I wish all schools used it. If you want to go with a professional, you can call Michelle Ross, E.T., at the Scottish Rite Temple in Oakland, who uses HWT, and I'm sure there are plenty of others around who do too. Tell her I sent you, and good luck whatever you choose. If you think there are other issues in play (spelling, reading etc.), I would be happy to talk with you. I'm not a handwriting specialist, but I do work with language-based learning differences, and handwriting is often a piece of that. CK

Get the workbook, ''Handwriting Without Tears''. My son has sensory integration disorder and his OT has him work on handwriting with this book. My son is never excited to do ''homework'' so I would have to say that the title may be a bit misleading as they still have to do the work, but his penmanship has improved. Lisa

I would have him tested or seen by an Occupational Therapist or Learning Specialist. Maybe even look into a Developmental Pediatrician. There is something called Dysgraphia, which I don't know much about, but just list it to let you know that there are diagnoses out there that may apply to your son. Once you know what the problem is you can get OT or other help for him as well as looking into a 504 plan with the school which would allow him ''accomodations'' like extra time for writing, less writing, or the use of a computer, to assist him. Re the 504, typically the schools are reluctant to do them and you may need an advocate to come in with you to get it. This is someone who does this as part of their job and you would hire them on your behalf. Good luck. Greenzebra

I recommend that you see a pediatric occupational therapist. They will work with your child on a series of hierarchical exercises to enable her to hold the pen properly. In Orinda, I recommend Lee Ann Williams, Gail Gordon, and Kristine Hubner-Lavin. I'm sure you'll find others nearer to you. The public school districts also have OTs. You can request an evaluation to see if she would qualify for school services. JC

Least expensive option: Crayon Rocks (soy based tiny crayons that are shaped so you have to hold them in the elusive ''tripod'' grip). More expensive option: Pediatric Occupational Therapy. That's what they do. Good luck. Carey


3rd grader has great difficulty writing

May 2010


My son is in 3rd grade, and has never been a happy writer. He has a long history of staring at a blank page and being completely unable to come up with anything to write. Even if he's given prompts, pictures, ideas, questions... he can't get himself to start. It creates a lot of stress at our house, as his schoolwork is increasingly report-oriented.

His handwriting, which has always been quite poor, is getting a bit better, but he still needs constant reminders to put spaces between his words. If he tells me the words, I can take dictation for him, and he can copy it over, but he still doesn't like that. At least he gets the words on paper. And he often has quite a lot to say, although sometimes his wonderful verbage will get cut short because he doesn't want to have to write it all.

Everything else he does is above grade level, but that one thing is not only nowhere near grade level, it's also just going to get harder as he goes into 4th grade. His 2nd grade teachers gave him 'handwriting without tears' which actually did cause quite a few tears and not much improvement, and his 3rd grade teacher has been giving him extra time, extra help, and visits to the language specialist [that's recent]. Finally, he also gets extremely frustrated with his inability to type quickly - not that it helps transfer his thoughts to the page either.

What is this? What else should we do? -frustrated kid, frustrated parent!

Just wanted to let you know- you're not alone. You just described my 9 year old son EXACTLY! Unfortunately I don't have any advice but we have had the same struggles and same advice/interventions from teachers. We've tried it all but his writing is still sloppy, the process is still torturous and he always underachieves in writing because the process of putting thoughts on paper is so frustrating. And just as you describe typing is only slightly easier for him than handwriting. I too have had the most success with letting him dictate to me and then copy over my handwriting (otherwise he will write less just to be done with it). The best advice I have received is to have him really learn to touchtype. It seems that many teachers in the upper grades allow kids with handwriting difficulties to use computers if it improves their work. Still hoping it's a phase

Hi - My son is 14 but had similar experiences. My advice is to get a good tutor to help him with writing, and get him evaluated ASAP for learning disabilities.

My son learned to read but never liked it and had a lot of trouble writing. We had him evaluated by the school district and Caroline Johnson (neuropsych and one of the best). He was diagnosed with AD/HD and a mild/moderate language processing issue (dyslexia). He also has issues with handwriting (dysgraphia) and started keyboarding in 3rd grade. Problems with writing are common with learning disabilities, but can be missed if kids learn to read without extra help. Schools don't want to evaluate kids, you should make a request in writing for an evaluation under IDEA and/or a 504 plan to get special services at school. You can do a private evaluation and either pay or see if insurance will cover the expense. You will need to be aggressive to get real help from public schools, and outside services are often of better quality.

My son has worked with Pam Marquardt at Grasshopper Tutoring for six years now. She's a former elementary teacher who understands learning disabilities. She is competent, compassionate and respectful of kids with learning issues - the kind of teacher we all pray our kids encounter in their life. You can google her web site. Having a tutor makes it easier for kids, who are less likely to act out with a third party and you can have a less charged relationship with your child.

My son is doing basically very well, but still struggles with some issues at school. He is happy, and self- confident, and learning to develop his skills in areas outside of academics. For these kids the real challenge is surviving school with their sense of self intact, and not letting their academic issues define who they are as human beings.

By the way, the best advice I got was to bolster your kids areas of strength, even at the expense of spending time and energy reinforcing their weaknesses. They are more likely to spend their life doing the things they are good at then the things they struggle with. We all hopefully, play to our strengths when choosing a career. For my son it's art, music, friends, outdoor skills. I think the best book in this area, if you are into reading is Mel Levine's ''The Myth of Laziness'' (the title may not be exact). Good luck. anonymous

typing may be your long-term solution. i believe that having read-able handwriting is a life skill (how 20th century!), so I've been holding off on encouraging typing.

In terms of writing as a skill, I'm pretty convinced it's something you have to do to improve. It depends on your son's temperament and whether your relationship could handle it, but why not have him write every day over the summer? Attach it to something he wants that he can earn. Or, just say it's the price of all the summer fun. The fall-back topic is always what he did yesterday. Get a notebook, and he will be able to see the progress he made by the end of the summer. My mother made me write much more than the school required and (only in retrospect) I realize how much it helped. I do it now with my son (who is another stare-into-space-guy because he doesn't know what to write).

Other people will recommend learning to type programs, but even then I still argue for daily writing on the computer. And, turn off spell-check so he learns to spell.

My motivation is simple. I'd love to have other kids forced to write so my son can't say ''everyone else doesn't write over the summer...'' wielding a whip

Hi, Our son had difficulty with hand writing and it got in the way of his writing for content. We used the summer to teach him typing skills. We got the teacher to agree that if the assignment was handwriting (letter formation with a pencil or pen) he would use a pen or pencil. If the assignment was ''brainwriting'' (writing for content) he would use the computer.

Getting the letter formation out of the way made it much easier for our son to express himself. There is a tool called an AlphaSmart. Most schools have some. It looks like a keyboard with a small screen. The alpahsmart can plug into any computer so your son can write his home work on it using it and then plug it into the computer at school to print out the finished work or to continue working on it at school. Tyler

Hi, I've been a writing tutor and also have a son in third grade with messy handwriting. For some people, the act of writing itself is anxiety-producing. I've found that if you ask the topic question of someone, then write down the response YOURSELF, the spell of anxiety is released. This way the person can concentrate on the content of what he or she has to say, rather than getting it neat or ''right.'' You mentioned that your son has a lot to say so I think this might be true in his case. In my opinion it's much more important to feel confident about writing and to concentrate on the what (the content) than the actual physical act of writing. If your son's teacher feels strongly that he practice handwriting or typing, he can always take what you've written down (of his words) and write it or type it again. Substance Over Form

You are describing my child. He has had the same problem all of his school years (he's in 3rd grade also) -- but with us, we knew what was happening because his father had the exact same problem. Your child most likely has a learning disability. Sometimes it's referred to as dysgraphia.

But the problem seems to be that the act of writing takes up so much of the child's working memory that there's no room left for what they are going to write. Typing is a similar problem, though it can be less severe.

We have done several things for my son:

1) we got him classified with an IEP, so that he can have extra time, and time in the resource room (and help from the lovely resource teacher) with fewer distractions, to complete more complex assignments. They also provided some occupational therapy for him.

2) I do exactly as you say with what we call ''composition'' assignments (i.e. where he has to write a paragraph about something) -- he dictates, I write down, he copies. That way he can learn the skill of composition uninhibited by the physical act of writing

3) We did a series of writing exercises, every single morning before school, for over a year. They came from the Handwriting without Tears book. Every day he did a page, and for a week's worth of pages, no muss no fuss, he got a reward (in his case a pack of Pokemon cards). If you would like to contact me, you can email me with your phone # and we can talk more about this. K

I was a career elementary school teacher at the same time a mother of a young son. My son like many boys had terrible handwriting in elementary school. Once he learned to decode the words he became an avid reader, but the decoidng part was a challenge. (He learned to read in second grade, rather than first). He is now an adult, with a background in the building trades, and has acquired the writing of buildters and architects which is - printing. Boys' fine motor coordination may come later than that of grilds, and expecting him to have the neat penmanship of a girl may be too stressful. I opt for the dictation option. Query-does typing demand the same fine motor coordination that he seems to be lacking right now? Lynn Mother of 45-year-old son who had handwriting issues

Son had similar struggles with handwriting and with writing output, ie extreme difficulty writing in English and later history, etc. We did not think to have him tested until 8th grade. Didn't know that public schools will test,upon request. The tests were not conclusive and we had him privately tested in 9th grade. There were a number of issues including ADD, dysgraphia and expressive language issues. It went undetected for so long that he also became anxious and depressed. I encourage you to request that your school test your son. The sooner you figure out if your son has any LD, the sooner you can get a 504, IEP, and get him the accommodations he needs to succeed. Don't delay. -Been there


4-year-old can't write his name

Jan 2010


My daughter's oldest child just turned 4 last month. She also has a 2 year old. The 4 year old was very slow learning how to talk; Wisconsin (where she lives) sent out a therapist once a week to teach him sign language but then he started talking, esp. when she put him in a nice day care last year half day. Now, he can write and read ''H'' and likes to proclaim ''H is for Harris!'' (his name) but my daughter is concerned because he can't write his entire name. She says the other kids in his class do. I know nothing about any of this, but told her that kids ''get it'' at different ages, and he will get it, just be patient.

I wonder if there is a correlation between learning to talk and learning to write? Also, is this variation in learning amongst kids in this age normal? Meaning, it's normal for some kids to be writing their name at 4, and others to not be?

I might add that the 2 year old is completely different: he is babbling words (single and double syllables) trying to put sentences together (and is SO CUTE!!! with his soft baby voice!!!). The contrast with the 4 year old is striking. We are unsure if it's because he has an older brother to talk with and the day care, to stimulate language, or something innate in him. anonymous Nanni

Dear Nanni, I think you are right that kids ''get it'' at different times. Not all kids can write their name at 4. My very bright daughter was an early and precocious talker, but didn't learn to write her name until age 5, and often got the letters out of order or backwards. Or added extra letters. It was adorable! She started reading and writing pretty well in a very short period of time when she was almost 6. Zoe's mom

Talking late is correlated with dyslexia. Dyslexic kids struggle with writing and spelling as well as reading. Early intervention can make a big difference. You could read the book Overcoming Dyslexia.

It has two charts, one of development of speech, language, prereading and reading skills for typically developing kids and one for dyslexic kids that can help you decide whether what you are seeing is cause for concern. You may want to encourage your daughter to have her son evaluated through the local school district.

He may be young to get a diagnosis of dyslexia, but he is not too young to play lots of rhyming games and work on identifying initial and final sounds in short words.

Your grandson is lucky to have a grandma on the lookout. Good luck

It is VERY normal for a 4 year old not to write yet. While there is sometimes a correlation between late speech development and hitting expected writing and reading milestones, if he is learning his letters, and their sounds, that is perfectly age appropriate. Please don't let him be pressured to write his name now, this early kind of well-intentioned academic pressure easily backfires, and causes a lot of frustration for kids. If he can't write his name at 6, that would be more significant. anon


Cursive handwriting in K or 1?

Jan 2006


We came from cultures where cursive handwriting is taught before manuscript. We have been visiting some schools (public and private) for our prospective kindergartner and we noticed that the emphasis is given to manuscript writing and reading instead of cursive. We also realized that the transition from manuscript to cursive in the second or third grade is harder than beginning in K or first grade with the cursive handwriting. That is a cultural value that we\x92d like to preserve in our family, and for that reason we\x92re looking for a school (public/private) where the kids learn first to write/read in manuscript. Unfortunately, homeschooling is not an option. We live in Berkeley, so we are open to Berkeley, Oakland, Albany and El Cerrito areas.

I know that the East Bay French American School (Ecole Bilingue) starts kids out learning cursive handwriting before printing. I was quite amazed to learn that this is actually easier for children to do. Fran

My three girls attended the same Montessori school starting at age 2 and into the elementary years (the Renaissance School in Dimond District of Oakland). The first two learned block lettering first and then moved to cursive which was a hurdle (but not insurmountable, and their cursive over time has improved). The third child learned cursive first in preschool/K and at 6 years old, her cursive is beautiful. The children still end up learning block because most reading books are in block, but our school has been trying to locate more early reader books in cursive to reinforce that lettering a t the young age. In the long run, my children did recognize both and my 6 y.o. can write in block as well (it is also improving). A parent of one of her classmates says her son's cursive isn't so great, so there is probably an element of fine motor control, but I suppose that affects both cursive and block writing.

When the school said that my youngest would learn cursive first, I was concerned that it would affect her reading ''block'' books, but the school mentioned some evidence about a more natural progression from cursive to block (I can't remember the details anymore and it is probably similar to your cultural philosophy). In the end, I have observed with my child that learning to write cursive first was NOT a problem in terms of reading ''block'' books... in case anyone is wondering. Janna

1st grader with poor handwriting skills


Hello to all, My 6 1/2 year old is in a two-way English/Spanish curricula embedded in Cragmont Elementary School's regular school year. Her primary language is English, but she does seem to be acquiring Spanish along with most of the tasks required of 1st graders. Problem is this, her handwriting is poor. She has never liked to color, is better but still resistant to writing assignments. Her fine motor skills for writing/art/painting seem to be slow in coming. She also struggles to tie shoes. Otherwise she can and does everything else within the scope of fine motor just fine or better. Any suggestions on games, tricks, exercises, etc. on improving handwriting? Thanks in advance. Lu

My son, now a secondgrader, also struggles with his handwriting. He writes like a three year old. He also never colored as a preschooler and avoids writing whenever possible. He is 7 and just learned to tie his shoes last week. The resource teacher at his school suggested activities to build large motor skills and upper body strength (such as karate) so that he would be better able to develop his fine motor skills and suggested activities such as using his fingers to draw in the sand (for better tactile understanding of the relationship between hand and page), but because his academic performance was excellent in all other aspects, he was not eligible for the resource teacher's ongoing help. We then had him assessed by a developmental pediatrician (after getting a referral to one by our Health Net pediatrician) who then referred us to an occupational therapist. He has several activities that he does with his therapist: theraputty squeezes to strengthen his hands; bead stringing and pin pushes to develop his fine motor skills; drawing curves and circles for better control. In school he uses a special pencil grip (called Smart Start, I think) and a band that goes over the pencil and his finger to give him better form and control.

I highly recommend occupational therapy because as your child progresses in school, and writing becomes more and more important, there is going to be a real gap in how your child performs, and it can take forever to get resource help for your child. We have been trying to get the school to provide resource help since he was in kindergarten and haven't been successful so we went the private therapy route. Yvette

I have an eight year old with very poor handwriting, an issue we have been dealing with since kindergarten. I can suggest a few things.

We did occupational therapy in kindergarten with Gail Gordon,an occupational therapist, who worked with him on writing and other fine motor skills. We reinforced this at home.

Many of his issues have to do with how he holds a pencil, which usually can be corrected with a pencil grip. These are readily available at teacherparent stores (Lakeshore Learning in San Leandro, the Oakland Parent Teacher store, and also on the web at: http://www.thepencilgrip.com/thegrip.htm ). When we bought them we bought LOTS of them for all of the kids in his classroom. His pencil grip remains problematic. We are in the Oakland Public Schools, and while OT is available in the schools, our child didn't qualify (not bad enough, yet). We didn't deal with it much during second grade.

Now in third grade, where there is so much more writing, it's started to make life very complicated for him. We've decided to get what is called a 504 plan for him for dysgraphia. This is a disability designation. What Gail Gordon and Dr. Brad Berman told us is that the earlier he gets this in his file, the better it is for him. Because of the ADA, it compels the school to accomodate his disability. They are going to provide some OT, but more importantly make some accomodations in the classroom. Among these accomodations, he will be given a keyboard to use, longer time for written tests. Since it's in his file, these accommodations will follow him to middle and high school where it so much more of an issue.

Note that health insurance will in all likelihood not pay for your child's OT unless prescribed by your child's pediatrician, and even then, if you are in Pacificare/ABMG most likely still won't since it's not a medical issue according to them. I tried to get them to pay, or to give me an example of what they would pay and the only example of one that they would pay was for a downs syndrome child with tone problems.

In any case, they only refer to the group at AB/Herrick, and Gail was recommended by Dr. Berman whom we trust, so we paid out of pocket. This is not an inexpensive option ($65 a session) and probably not a choice for everyone.

Most likely, this is more than your child will need. If you'd like to discuss this further, I'd be happy to. Myriam

Someone wanted recommendations for her child who was having trouble with writing. These activities develop the muscles and the coordination that is needed. Some fun fine motor activities are: stringing beads, clay (spongy modelling clay is easy to work and can be used in small pieces), legos (also builds spatial reasoning), bristle blocks, making collages, sewing and lacing. Most of this you can make on your own, but Amsterdam Art has a selection of kits, and there's a company Lauri 8004510520 that has attractive lacing projects (Lakeshore Teacher's Supply carries some of their products). CDorf

My 6 year old, in first grade, hates to write. He's doing fine with reading skills. He loves art projects, puzzles, building things, etc, but has never liked coloring. I think some children develop this skill later than others. My 10 year old also hated to write and eventually he got better at it and it wasn't an issue. Their little muscles aren't used to holding pencils and doing this fine motor skill. It takes practice which can be frustrating. Now that Kobi can sound out words he enjoys filling in the missing letter of 3 letter words (and drawing the picture of it) ie: If the given letters are P E ___he might fill in a T and draw a picture (very basic pencil drawing) of a cat or dog. He loves connect the dots, which improves his number reading. This works for us. Fighting with him did not work. My suggestion to you is not to worry about it and let her progress at her own speed, with encouragement but not pushing. Good luck. June

My daughter faced all the challenges you describe. My advice is to immediately request an evaluation by your school districts Special Education Department. Your request must be in writing and send a courtesy copy to your child's Principal. If possible, hand deliver your letter and ask for a dated receipt. The district must respond to your request within 15 days. I also suggest asking your pediatrician for an occupational therapy evaluation referral. The school district will do it's own evaluation. If you private evaluation supports the need for the school to provide services, the school is more likely to do so. The School District should provide occupational therapy as well as classroom support if her fine motor abilities are interfering with her abilities as a student.

I recommend you contact your district's special education dept. We live in Albany, and my son has been in speech therapy for two years (he'll be starting kindergarten next fall, but will be five this month). Last week, the speech therapist brought in an occupational therapist to work with him on his handwriting and other related skills, like painting and scissors. Apparently, these two are related (speech and fine motor skills). In his case, his neurological functioning is either delayed or different, but it's subtle, and is just enough to make such tasks very frustrating (resulting in avoidance behavior and alot of reluctance). The O.T. was able to figure out a better way for my son to hold the pencil than the usual, correct, way that seems to allow him to write much smaller and more comfortably. The school should be able to refer you to the appropriate specialist, and as it's public school, it should be free (it's actually covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act). Maybe even one time would be enough to get a feel for what's going on with your daughter. Best luck!Roxane W.

First let me tell you that a lot of first graders are struggling with this issue. It is good that you're taking notice and trying to help, especially since children will have to do increasingly more writing and you don't want your child to become frustrated. The finemotor skills can often impede the flow of ideas and make writing a painful experience. I have had much success with a program called handwriting without tears. They are on the web. Also, buy as many different pens as you can: different sizes, shapes, colors etc. will make drawing more enticing. Playdough, chalk, writing in the sand, fingerpainting in the bathtub: all this is good. A keyboarding class would also be helpful for writing assignments in the meantime. Get dolls or other toys that teach how to tie shoelaces, zip zippers etc. Finally, you may get advice from an occupational therapist. A good one to call would be Liz Isono at 9252530788. Most importantly, keep praising your child and don't make this a big issue. You don't want her to become selfconscious and start comparing herself to her peers or worse, start to dislike school. Petra


2nd grader's trouble writing and drawing

March 2004


My second grade son has had trouble with writing and drawing all along. His written work has consistently been the messiest and his drawing the least developed in his class. He is also very intelligent, verbally adept, and athletically gifted. He's reading about at grade level but has some fluency issues. His (private) school has recommended that he work with an educational therapist over the summer on the writing and reading fluency. I spoke with the therapist and she charges quite a bit...in fact if we did what was recommended it would cost around $1000. That's a lot for us, we are really stretching to afford his school. On the other hand we want him to get the support he needs. Has anyone else had experience with this? Did you get the extra support and feel it was money well spent or did you wait it out and just teach him to type or some other solution? Thanks for your help! anon

Hello, When my son was in first grade he had trouble with his writing skills. Fortunately, he went to a wonderful montessori school and we were instructed by his teacher to teach him to cross stitch. Since I knew how, I easily taught him, and he would spend hours doing simple projects. It did improve his fine motor skills (writing/drawing). As for the reading issue--I would spend more time reading with him (both you reading to him and him to you). Hope the advice helps. mother who has been there

Our son, now in second grade, has had similar writing difficulties since kindergarten, as well as other fine motor issues, and still does. Two years ago, we signed him up for some OT (occupational therapy) at a local hospital and they spent LOTS of time, much to our surprise, on improving handwriting. They use a pencil grip and his handwriting did improve to some extent, although the spacing is still a problem, and he is not yet writing cursive. You might check this out, as many health plans will pay for OT services. anon

Perhaps you could investigate some alternative rather than traditional methods. My son, too, is sloppy with his writing, not that advanced in his drawing (although he loves and is very expressive in water colors), and performing well above average in math and reading. We created a project last summer where we had a journal conversation. I expected his neatest writing and we had a great deal of fun with this. And again, you can also let him find other ways to express himself artistically (painting, sculpture, legos?). Also, my kids godmother has done some very interesting and non-traditional tutoring work where she just helps kids relax with what they are doing. It isn't always necessary for kids to be on par with some expected average at that age, so if you do work with him, I suggest that it be in a very relaxed way so he doesn't feel some pressure to perform. Good Luck! Beth

Sounds like your child may need Occupational therapy in particular, rather than general educational therapist. Among other things, Occupational therapists teach handwriting and drawing in systematic way to kids who don't acquire it from the mainstream class/ life route. Last I looked, private OTs were $80 per session (45 min or one hour I can't recall which -- so once a week for a 10 week summer would be like $800). You should ask your pediatrician/ look into your health insurance, it's possible to get it through insurance although that could be limited to kids with more overarching disabilities (I have no idea). In any case, insurance might pay for an evaluation if your pediatrician recommends it. Another cheaper route would be to get materials from Handwriting Without Tears (www.hwt.com I think) and do it yourself at home. But, I think HWT is just handwriting (so won't address drawing skills), and without professional intervention you won't address or areas that might require expertise such pencil grip or arm movement. anon


Can 8-year-old's illegible handwriting be corrected?

January 2007


My teacher was told by an OT that my eight year old's sons illegible handwriting cannot be corrected because it is habitual. My husband and I started taking him to a speech therapist and an occupational therapist and there has been some major improvements. He is doing well in school--except delayed reading--now we know--because we went for outside help that he has visual and processing issues. His math scores are high. He is fine. I wondered if the school's occupational therapist overloaded or uninformed? morning

I had poor handwriting until about the age of 10. At that point, my mother sat me down and made me practice out of a handbook every night for about 15 minutes before dinner. I'm now in my thirties and still get compliments on my handwriting. I did not have reading set-backs or anything, though, so I don't know if that makes a big difference. The point is that my mother helped me to change the ''habit'' of poor penmanship into excellent handwriting. I hope that's encouraging. helpful handwriter

Talk to Liz Isono (510-717-1300). She is an expert on children with handwriting problems. -

My son is only 5, not 8, but we've seen enormous improvement with a program called Handwriting Without Tears. Check it out on the web--perhaps you can order some workbooks and supplies yourself, or work with an O.T. (We found the program through our O.T.). There are separate programs for printing and cursive. cstalmann

You can purchase a book on how to write in calligraphy and make a pursuit of this yourself. Your son will be interested in what you are doing. He is pretty young for creating repeating forms but if he sees you doing it he will be interested. In addition if you write down in pencil what you would like him to learn and have him trace it with a felt tip pen he will learn to guide his hand in better formations. Also in Walgreens they have books for kids to form their printing letters correctly. You can get one of those and spend some time with him. In time he will retrain. show a love for doing these things and he will respond. Suzanne

When I hear any professional saying there's nothing that can be done, I think what they often really mean is THEY don't know what to do. If your son has shown improvement with outside help, you are on the right track. continue in that vein and is someone tells you something is hopeless, seek another opinion. good luck

Handwriting can often be corrected, and it is especially likely that you could do it with an eight-year-old. Talk to your pedeatrician, who can reccomend a specialist. Julian

Your kid sounds VERY much like mine -- my boy is now 12. He also has had somewhat ''global'' problems but at a fairly low level -- speech, visual processing, fine and gross motor (fine motor is the handwriting). And like your son, he was very smart and good at math. I'll bet your kid has a very highly developed memory, to compensate for his struggles at getting information down on paper or out through speech.

My experience is that a good OT and lots of work can help with the handwriting, but at around age 8 I bought my son an Alphasmart -- small word-processing computer, see http://alphasmart.com/ and sent him to typing classes at the Center for Accessible Technology in Berkeley, see http://www.cforat.org/.

What we found is that the process of producing words on page with a pencil/pen was so agonizingly difficult that all the cognitive stuff would just fall by the wayside. Typing overcame that to an enormous extent. He is now an avid creative writer, on the Alphasmart.

Keep working on the handwriting -- have you seen ''Handwriting Without Tears''? Again: http://www.hwtears.com/. Because there will always be times when he must write things down (math, for example). But let go of the idea that his handwriting will ever be beautiful. Good luck to you -- Letitia