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Helping your child with specific writing difficulty

Children with specific writing difficulty often suffer in silence. The acknowledgement that they have a problem that is not their fault is often of great comfort to them.

Occupational therapists provide advice and help with handwriting. Some have particular experience in this field and have developed special expertise in helping children with poor handwriting. Some teachers will have special skills in helping children with handwriting difficulties.

Analysis of the way the child sits and holds the pen is important, but it should be borne in mind that this is usually not a major part of the problem. There is no set of hard and fast rules about writing that applies to all children. Allowances should be made for individual differences. The younger the child, the easier it is to change the child’s posture and pencil grip. In an older child, it may be necessary to accept awkward postures that are very difficult to change and to concentrate on how the letters are formed.

Figures 7.7-7.9 show the ideal writing positions for right- and left-handers. Note that the child should be encouraged to hold the paper or book with his non-writing hand; he should not use it to support his head. A foot rest is helpful if the child’s feet cannot reach the floor. Non-slip mats under the writing surface may also be needed. Good lighting is essential.

Figure 7.10 shows the ideal ‘dynamic tripod’ pencil grip. Many children have variations on this grip that they use with success, but the ‘dagger’ grip (Figure 7.11) and the ‘hook’ posture of the left-hander (Figure 7.12) should

The ideal sitting position for writing. The back is straight, the forearms rest comfortably on the writing surface, and the feet are flat on the floor with the knees comfortably flexed

Figure 7.7 The ideal sitting position for writing. The back is straight, the forearms rest comfortably on the writing surface, and the feet are flat on the floor with the knees comfortably flexed.

The ideal position for cursive writing (right-hander). For manuscript writing, the paper does not need to be placed at a slant

Figure 7.8 The ideal position for cursive writing (right-hander). For manuscript writing, the paper does not need to be placed at a slant.

The ideal position for cursive writing (left-hander). For manuscript writing, the paper does not need to be placed at a slant

Figure 7.9 The ideal position for cursive writing (left-hander). For manuscript writing, the paper does not need to be placed at a slant.

'Dynamic tripod'grip

Figure 7.10 'Dynamic tripod'grip.

'Dagger'grip

Figure 7.11 'Dagger'grip.

'Hook' position (left-hander)

Figure 7.12 'Hook' position (left-hander).

A plastic pencil grip

Figure 7.13 A plastic pencil grip.

be discouraged. Usually, the best first writing implement is an HB pencil. A plastic pencil grip, such as the one shown in Figure 7.13, may be helpful.

In the early stages of learning to write, letters are often formed very large and may fill the page. Initially, blank sheets of paper may be used. Later, the child will learn to reduce the size of the letters and lined paper can then be introduced. Sometimes, squared paper or paper with special lines is needed.

It is best if the occupational therapist, or teacher, breaks up the task of writing the letters into steps, so that the child can practice each step in isolation. This teaching may be multisensory, with the child tracing the shape of the letter with his fingers in sand, walking in the formation of the letter, and having the letter traced on his skin. This may be helpful, but the emphasis should still be on writing on paper.

Letters with similar starting points and shapes should be taught in groups (Figure 7.14). When children first learn to form letters, this is usually done by tracing them. When tracing is accomplished, they can learn to copy them, and, finally, to write them from dictation. In the early stage of copying, the child may benefit from marks on the paper showing him where to start each letter.

Letters should be taught in groups with similar starting points and shapes. The top line shows some of the 'c' group, and the bottom line shows some of the 'I' group

Figure 7.14 Letters should be taught in groups with similar starting points and shapes. The top line shows some of the 'c' group, and the bottom line shows some of the 'I' group.

To make writing practice more interesting, the therapist may devise games and attractive materials for writing practice. As the child becomes neater with his writing, he may enjoy writing a letter to a friend, or copying the words of favourite songs, stories, or jokes. There should be plenty of praise for effort.

For children who cannot fulfil their need to express themselves because of writing difficulty, a laptop computer may be needed. In such a situation the advantages of easier expression will need to be weighed up against the possibility that the child will abandon further attempts to improve his writing.

It may be possible to obtain funding for a laptop computer from a government department or a local service organization. To avoid purchasing an expensive, cumbersome laptop computer, the NEO2, which was designed specifically for the classroom, is a cheaper and simpler alternative which could be considered. This is available worldwide from Renaissance Learning.

For many children with writing difficulty, a computer is an invaluable solution to their problem. Not only can they often be taught to type well, but as they learn to type, they may develop a better awareness of the sequence of letters in words.

 
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