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Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Teens, Preteens, & Young Adults > Difficulty Writing - Middle School & High School
My son is in 8th grade at an academically rigorous private school. He is clearly very smart, verbal, good-natured, etc. When in elementary school he did a year or so of work with an OT to help with some mild sensory issues involving core strength, hand-writing, etc. He has always had atrocious handwriting, but has muddled through. Two issues at school are causing me to wonder if he is still in need of some help: his handwriting is more legible, but capitalization is, for him, not automatic. He knows the rules of punctuation - proper nouns, first words of sentences, etc. and can very clearly articulate them verbally, but when he sits down to write a paper there are random capitalization errors - it is as if he does not see them He also says that when he writes by hand his hand cramps up, and hurts. He uses a computer as much as possible, but it is not always possible at school. When we proof read his papers together, I am not sure that he even sees the mistakes. By 14, especially for someone who has read at an adult level since about 3rd grade, shouldn't this be more automatic? The other issue is in algebra: he has not done well on quizzes and exams, but when he meets with his teacher he is able to explain and seems to understand the material. It is just getting it out on paper with enough clearly written work shown. I am wondering if the two things could be related, and if he has some underlying processing issues with getting information on to paper. I am a teacher, but of much younger children, so am not sure what could be going on for him. If it is a true issue, that needs help, then I want to get the help and support that he needs. If it is, as some have said, 14 year old laziness, then that will be addressed differently. befuddled mom
I had my son evaluated by a number of professionals. He has been diagnosed as ADHD-Inattentive. He was never what most people might consider ''hyperactive'', ie. unable to stop moving or talking excessively. But he is not able to pick up on auditory directions or concentrate on lecture-style teaching as well as other students. After much deliberation, I had him put on medication. He is now a sophomore in high school, and his doctor has changed the type of medication and dosages just a few times. His focus and coping skills are improving, but he still struggles considerably with organization.
I am also a teacher of younger children: 1st grade. I firmly believe that this handwriting issue goes hand in hand with ADHD; I see it every day in my own classroom. I've come to realize that I myself had attention issues in school also, but it seems that if a person is gifted intellectually, the inattentiveness can go unnoticed for quite a long time usually because of very high standard test scores.
I urge you to have your son evaluated. You probably will have to pay out of your own pocket for this, as I did. You may email me anytime if you'd like. Hang in there! elain
My 10 yr old son has extreme angst when it comes to writing. This has been going on since 3rd grade. Whenever he has a writing assignment for homework it literally takes him 3+ hours to finish it, and more than half of that time is spent by him moaning and groaning and just paralized from thinking of what to write. Once he gets over that stage, and this happens when we finally say if he dosen't write something soon, he will have to bring it to school unfinished, he can write a pretty darn good paragraph, essay, etc.
I need to know if other parents have these issues and how you achieve good results. We try to encourage him, but it dosen't seem to get to the root of the problem. I just hate to see him go through this funk everytime he has to write something, and there has to be a way for him to do it efficiently so that he dosen't spend hours and hours on it. Are there motivational teachers/tutors out there who can help? thanks so much worried mom
She advised beginning each piece of writing with the phrase: ''The most amazing thing happened when...''
This always worked to get our son started, and once started, he was fine.
Once the piece was written, the author said, it was fine to go back and eliminate that first sentence, or rewrite it, as needed.
With this trick in hand, writing stopped being an issue and now our son no longer uses this trick, at all. -Muse
Try getting him a graphic orgnizer of some type that will help put his thoughts down in a logical, sequencial order that he can write from. This can be as simple as a piece of pape divided into columns or a web with the subject in the center and individual spokes coming out from it with the subject details.
There is also a great computer program called ''Inspiration'' that is an on-screen organizer. It's possible that once he knows how to organize his thoughts, he will feel more in control, and the writing process will become easier.
I am an educational therapist, and I have helped many reluctant writers develop successful strategies to help them succeed in school. One way I do this is to show students that they have all the words inside them; they just need help in getting them out.
I hope this helps. Feel free to email me. Jamie Keller
To get the ball rolling, write to the principal (if it's not in writing, it didn't happen), and demand an assessment to determine if your child is qalified for an IEP. The school district (SD) then should evaluate him. (If they don't, they have to give you Prior Written Notice, which is a letter (it must be in writing) explaining IN DETAIL why they think your child should not be evaluated to see if s/he qualifies for an IEP. You can then use this PWN letter to escalate your case up the food chain in your SD or in a due process hearing.)
If the SD agrees to evaluate the child, the SD will arrange to give appropriate tests to the child. The IEP team will then review the results of these tests (from standard assessment tools like WISC III/IV and Woodcock Johnson) PLUS parent and teacher observations, medical diagnoses and private testing results, if any, grades, results from standardized academic tests, performance on school work and homework, et al. as appropriate. A dx is not necessary; the IEP addresses the child's actual needs or weaknesses and should not be based on a label.
If he qualifies for the IEP, the team will then develop an IEP, which should include goals for specific deficit areas and MEASURABLE objectives. Then and only then does the IEP team determine the placement of the child (regular classroom, LD class, regular class with pullouts, etc.). Then all you have to do is make sure the school implements it successfully. (This is actually the hardest part.)
Here are some IEP resources to get you started:
Re links on how to craft a good IEP: Here's a memo containing ''Examples and Tips of Making IEP Annual Goals Measurable'' from the Wisconsin public schools http://www.cesa7.k12.wi.us/sped/issues-IEPissues/writingiep/GoalsMeasurable.html brad
For this problem, a keyboard may do the trick, with good keyboard instruction and practice. AlphaSmart.com, with the most commonly used keyboards, has three models from $229 to $379 (the latter has a much bigger screen). They're Mac and PC compatible.
The other problem may have to do with organizing ideas and written expression. I really like ThinkingMaps.com because they're purposive - one map doesn't fit all, unlike the bubble ''mind maps'' that have nothing to do with the writing requirement. The web site http://www.thinkingmaps.com/ htthinkmap.php3 or http://tinyurl.com/6ecn5 has an explanation of the pedagogy and links to the individual maps, which can be enlarged. They work for all ages. Sometimes getting out the ideas without first feeling committed to the paragraph can be a big relief.
Sometimes a kid has both problems, which is pretty frustrating and may make the kid eligible for special education or 504 accommodations (e.g., access to classroom computer or school-provided AlphaSmart (usually the oldest model), extended time for writing).
Note: I'm not being paid by either company. Dana Lear, DrPH
My kid would just get so overwhelmed with a big paper that it would really help to break it up like that, and he'd often dictate a little to me and then take it over once he had a start. I don't know if your child is allowed to do papers on the computer, or if you even have one, but handwriting is lots slower. I think in one case I let his teacher know that he needed to use the computer for papers because his hand- writing was so poor that it just took him too long (another story - he never learned cursive.) Also on the computer you can write the "guts" first, and then easily go back and add in the opening paragraph, move stuff around, etc.
I think my "secretarial skills" eventually got him into the habit of doing this planning for himself, and he can now sit down and write a paper without assistance - he's even taking a creative writing class in college just for pleasure! Good luck. Ginger
I am the mother of a reflective, bright, 12-year-old 6th grade boy at King who is having a hard time with the handwriting and drawing aspects of his language arts homework. I really like his teachers, but I feel that asking kids to copy sentences out of books and draw pictures is not exactly contributing toward any critical thinking skills, or anything else I can imagine is useful. (But I'd welcome opposing views here.)
This is a longstanding problem. When he was four, he chose not to write his name (a long one), but rather made a capital A, and with a few deft strokes, turned it into a space ship. That was his signature. When he was in kindergarten, there was virtually no writing. His first grade teacher was too freaked out by control issues to work on printing. In second grade, his really creative teacher said "he's got great ideas and has a hard time writing them down; why don't you take dictation for him" and in third grade, the same wonderful teacher taught color theory instead of cursive writing. The summer following, I bit the bullet, pulled out my (deceased 3rd grade teacher) mother's Palmer method handbooks, and tried to make learning to write fun! I only partially succeeded. His fourth grade teacher made cursive happen, with grit, and it wasn't pretty. He has become adept at putting off the horrid aspects of his homework (boy, have we seen some sunrises) and at saying his piece more succinctly than his teachers would like, in handwriting anyway.
I've encouraged him to use the computer to compose, but at this point, I'd really like a referral for an excellent person who can evaluate what's going on, and help us remedy the block or the problem. An occupational therapist? A writing teacher? I don't know. All I know is this is one smart kid who can discuss complex ideas for hours and won't willingly write one iota more than he needs to squeak by -- and barely.
A tired mom
So, I don't know why this works, but it might be something to try. (And I'd surely like to know if anyone else has had similar, or a different, experiences. I might have to rethink my opinion, based on my childhood memories, of learning the Palmer Method!)
Looking for help for my 12 year-old son. He will receive his first bad report card this month as a 7th grader in a private school. A big part of his problem is currently unintelligible handwriting, a skill his teachers in the public schools didn't teach, for which he shows no aptitude, and with which his teachers no longer have any patience. Because it's hard for him he is also averse to writing, and underperforms on written assignments: a classic example being using synonyms instead of definitions on a vocabulary test... He types when possible, but still avoids writing more than necessary (or slightly less, hence the grades). He also has much poorer drawing skills than his peer group, but the repercussions from that have been slight.
This year is the first year that his generally sweet demeanor has not gotten him out of the problems his chicken scratch gets him into. Because he has other organizational issues (losing assignments, forgetting to do homework, etc.) and a family history of ADD, it may be that an assessment for related learning problems is in order.
But... because he is a 12 year-old boy, it may also be that this is a stage he's going through, and that all he needs is help with his handwriting, and consistent support from his parents.
One question is whether to consult an OT, or get a broader evaluation, but in the larger sense, I'm hoping someone else has been on this road before and can tell me which way to go -- all suggestions gratefully accepted.Thanks! Anonymous for my boy's sake
I hope some of this information is helpful. It would be helpful to know what is the underlying problem, as you mentioned you might need to do some kind of evaluation. An OT eval might be a good place to start, or maybe consulting a pediatric behavioral and developmental physician. Good luck to you and your son vivian
If he has organizational problems (as our child did) try helping to sort that out. That will weed out a lot of his confusion and inablity to keep up. Our son's teacher paired him with an A student and she showed him how she writes down assignments and organizes her work. That helped a lot. Sometimes too, the kids are overwhelmed with advice from teachers and parents and shut us out. So if you can get another kid, or older kid to help him, that works great - they listen much better - it's amazing! A friend of mine also had a specialist teach their kid how to organize themselves too - see if the school has one they recommend. Does he have a ''system''? A schedule/assignment book where he writes everything down, broken down by subject? Our son had to write down assignments in his book, then check them off as he completed them, then check them off a second time as he double checked that they were in the proper area of his folder. Find out what ''system'' the teachers have - some write the assignments down on a corner on the board, or hand out sheets, ask them so you can remind and go over this with your son. Also, I'd talk with his teachers to let them know you know what the issues are and work out a plan - in phases to help him out. It really takes a huge commitment on your part to make it happen. Anytime we slacked on our son, he slipped immediately back to old habits. Check in with him every day on homework, help him plan which assignments to tackle first, etc. Basically, do everything you can for him until he can handle it on his own and give him one new thing to do at a time. So if that means you tell him what assignments to do, how to organize them, where to put them in his notebook (so they don't get lost), to pack his bag before he sleeps, wake him up and make sure he has his stuff etc.
Also, our son was so overwhelmed he would try to avoid or lie to us and say he was ''fine'' or doing ok. So his teacher wrote us a note every day for about 2 weeks to let us know if he actually did what he was supposed to do. Not every teacher is this supportive, but perhaps they can write a weekly note home about where he did and did not follow through on assignments. It makes an incredible difference when kids know the adults are paying close attention. Let him know you are his partner in figuring this out - and whatever you do, don't lecture! Both me and my partner work full time so this was quite tiring for us, but well worth it. They just can't do it on their own. Even though sometimes you want to ''believe'' they are doing ok, just so you don't have to work as hard yourself! And this age comes with so much to deal with. They also transition from elementary to middle school with several different teachers and social pressures etc. Our son has shot up 8 inches in 6 months and is going through so much it's amazing he handles all he does. He now does his homework and is done before dinner! We really can't believe it ourselves.
Another thing that helped was getting an outside tutor. If you can't afford it, look into a local program that may be free or low-cost. Our son loved having others he felt comfortable to ask for help, instead of parents who might slip into lecture mode. Also, find out which teachers are available at lunch and before/after school to help. Our son had to go to school early every day and go to lunch or after school to clear up any confusion.
Our son also was a chicken scratcher, but once the other muddle cleared up, so did his writing. it's amazing how neat his work is now. Before, he'd literally scratch his name on the top of the paper like the tazmanian devil and not notice how awful it was. But i think when they are overwhelmed, disorganized and frustrated, you have to take it one issue at a time and it literally helps clear up the rest. once he realized how writing neater helps him w/ his work, then it wasn't an ''issue.'' For us (and maybe your son) the messy writing was more a symptom - not the cause. Your son is definitely old enought and capable of making this change - it's just helping him do it in logical steps. Good luck to you! stick by his side
We have moved our son to doing homeopathy and acupuncture. Both holistic systems recognize the individuality of a child and don't treat them on a generic level. The other symptoms that you mention also seem familiar and again for those I have used homeopathy and seen wonderful results.
Other than that - Be patient and understand that your child is probably going through embarrassing moments in school which must be affecting his self esteem. My son is 8 and I am already seeing signs of low self confidence. Best of Luck. anon
I'm not saying you should make your kid write grafitti, but at his age the combination of a self-determined, self-directed activity involving eye-hand coordination (could be drawing, knitting, building stuff, maybe a computer drawing program) that builds confidence and sets him apart as an individual works wonders. been there
My first inclination as both a mom and a teacher (especially if money is hard) is to buy one of those handwriting books and sit with him practicing forming letters correctly. Between now and summer you can probably get a lot done toward seeing if progress happens. You definitely will need to get some buy in on his part... Don't present it as a punishment, but do explain that this is part of a greater process aimed at improving his handwritting since he won't beable to type everything his whole life.
If going over how to make the letters correctly, and practicing that don't help them you can start him on some tests. UC Optometry has a Binocular Vision clinic that can test him to see if you are dealing with a visual/motor coordination problem. If that is the problem, then they will give him exercises he can do. I don't know if they cost more than the OT you are considering. It may be worth the call.
Regardless of the cause there are a couple of things that can help... one is as you already are doing... to see if he can type assignments. On assignments he can't type make sure that he is using wide ruled paper (not college ruled) and is taking time with his work. A lot of bad handwriting at this age seems to be from rushing to get the work done.
The second part of the problem that you describe, using the fewest number of words possible, is also very common. As a teacher I am forever telling kids to provide more details and explain their answer. A related problem that I have to repeatedly address is kids who do not give complete answers... they just move from the question to ''because...'' There is no magic answer to this one. As a teacher, I go over my expectations in class, and after they should have the idea, I dock points. What I recommend their parents do, is check their work. If you can't tell what the question was, and what the answer means by simply reading what is on the paper (not looking back at the book) then it needs to be rewritten. For some kids, that is enough incentive to put out the effort the first time. I know high school teachers who are struggling with the same problem. So it isn't something unique to your son or even being in junior high. Let's face it, lots of teens are looking for the shortest route to being done with the drudge of school work. (It is a lot like when they clean their room by pushing all the mess into the closet and under the bed. If they can get by that way, they will.)
If you think the problem is linked to the act of writting and not to comprehension, it could clear up as you work on the handwritting. Sometimes it helps to have a tutor who can go over the homework and how to answer questions so that there is less of a power struggle involved in the equation. (There are a lot of kids who don't want to hear from mom or the teacher about how to do it... but will take advice from an outside party.) Good luck! teacher mom
We decided to take our son to an educational therapist for testing (we had some of the same issues with missing assignments, disorganized school materials, etc.) to see if we could identify the problem and suggest a solution. We had confirmed what we already knew -- that he did have a deficit in this physiomotor area, but we also discovered that he could be classified as ''disabled'' if we wanted to go that route, because his deficit was that extreme. His dad and his brother seem to have a similar deficit in handwriting ability, so there's probably something genetic to it.
We learned that there really isn't any ''treatment'' since it's neurological in origin -- and being forced to say, practice handwriting, won't really help and will probably only frustrate him. Modifications to his school set up (e.g. having a laptop in a classroom--permitted if you have him documented as having a disability) and teaching him strategies for success like doing his homework on a computer (his output is of higher quality than if he handwrites) are about all we have come up with. Lately, we are trying an educational ''coach'' once a week to help with some of the school management issues; too soon to tell if that's going to pay off, and of course, it's expensive.
While my son does well on fill-in-the-bubble tests, he will certainly face difficulties with (timed) essay writing tests in high school and we may have to revisit the idea of having him assigned as ''disabled'' to make sure things are set up so he can show what he knows. As a teenager, you can imagine how much he will resist getting any special treatment like that. For us, it's also hard to adjust to since he is so smart and capable in so many areas. I'm happy to correspond with you by email if you like. We're just trying to figure it out, too. mnm
For handwriting, as with nearly all things, practice makes perfect. It is not too late to start. Your son is lucky to have a problem that is so simple to solve. David, Berkeley
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