Hear The Scratch
Learning the art of handwriting is probably one of the most difficult and long-lasting motor learning processes for a child.

Dysgraphia or an impairment in the ability to write neatly is a significant challenge for the affected child.

Parents who are reading this must learn that graphic movement is not the central target of most of the teaching that goes on in schools, but what is taught has to be based on the ability to write where a child is concerned as the ultimate goal of having good handwriting is to be able to produce a legible set of characters in the class work and homework books for children.

You can judge the quality of handwriting by its visual trace and mostly in school the child is provided information about the appropriateness of their handwriting by a posteriori feedback about the product visible on the class work book or an exam paper which is the visual trace, and the ongoing process, i.e. the handwriting movement is bypassed as a teaching concept.

What normally happens is that a diagnosis of poor handwriting, or dysgraphia, is based on the evaluation of the legibility of the written word rather than concentration on the ability of the child movements and how he is generating them.

While some children produce illegible handwriting and are easily identifiable as dysgraphic, a number of children produce a relatively readable trace that fails to convey any problem other than the teacher making a remark that ‘the child can write better if he or she makes an effort’ and is ascertainable only by a certain degree of slowness and a difficulty in writing.

As a first line of observation the mother and father can pay attention to their childs kinematics - through an exteroceptive sensory modality and use it to their advantage to help in their childs diagnosis and eventual remediation.

Parents can do this by observing and translating handwriting movements into the sounds produced by a child, which are perceptible when the process of beginning to write starts in school.

Mostly children make movements where handwriting is concerned in silence and they do not provoke any sound or only a slight sound. In this silent setting of beginning to write if you can understand how to perceive the sounds being made it can help you understand alternative perceptions and add a new insight about this action.

While you may not be able to measure the movement sonification process as we do at the Dyslexia Association of India™ a basic understanding of the process can present you as a parent with an entirely new perspective by being aware of the auditory component to the kinematic or dynamic movement parameters of your child.

Even a slight knowledge of the auditory perception of sonified movement can allow you to seek professional help in ensuring that your child gets recourse to effective strategies in motor control and learning.

Using this knowledge at a basic level - the learning to write child can be brought to the DAI™ for an analysis of multisensory integration of sonified movement so that once the actual problem is identified we can then work with you to improve both your childs ability at perception and create a platform of stability and accurate cognitive representation of the movement for facilitating and improving motor learning for the child.

Left to its own the quality of handwriting for any child is normally evaluated from the visual inspection of its legibility and not from the movement that he is using to generate the trace but you need to listening and understand the sounds that the scratch is making during the movement and this can be used to help towards its correct perception by the child and then he can be remediated.

Observe the pencil velocity, the fluency, and the axial pencil pressure along and you will hear bits of scratches that will correlate to where the child is making a scribble and where he traces the word correctly. This is an explicit procedure and best understood at home if coarse paper is used. Smooth strokes - and pen off paper time - will allow you to make an auditory evaluation which is more reliable than a simple visual evaluation for identifying a child who will develop a dysgraphic handwriting.

Pencil friction sounds on paper can help understand whether the child graphical movements are natural and fluid or jerky and inconsistent.

A slow velocity profile and inconsistent timbre variations of the sound made by the pencil on the paper can indicate that there would be a potential dysgraphia problem that is setting in, and you need to seek assistance immediately before an incorrect pattern of writing sets in.

Handwriting imposes complex movements which are not always fluid, in particular for children who are learning to write. When a child writes - his pencil will sometimes slow down and accelerate independently from the curvature of the grapheme and this can be an identifying feature for understanding how the automaticity of the handwriting process will develop.

The Dyslexia Association of India™ can help you identify the possibility of onset of dysgraphia using cues that reflect the movements underlying handwriting and to map the fluency of handwriting using kinematical variables associated with grapheme to phoneme variables.

This unique programme we have developed as a part of our Targeted Remediation using Advanced Intensive Neuroplasticity or T.R.A.I.N™ involving the sound to variable mapping performance helps us understand if the child has a lower velocity and a higher level of dysfluency, a lower percentage of pencil lift duration and a lower trace length for the child.

While it is debatable, our personal and equivocal opinion is that pencil lift duration also contributes to the development of dysgraphia as higher pencil lift in our personal opinion is related to tiring of the fingers and an improper grip and grip strength. Pencil lift is also related in our opinion to movement time across the page and the higher the frequency of pencil lifts the longer is the movement time across the page and larger the inconsistency in the upward and downward strokes that the child will make.

We find in our observation that decreased rates and larger letter size lead to more lag time and loss of speed with some children showing slow writing and others time wasted in pencil lifts - and dysfluency being the outcome of this anomaly.

Building a multimodal sensorimotor representation of handwriting is very difficult and put in a very simplistic manner evocation of friction sounds that your child produces with his pencil on paper can help understand successive impacts on the asperities of the surface and the developmental outcome of his fine motor skills of writing.

We also encourage you to view and try to understand the pencil pressure that you child is using on the paper sheet, as this is linearly associated to the sound volume, so that the higher the pen pressure the higher the volume generated and the higher the sound volume or ‘scratchiness’ the more you need to ensure that a professional assessment is undertaken. Do not try to be a self-evaluator as imperfect and partial knowledge, which is rudimentary, can do more harm than good to your child. Trying to rectify his problem without knowing the neuropsychological correlates to why it is happening can lead to pushing him in the wrong direction based on personal observations.

If in your observation you notice

1. Slow handwriting speed and an irregular rate.

2. Scratchiness corresponding to pencil lifts which are frequent.

3. Dysfluency with a mix of uppercase and lower case letters or jerks upwards and downwards specially when ending a sentence.

Then it is imperative to consider the possibility of the onset of poor handwriting skills or dysgraphia for the child.

Handwriting is not a noisy task; however the weak sounds generated by the pencil friction on paper can be heard in a silent environment, given a rough surface and a good example would be the traditional blackboard and the chalk used to write on it. When you observe lengthier silences - it may not be between sentences but within the word itself and these delays are positively related to poor handwriting development. On a visual observation one childs handwriting may come across as neat, but judged on an auditory scale it can show the possibility of dysgraphia developing unknown to the child and the parents.

The reason is that the visual evaluation of handwriting is based on the legibility of the letters composing the word but in an auditory modality - the hesitations, which are caused by fine motor problems, and close visual control and associated deficits exerted by children become evident.

Dysgraphia is not about the visual quality of handwriting in isolation. Handwriting is a static written trace and it does not show difficulties in movement. Dysgraphia is all about kinematics and movement, pencil strokes; lift time and fine motor organization from the brain - kinesthetic perception and proprioceptive integration that is not easy for most children. We tend to ignore a scrawly handwriting, assuming that with increasing age and grade, the automaticity of fluid and neat handwriting will form as a habit. But this is not so and like learning to read, learning to write is a technical phenomenon that has to be taught properly.

Illegibility of handwriting, not only affects the visual quality of academic work, but also prevents the correct communication of what is being presented on paper to an examiner and if an examiner cannot read what is written accurately, there is a fair bit of probability that your child will not be marked for his content accurately.

If you would like to know more about how the Dyslexia Association of India™ can help your child with his handwriting and his academic output, do call us on 8826022886 or e mail us at info@dyslexiaindia.org.in and set up an appointment to meet us with your child.

(Views and observations expressed in our articles are equivocal and personal based on our observations and experience. Being equivocal and personal they are non contestable and Individuals are under no pressure to confirm to our views, thoughts and observations. The accuracy ratio for screening and remedial processes of the DAI™ is extremely high.)

The examples of the two scripts below are clear examples of immaturity in the areas of ‘pen on paper’ time and the processes described above in the article. They were initially diagnosed incorrectly as having Dyslexia and a comprehensive evaluation at the Dyslexia Association of India™ brought out different neurological processes involved in these children’s Learning Disabilities. Both children are achieving in the 60-70% range now in school.