I heat (hate) my skool (school)
A neat and easy flow of a childs ability to write is an essential activity for schoolchildren that enables the child to write within a reasonable period of time and communicate his/her knowledge and ideas in a medium that can be understood with clarity by everyone.

In a typical day, a child will spend almost 50% of his time writing, but we are finding that in India almost 60% and above children who are in school struggle with their ability to write neatly and have handwriting difficulties.

Fine motor ability along with cognitive, kinesthetic, and perceptual–motor ability - of a considerable number of children is impaired and usually very few parents consider it as a cause of concern as the thinking is that children mature with age and so does their handwriting ability.

Dysgraphia not only effects the production of written language, but also has a bearing on the total legibility and slow writing speed translates into more time to fulfill handwriting assignments in class and at home.

Slow and imprecise movements that are less mature, eventually lead to lower accuracy in academic performance and these children lag behind their peers due to more in-air time between letters and words.

Beyond the legibility of a child with dysgraphia timing deficits put a heavy burden on the cognitive and physical system and we observe that the child will be constantly erasing more frequently and complaining about how tired his hand is and how much it pains and will slowly be unwilling to write and complete her class work and homework. This will eventually impact on the emotional and physical brain and well being of the child with dysgraphia.

The emotional wellbeing of a child who is struggling with handwriting and who finds it difficult to keep pace with assignments in the class and home and who is not able to satisfy his teachers expectations or his parents expectations cannot be healthy and self esteem can be a major psychological barrier to the overall development of a child with Dysgraphia.

As children with poor handwriting progress to higher classes, the direct influence on their academic achievements will begin to show. It is self evident that if an examiner can not read what has been presented for marking, how much of an effort can that examiner put into understanding what has been presented on the answer sheet to him.

Neurally also a lack of mastery of the mechanical aspects of handwriting, which is a transcription ability, has an affect on the brain systems that are required for sequencing thoughts and eventually translating them into the composition of written text.

The critical issue is that dysgraphia can result in a child just giving up as they can feel that is it even worth making the effort. Once of the children who were brought to the Dyslexia Association of India™ at the age of 11 years had his mother mention that “he says I will speak and you write for me”. This is not a very positive prognosis for the academic future as a large number of children who have difficulty mastering handwriting skills develop a block that they cannot write or compose text.

Although parents know that there can be serious implications of their children’s handwriting deficiency -for their own children’s academic achievements and well being, the issue is mostly ignored until it is very late.

The DAI™ stresses the need to consider the childs own assessment of his or her own abilities, and that the parents actively seek to help their children as reading to learn is intricately linked to knowing to write.

Dysgraphia or a handwriting deficiency with its strong correlation to fine motor activity lowers a childs own belief about his/her ability to successfully perform academic tasks even if the actual level of cognitive ability may be high.

With poor self-efficacy a childs choice about whether or not to attempt a certain task - based on self evaluation of the amount of challenge and energy involved in a writing task - like an exam paper influences an internal decision to correctly represent what is learnt and leads to avoidance - which is either evident as a scribble on the paper or a high degree of anxiety where what is written is semantically and factually incorrectly represented, the result of which is - low academic scores.

Consistently low academic scores and negative feedback of persuasive information from school can influence the sense confidence about whether the child should avoid participating in certain academic as well as social activities which are extremely important for cognitive as well as social adjustment development.

We need to realise that a negative cycle of handwriting difficulties - combined with high anxiety and low perceived self esteem for a child with dysgraphia is usually perpetuated in relation to their writing abilities as well as academic abilities and academic outcome which is directly related to success as children who don’t believe in their ability to use write neatly and accurately with speed begin to doubt their ability to succeed.

Dysgraphia may affect many areas of your childs life, resulting in a loss of self confidence and their ability to perform everyday occupations requiring motor performance in the home, school, and community environments. Dysgraphia may be related to your childs global motor performance and his handwriting deficiencies stay well into childhood.

We would like you to observe the handwriting samples of two children who came to the DAI™ and observe the feelings behind what has been written by them.

The low self esteem and the “hate” for school are evident and even penned down in so many words. Your child may not articulate it to you in so many words, but the anxiety inside will eventually take its toll on his mental well being.

Dysgraphia, can cause - unrecognizable letters due to the quality of letter closure, rounding of letters, or letter reversals and spatial arrangement of the written text, or the vertical alignment of letters, the spacing whether they are too wide or overlapping, and letter size vary from day to day and time to time.

Dysgraphia in our view is not a coherent syndrome and does not comprise of a single phenomenon of clinical features that regularly co-occur, in the same fashion in each and every child. There is a high degree of overlap with academic based Learning Disabilities and both dysgraphia and Reading based Learning Disabilities appear together, and when they do, affected individuals can be at ‘serious risk of learning failure’.

The connection between dysgraphia and poor performance in school and higher studies – eventually land up being one of a continuum but may not be one of a kind –the two clinical features might reflect a common underlying dysfunction, or one might express a compensatory adjustment in relation to the other – and sometime they are not so strong that the presence of one clinical feature implies that related features will always co-occur. But the ultimate result is the same always. Inability to perform in school and at home with fine motor inabilities - like quality writing and wanting to write to progress forward.

Most parents do not want to even think that the poor handwriting features of a child are a neurological disorder or a disorder of neurological origin and information processing.

However processing dysfunction plays a causative role in almost all cases of dysgraphia and this is NOT measurable by a simple test or a clinical judgment.

The diagnosing doctor or professional has to used norm based assessment tools for appreciating if a child has dyspraxia or not. Unless these tests are done correctly, it would be like ‘throwing a stone in the dark’ with the hope of hitting something.

Therefore it is inappropriate to conceptualize of dysgraphia as a loose grouping of clinical features. Coherence in this clinically defined syndrome points to continuities as well as discontinuities in typical as well as atypical mental development – which should be assessed before it is late.

Assessments at the Dyslexia Association of India™ have indicated that

1. Children with dysgraphia score significantly worse than children with typical handwriting on tests to measure the problem.

2. Children with dysgraphia show significantly worse hand- writing skills than peers in most hand- writing processes,

3. Children with dysgraphia express more negative feelings about their handwriting performance with physical and emotional well being inversely correlated with handwriting ability handwriting performance.

4. The less that children felt that their handwriting is legible - the less capable they felt of keeping pace with time constraints in class, and there was lower perceived self-efficacy and also low perceived self- esteem with respect to participation in leisure activities.

The DAI™ believes that the role of handwriting as a central occupation of school-age children is very important. Our aim is to move beyond impairment identification and subsequent reduction to allow children to integrate into a meaningful participation in life.

But before we can even do this, parents have to consider that their own assessment - of their children’s own abilities and understand whether their childs handwriting performance is damaging his current and future prospects for academic success. We believe that parents are concerned about their children, but experience also points to the fact that most parents would prefer to keep silent and hope that the issue rectifies itself rather than seek help.

Help in the form of screening and testing and its related costs make parents think twice, and the opportunity cost of various factors prevents correct identification at the right time.

Parents need to remember that their children spend a large amount of time at school, and the feedback of teachers and peers may have a great impact on a child’s development and participation as a student and problematic handwriting in school may predict more serious learning difficulties later on in life.

Thus, it is of the utmost importance to screen for dysgraphia as early as possible, even in the first year of school - as handwriting is a highly dynamic process and deficiencies may have complex outcomes like lower self-esteem and anxiety regarding handwriting abilities which eventually will again reinforce the impaired fluency and spatial arrangement and slower handwriting velocity already existing.

Parents need to help their children whose difficulties in organizing themselves in the writing space are evident and - displayed by making more corrections and staying for a longer time with their pen on the paper, which results in longer performance time for accomplishing handwriting assignments.

Inappropriate spacing between letters or words, incorrect or inconsistent shaping of letters, letter inversions, and mixing of different letter forms, lead to increased cognitive demands making handwriting tasks lengthier, preventing automaticity of fluent writing in children with dysgraphia.

With time constraints in class, teachers and even the children may put pressure on a dysgraphic child to complete a given handwriting task while the other children who have already completed must wait and this can negatively affect a dysgraphic childs sense of self-worth regarding handwriting performance and himself in general.

It is not a secret that examiners and teachers tend to give higher marks for neatly written papers than for a paper submitted with scribbles and with lines going up and down and eraser marks all over the paper or book.

We suggest that parents and teachers enhance their awareness about the negative consequences of handwriting deficiencies - as well as the need to bring or recommend the child for early screening – in fact if you as a teacher notice a child who writes slowly, refer the child for a handwriting evaluation to minimize long term negative outcomes. And if you are a parent reading this, it is better to help your child when he is younger rather than when he grows up.

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.)