Smart Kids Who Hate to Write
Can you relate to any of the comments below? One of the most common and misdiagnosed processing problems in children is a blocked writing gate—the number one processing glitch in gifted children. Many of these children seem to be “allergic” to their pencil, breaking out in whining as soon as it’s in their hand.
“SHE CAN EASILY TELL
ME THE ANSWERS,
BUT THEN IT TAKES
HER AN HOUR TO
WRITE THEM DOWN!”
“WHEN HE WRITES
DOWN HIS SPELLING
WORDS, HE LEAVES
“IF SHE DICTATES
TO ME, THE STORY IS
GREAT, BUT SHE CAN’T
WRITE IT HERSELF.”
“HIS DAD SAYS THAT
HE’S JUST LAZY AND
CAN DO HIS WORK IF
HE REALLY TRIES.”
Let’s look at what happens in this child’s brain when asked to write. God designed our left brain hemisphere to concentrate on learning new tasks, such as driving a car or riding a bike. After some concentrated practice, those tasks are supposed to transfer over the brain midline into the right brain hemisphere, which is responsible for automating tasks. If we imagine the left brain hemisphere as the “concentrating brain” and the right hemisphere as the “automatic brain,” we can see how this transfer allows us to “think and do” at the same time.
Generally, after a child learns how to write, it takes six months of practice for the writing task to transfer into the automatic brain hemisphere, enabling the child to think and write simultaneously. For many children, this transfer does not occur easily. Thus, they have to expend much more concentration, or “battery energy,” on writing tasks than other children do. In his book A Mind at a Time, Dr. Mel Levine calls these learning blocks “energy leaks.”
The blocked learning gate or “energy leak” that leads to writing problems can also be called a grapho-motor processing problem, a visual/motor integration problem, a fine motor problem, or dysgraphia.
This explains why some children learn their spelling words easily by copying them in a workbook or writing them down five times each, while other children can write a word hundreds of times and still not store it in their long-term memory. The struggling child has to use his “battery energy” for just the writing process, so the spelling words cannot be transferred into his right brain where long-term memory is located. Thus, the method of copying to learn is totally ineffective for this child. Our job is to recognize this, and help him open his writing gate. This can easily be done in the home setting.
Let’s look at some of the symptoms of a child with a blocked writing gate:
- Frequently or occasionally reverses letters (after age 7)
- Forms many letters from bottom to top (vertical reversals)
- Writing is very labor intensive
- Copying is poor, takes a long time, or looks like artwork
- Mixes capital and lowercase letters in writing
- Tells great stories orally, but writes very little
- Does all math problems mentally to avoid writing them down
- Has difficulty lining up numbers in multiplication and division
No child has all of these characteristics, but if your child has several, he may be struggling with a blocked writing gate.
Once parents recognize that their child has a blocked learning gate and is not just being sloppy or unreasonably resistant to writing, then steps can be taken to alleviate some of the child’s writing burden until the problem can be corrected.
- Reduce the amount of writing the child must do each day. Limit writing in workbooks; have the child answer some or all questions orally.
- Reduce or eliminate copying for three to four months. Save the child’s “battery energy” for writing paragraphs or papers and doing math.
- Use another method of learning spelling words that does not include writing in a workbook or copying multiple times. Sequential Spelling and right-brain spelling are good alternatives.
- Teach the child keyboarding for some writing projects. However, it is important to remember that most children who have dysgraphia also find rapid keyboarding to be quite labor intensive, so this is not a complete answer.
It is important to not only compensate for this writing glitch, but also take steps to eliminate it so that your child can become fluent in the writing process. Various methods can be successfully used at home to correct this writing processing problem. Here are just a few:
A child can have a learning glitch, or a blocked learning gate, that causes him to struggle every day with schoolwork—without his parents’ knowledge. Using some simple checklists, parents can identify this problem and design the school day to be less frustrating. More importantly, parents can avail themselves of all the wonderful corrective techniques available, so that their child does not need to struggle with having to work so hard at writing or with dysgraphia. God has wonderful answers for us. He leads us in so many ways, and we are ever grateful!
Here for You
HSLDA’s special needs/struggling learner coordinators offer a variety of resources for parents of struggling learners or children with special needs. HSLDA members may contact Faith Berens, Dianne Craft, and Betty Statnick for counsel and suggestions. Call 540-338-5600 or visit our member contact page.
For helpful resources 24/7 or to sign up for our e-newsletter, visit our struggling learner webpages.
| About the author|
HSLDA Special Needs Coordinator Dianne Craft is a former homeschooling mom, educational diagnostician, and homeschool consultant in private practice in Denver, Colorado.