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Visual/Motor Processing (Writing) Dysfunction Characteristics

One of the most common processing glitches to affect children is an interference in the writing system (spatial, visual/motor, or sometimes referred to as grapho-motor). When the process of writing has not become automatic, taken over in the right hemisphere of the brain, the child has to expend much energy to write. This processing glitch greatly impacts students because writing is involved in so many learning activities and areas. Often, parents and other adults report that the student appears lazy, uncooperative, and/or unmotivated. Take a look and see if your child is exhibiting many of the following symptoms which may indicate stress or disruption of the writing system:

  • Reversals in written letters both laterally and vertically, six months after being taught to write them correctly if written daily.
  • Reversals in written numbers.
  • Poor spacing in writing.
  • Difficulty copying from book or board.
  • Resistance to learning or writing cursive.
  • Displaying awkward writing posture, with eye and hand very close together.
  • No “helping hand” used when writing despite being instructed to do so.
  • Failure to complete written assignments despite performing well on tests.
  • Spaces math papers poorly.
  • Tells great stories orally, but writes very little.
  • Leaves out letters in a spelling test, but could spell the word orally correctly.
  • Wants to do all math “in his head,” no matter how long the problem is.

Informal Evaluations

Check your child’s eye/hand dominance: Tear a hole in a piece of paper that is the size of a dime. Have the child stand five feet in front of you and hold the paper with arms extended, in front of him. Ask him to look through the hole and find your nose. As he is looking at your nose through the hole in the paper, you will be able to see his dominant eye.

Now to see if he is using that same eye for close-up work, place a small, round object on the floor about five inches in front of the child’s feet. A toy construction cone is good. Ask the child to hold the paper at arm’s length and look through the hole at the object on the floor. Tell the child to “freeze” his hands when he has sees the object. Then get behind him and cover one of the child’s eyes with your hand. Ask the child if he can still see the object, or if it disappeared. Do the same with the other eye, making sure that the child does not move his paper. The object should disappear when you are covering the child’s dominant eye.

We always use only one eye when looking through a small hole, and we use our dominant eye. If the child found that the object disappeared when you covered his right eye, then he is right-eye dominant. If he is also right-handed, then we call that “uniform dominance.” The brain finds it more efficient to be uniform dominant.

If the object disappeared when you covered the child’s left eye, then he is left-eye dominant. If the child is also right-handed, then he is considered “mixed dominant.”

Being mixed dominant can be very helpful in sports, such as baseball and golf, but is less efficient for writing. However, if a child has good brain hemispheric integration, then it is not very bothersome for him. If the two hemispheres of his brain are not communicating well for the act of writing, then the writing has not transferred into the automatic hemisphere, and the writing process can be very laborious.

Make a note of whether the child is uniform or mixed dominant. This gives you a clue as to one reason why your child has been struggling with writing. Many times these mixed-dominant children do not develop a hand dominance until they are 4 or 5 years old, as opposed to other children who develop a hand dominance earlier.

Clockwise or counterclockwise circles? Have child write a word with the letter “o” in it, or just write the letter “o.” Watch to see if he writes this clockwise or counterclockwise. If a child is hard-wired to be right-handed, he should be making all letters counterclockwise. If a child is hard-wired to be left-handed, he will tend to make his letters clockwise.

We only are concerned when a child who has chosen his right hand to write with, but is making all letters clockwise like a left-hander. This creates great stress in the child’s writing system. Make a note of this, because there are specific exercises that can be done to take the stress out of this system. We do not have to change a child’s handedness.

Bottom-to-top letter formation: Ask your child to write the alphabet in lower-case print. When we write letters against the flow, writing is laborious. Observe, but don’t correct. Does the child’s writing seem to flow effortlessly or does it seem laborious, slow, and difficult? See if the child makes letter bottom-to-top, which is considered a vertical reversal. See if the child finds it difficult to remember the next letter to write. See if the child writes a mixture of lower-case and upper-case letters. Watch for clockwise letters, and letters that do not go below the line. These are all signs of stress in the child’s visual/motor/spatial system. Make notes. These problems can be corrected, and the stress taken out of the system.

Please note: As young children are learning to write and read, it is not unusual for them to experience confusion concerning print directionality as well as reversals. Some of this is developmental. However, if after direct instruction and training you continue to see letter reversals, problems with directionality, and poor or incorrect letter formation, then there may be cause for concern. Our department would recommend having your child evaluated by either (or both) a reading a specialist and occupational therapist.

Resources for Correcting Writing Dysfunction

  • When teaching, have the child answer as many questions orally, reducing the need to write until you can take the stress out of the writing system.
  • Eliminate copying tasks because of the labor involved until the child's writing improves.
  • Do timed math tests orally if possible.
  • Do the Writing Eight Exercise designed by Dr. Getman, to encourage the child’s kinesthetic midline to function well, eliminating both lateral and vertical reversals. This daily exercise, when done in a deliberate, monitored manner, will convert the writing process to the automatic hemisphere. The exercise is described in the manual Brain Integration Therapy for Children by Dianne Craft.
  • After the child has a strong midline, then you can use the writing program Handwriting Without Tears.
  • Teach your child keyboarding to encourage computer use for longer papers.
  • LinguiSystems has several books that talk about writing issues, such as the dysgraphia described in the characteristics section.
  • “Smart Kids Who Hate to Write” by By Dianne Craft

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