by guest author Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP
The great debate occurs every year: “Am I expecting too much of my child or not enough?” “Is this groaning and moaning about writing just a discipline problem or ‘character issue’ or is there really a problem here?”
Common comments I hear from homeschool moms are:
- “She can tell me the answers orally well, but then it takes her an hour to write it down!”
- “When he writes his spelling words to learn them, he leaves letters out of the words.”
- “If he dictates to me, the story is great, but he can’t write it himself.”
- “His dad says that he’s just lazy and unmotivated. He can do his work if he really tries.”
One of the most common and most misdiagnosed processing problems in children is a blocked writing gate. This is the number one processing glitch in gifted children. Many of these children seem to be “allergic” to their pencil. They break out in whining as soon as they get a pencil or pen in their hand.
Let’s look at what is happening in the brain of this child when he is asked to write something. God designed our left brain hemisphere to concentrate on learning a new task, such as driving a car or riding a bike. After some concentrated practice, that task is then supposed to transfer over the brain midline into the right brain which is responsible for the automaticity of the process. 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, when we teach a child how to write, after six months of practice that writing crosses over into the automatic brain hemisphere so the child can “think and write” at the same time. For many children, this transfer does not easily occur. Thus, they have to expend so much more battery energy, or level of concentration, to a writing task than other children. Dr. Mel Levine in his book, One Mind at a Time, calls these learning blocks “energy leaks.”
This particular blocked learning gate or “energy leak” can be called a grapho-motor processing problem, a visual/motor integration problem, a fine motor problem, or dysgraphia.
This often explains the mystery of why many children learn their spelling words easily by writing them in a workbook or writing them five times each while another child can write his words hundreds of times and still not store the spelling word in his long-term memory. Now we realize that this struggling child has to use his “battery energy” just for the writing process, so the spelling words cannot be transferred into the right brain, where our long-term memory is stored. Thus, the method of copying to learn is totally ineffective for this child. Our job is to recognize this and to help him open up his writing gate. This can easily be done in the home setting.
Let’s look at some of the symptoms these children who have a blocked writing gate are presenting to us daily:
- Frequent or occasional reversals in letters (after age seven)
- Makes many letters from bottom to top (vertical reversals)
- Writing is very labor intensive
- Copying is poor, takes a long time … or is like artwork
- Mixes capital and small letters in writing
- Great at giving stories orally but writes very little
- Does all math problems mentally to avoid writing them down
- Lining up numbers in multiplication or division is difficult
No child has all of these characteristics, but if your child has several, you may consider that this is an area that he or she is struggling in.
When a parent recognizes that their child has a blocked learning gate and is just not being sloppy or resistant to writing without a reason, then some steps can be taken to alleviate some of the writing burden on the child until the problem can be corrected. Reduce the amount of writing a child needs to do during the day. Do more answers for chapter questions orally. Limit the amount of writing in workbooks. Reduce or eliminate copying for 3 – 4 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 writing multiple times. Right Brain Spelling, using a child’s photographic memory, is an excellent way to teach spelling without writing. (Free Right Brain Spelling Program at www.diannecraft.org)
Teach the child keyboarding for some writing projects. However, it is important to remember that most children who have dysgraphia also find keyboarding quickly quite labor intensive also, so it is not a complete answer.
Teach paragraphing and composition writing using the Right Brain Writing method until it becomes easy. Then any other writing curriculum will be fine. (Free Right Brain Writing Instructions for beginning to intermediate writers from my website).
How to Correct Dysgraphia
It is important to not just compensate for this writing glitch but to also take steps to eliminate this so the child can experience fluency in the writing process. There are various methods that can be successfully used to correct this writing processing problem.
- An occupational therapist can do specific midline therapies with your child. Ask your pediatrician for a referral so insurance will pay part of this therapy. Sometimes they use special handwriting programs.
- The Writing Eight Exercise, developed by Dr. Getman. This specific midline exercise was designed to transfer the entire writing, fine motor, and visual/spatial processing responsibilities to the child’s right brain, which is the storage place for all automatic processes. This exercise crosses the brain/body midline, opening up the child’s writing gate, increasing writing fluency and eliminating reversals. This daily 15 minute exercise rehabilitates the entire visual/spatial system. No more left/right confusion! The DVD, “Smart Kids Who Hate to Write,” demonstrates how to do this daily exercise with children and also how to do it with a whole group of children from age 7 – 15. This is a very powerful exercise for learning.
- As a Resource Room teacher for many years in both elementary and middle school settings working with kids who were identified as “Twice Exceptional” (I called them “Gifted with a Glitch”), I used Dr. Getman’s famous midline exercise. By the end of the year I got four page papers from my middle schoolers. The writing gate had been opened!
A child can have a learning glitch, or block in a learning gate, that causes him to struggle everyday with schoolwork without the parents’ knowledge. Using some simple checklists, the parent can identify this problem and design the school day to be less frustrating. More importantly, the parent can avail herself of all the wonderful corrective techniques available so that the child does not need to struggle with the burden of having to work so hard at writing or with a dysgraphia. God has wonderful answers for us. He leads us in so many ways, and we are ever grateful!