If your child struggles to form letters, put ideas into words or spell correctly, she’s not alone. It’s not uncommon for children to have some kind of trouble with written expression. One of the most common causes is a learning issue called dysgraphia. But there can be other causes as well. Find out what can cause difficulties with writing and how you can help.
What You Might Be Seeing
Writing is a complex task! Many kids who struggle with writing try to avoid it altogether. That can be frustrating to watch, especially when your child has homework that she keeps putting off or gives up on. But it’s important that you and her teachers don’t assume she’s lazy, or that she’s not smart.
Here are some other signs of a possible writing issue:
- Has messy handwriting
- Writes slowly and painstakingly
- Is easily overwhelmed by writing assignments
- Refuses to write or do work that involves writing
- Mixes up or leaves out words and letters
- Has a poor grasp of spelling and punctuation
- Has trouble putting thoughts on paper
What Can Cause Trouble With Writing
When kids struggle with writing, a condition called dysgraphia is often a prime suspect. But other issues can affect a child’s ability to write for various reasons. Here are the main causes of writing issues.
Dysgraphia: This condition makes tasks like spelling and handwriting difficult. It affects fine motor skills used in writing, drawing and tracing. Dysgraphia can make it hard to visualize how letters should look on the page.
You might see your child writing letters too close together or too far apart. She may also mix print, cursive, uppercase and lowercase letters. She may spell correctly orally but not on paper. Learn more signs of dysgraphia.
Dyspraxia: Dyspraxia causes problems with movement, including the physical act of printing and writing.
Kids with dyspraxia often have trouble planning and completing tasks that involve motor skills. Depending on how severe their symptoms are, they may struggle with everyday tasks, such as brushing their teeth or tying their shoes.
Dyslexia: This common learning disability is best known for causing reading difficulties. But it can also affect writing. Kids with dyslexia can have trouble recognizing and making sense of written words.
Because of that, they’re often poor spellers, and that makes writing a challenge. Their handwriting may be slow, and they may have a hard time getting their thoughts down on paper.
Kids who struggle with writing usually have more than one of these conditions. Keep reading to learn how to pinpoint the reasons for your child’s writing issues and what tools and strategies can help.
How You Can Get Answers
It’s not unusual for parents to be the first to notice their children’s writing difficulties. But it can take time to sort out what’s causing the problem. Working with your child’s teacher, school and pediatrician can help you get the answers you need. Then you can get appropriate support for your child.
Here are some steps you can take to find out what’s causing your child’s trouble with writing:
- Talk with your child’s teacher. Knowing what the teacher is seeing at school is an important piece of the puzzle. The teacher can tell you how your child’s trouble with writing is affecting her learning. Be sure to share that information when you talk with other professionals about your child’s struggles. The teacher may also try out some informal accommodations in class to see if they help your child with her writing.
- Look into an educational evaluation. Having your child evaluated by the school might reveal the cause of her struggle with writing. It may also result in support and services to help with her writing issues. Either you or your child’s teacher can request an evaluation. If the school agrees, the testing will be free. If your child is eligible for support, the school will commit to providing a written education plan, either an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 plan. If your child is under age 3, you also can contact your state’s early intervention system.
- Talk with your child’s doctor. You can also start getting answers by telling your child’s doctor what you’ve observed at home and what the teacher has noticed. That includes trouble with the physical act of writing and other fine motor skills. The doctor may be able to rule out some medical causes (such as a vision impairment). She may refer you to a specialist for further evaluation.
- Consult with specialists. There are a number of professionals who can help figure out what’s behind your child’s trouble with writing. Neurologists, psychologists, occupational therapists and some learning specialists can help you identify the issue. They can also suggest helpful interventions.
What You Can Do Now
Fortunately, a lot is known about the conditions that make writing difficult. And there ways to help. Regardless of which condition your child may have, you can help your child at home. Here are some ideas you may want to consider:
- Learn as much as you can. Understanding your child’s trouble with writing is the first step to getting her the help she needs. The more you know, the better able you’ll be to find strategies to build her writing skills and reduce her frustration.
- Observe and take notes. By closely watching your child’s behavior when she’s writing, you may start to see patterns. And that can help you find solutions. Maybe you’ve noticed that your child immediately melts down when she has more than a page of written homework. You can try breaking down the work into 10-minute segments and see if that helps.
- Focus on effort, not outcome. Praise your child for trying. Remind her that everyone makes mistakes, including you! Help her understand how important it is to keep practicing, and reward her for making progress.
- Encourage keyboarding. For many kids, keyboarding (typing) is easier than writing by hand. For some kids, voice-activated software can make typing easier. Some students find an audio recorder a helpful supplement to taking notes in class.
- Look for apps and other high-tech help. There are lots of apps and online games that can help your child build writing skills.
- Encourage writing at home. Give your child a chance to practice writing in low-pressure situations. Have her jot down items on the grocery list and take short phone messages. Or encourage her to journal and write about what interests her, even if it’s just a few sentences a day. Don’t rush her through this process.
- See it through your child’s eyes. It’s hard to know what your child is experiencing with her writing difficulties. Get an idea of what it might feel like to have those issues. Having that insight can make it easier to be supportive.
- Connect with other parents. Connecting with parents in similar situations can give you support and confidence. Our online community is a great place to find other parents who also have kids with writing issues. They can be a great source of information, ideas and tips.
Finding out what’s causing your child’s trouble with writing and how to help are important first steps in an ongoing journey. Just getting started can make you feel more hopeful and confident about helping your child.