Handwriting and Learning Disabilities

HANDWRITING AND LEARNING DISABILITIES

Many children with learning difficulties also have writing difficulties.

Ernest J. Kahn, O.D., discovered after administering the “copy form” tests to many of his patients that:

  1. Practically all nearsighted children held their pencil no more than a quarter of an inch from the tip.
  2. Almost all children with learning difficulties exhibited some form of unusual pencil grip and fine motor in co-ordination.
  3. In all instances of improper pencil grip, the fingers blocked the line of sight from the eye to the pencil tip, causing the writer to bring the head to the side and/or down closer to the page in order to see what was being written.

Many of those who work with learning-disabled children have found that these children, in addition to having problems with reading, also have problems with handwriting.

 

Awareness of the problem is the key to change

CORRECT POSTURE

Correct handwriting posture is very important.

  • Both feet should be on the floor.
  • For right-handed the body should be slightly turned to the left.
  • For left-handed the body should be  slightly turned to the right.

 

The position of the paper is also very important.

 In many cases, just learning how to correctly orient the paper may help poor handwriting.

  • Right-handed writer should have the paper turned so that the bottom left-hand corner points directly to the navel.
  • Left-handed writer should have the bottom right-hand corner pointing to the navel.
  • The paper is aligned in such a manner that the sides of the paper are parallel to the writing arm when it is resting on the paper.

 

  The non-writing hand is not just a “paperweight.” 

  • The non-writing hand has the role much like that of a typewriter roller as it moves the paper up to prepare for writing on the next line.
  • The non-writing hand plays a very important role in paper orientation while writing. 
  • The non-writing hand should be kept resting on the side of the paper, with the elbow on the table.  This allows an open view for writing and puts the body in balance to keep the paper from moving, while writing. 
  • The elbow and forearm of the writing hand must lie on the desk. It is better to keep the elbow in place and move the paper upward as writing is done. The writing hand moves across the page from left to right and line to line.
  • The distance from the eyes to the writing or reading material should always be the distance from the elbow to the middle knuckle,  aka  “The Harmon Distance.”

 

 The way students hold a pencil or pen to write, the manner in which they orient their paper, heir posture while writing, and the way in which they form their letters will be carried over to adulthood.

Copying and Reproduction Skills

Many parents are concerned with their children’s handwriting abilities.  Graphomotor performance is related to visual analysis, motor planning, and spatial organization. 

Writing and copying skills principally relate to the following visual skills:

  1.  Fixation – the ability to direct and maintain steady central visual attention on a target.
  2. Ocular motor skills – the neuro-muscular control skills which point the visual system on a moving target (pursuit eye movements) or jump from one object to another as in reading (saccadic eye movements).
  3.  Accommodation – the vision skill which involves focusing.
  4.  Binocularity – the ability to team the eyes.  This allows for coordinated eye movements as targets move from distance to near.  This skill has a sensory and motor aspect, information on location (depth perception) and allows both eyes to remain on the target as it moves closer and further from the eyes.

 Children have been asked to write meaningful material before they have learned to write.

    

We often hear the term “reading readiness”

(a time when the child is developmentally ready for reading).

We seldom hear of “writing readiness.”

Reports show that children with learning disabilities, in addition to having reading problems, tend to reverse letters, invert letters, place letters and numerals on their sides, mirror their writing; in general have numerous handwriting problems.  These errors have been reported as “additional problems.” Such writing however is the cause of vision problems.

Mistakes, wrong moves, incorrect sequence, etc. have been shrugged off as unimportant.  As a result, many early handwriting problems have been permitted to become established as habit.  This, we contend, is responsible for many of serious reading problems from which 15% of our children suffer.

Super Bowl Star Larry Fitzgerald Gives Parents Advice on Vision Therapy



AURORA, OH–(Marketwire – July 24, 2009) – Arizona Cardinals 2008 NFC West Champions’ wide-receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, is helping eye doctors spread the word to parents that vision problems can interfere with a child’s ability to pay attention, read and learn. “Even if you have been told your child has perfect vision or 20/20 vision, your child could still be at-risk of having a learning-related vision problem,” warns Fitzgerald.
  

Do you have a child who takes forever to do homework? Or hates to read? Learning-related vision problems directly affect how we learn, read, or do close work.

  The College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD) launched their annual campaign, August is National Children’s Vision & Learning month, to educate the public on the steps they can take to ensure their children aren’t struggling with reading and learning because of undiagnosed vision problems.

“Parents don’t realize that you need over 15 visual skills to succeed in reading, learning, sports, and in life. Seeing ’20/20′ is just one of those visual skills,” says Fitzgerald.

 

 During the many pre- and post-Super Bowl press interviews, Fitzgerald explained that one of the keys to his success was having vision therapy as a child. He had a vision problem that was making it difficult to pay attention in school and his grandfather, Dr. Robert Johnson, a developmental optometrist in Chicago, Illinois, diagnosed the vision problem and the appropriate treatment.

 Fitzgerald went through vision therapy under his aunt’s guidance, Dr. Stephanie Johnson-Brown, who is currently the executive director of the Plano Child Development Center, a not-for-profit vision care service corporation which was co-founded by her father, Dr. Johnson, in 1959, which specializes in vision education and the identification and remediation of vision development problems in children and adults.

 According to a report from the New Jersey Commission on Business Efficiency of the Public School, “Undiagnosed and untreated vision related learning problems are significant contributors to early reading difficulties and ultimately to special education classification.”

 Fitzgerald is joining COVD this year to help spread the word that 20/20 is NOT perfect vision and that if your children are struggling with reading you need to take them to see a developmental optometrist. You can visit COVD’s website to find a developmental optometrist near you.

 “Vision problems can have a serious impact on a child’s education. Don’t wait to see if this next school year will be better, take action today!” Fitzgerald encourages parents.

 Convergence insufficiency, one of the most common vision disorders that interferes with reading, was recently the focus of a national study funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Eye Institute. This is a vision problem where the two eyes don’t work together in unison the way they are supposed to when one is reading. The result can make reading very difficult.

 While at least one out of every 20 school-age children is impacted by convergence insufficiency, there are other visual abnormalities to be considered. It is estimated that over 60% of problem learners have undiagnosed vision problems contributing to their difficulties.

 The good news is the majority of these vision problems can be treated with a program of optometric vision therapy. The study by the NEI found that in-office vision therapy was the best treatment for convergence insufficiency.

 The five most common signs that a vision problem may be interfering with your child’s ability to read and learn are:

1.  Skips lines, rereads lines
2.  Poor reading comprehension
3.  Takes much longer doing homework than it should take
4.  Reverses letters like b's into d's when reading
5.  Has a short attention span with reading and schoolwork
Any one of these symptoms is a sign of a possible vision problem.  

Not all eye doctors test for learning-related vision problems, so it is important for parents to ask the right questions. Call your eye doctor’s office and ask the following two questions:

1.  Do you test for learning-related vision problems?
2.  Do you provide an in-office vision therapy program when indicated, or
     will you refer me to someone who does?