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 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.


According to the American Optometric Association:




These visual abilities are basic skills used to perform tasks such as reading and using a computer. About 40% of all Americans have functional vision deficits. Vision problems not only affect an individual’s ability to perform tasks, but it can have a negative affect on ones self-esteem.






75%-90% of classroom learning comes through our visual system

It is essential that our visual system is efficient because two-thirds of all information we receive is visual. The visual system is composed of the following visual abilities.

·        Distance and near acuity (20/20)

·        Accommodation (focusing)

·       Binocularity (two eyed vision)

·        Oculomotor skills (eye movement skills)

·        Peripheral vision

·        Visual-sensory integration

·        Visual perceptual skills

·        Visual Figure-ground

·        Visual Form constancy

·        Visual Spatial relations

·        Visual closure

·        Visual discrimination

·        Visual memory

·        Visual Sequential Memory

·        Visualization

When weak visual processing and perceptual skills are present, an individual’s ability to quickly and accurately comprehend reading material may be reduced. Once these skills have been improved through the treatment of vision therapy, reading and learning becomes easier. 

Distance and near acuity:  is to see clearly at a far distance such as 20 feet, and the ability to see clearly at a near distance such as 16 inches.

Accommodation: the eye’s ability to adjust focus on objects with various distances. 

Binocularity: the ability to use both eyes as a team. Proper eye alignment and coordination is necessary so that the eyes can unite two images into one (fusion), which allows an individual to perceive a single three dimensional image (depth perception, stereopsis).  

Oculomotor skills: the ability to quickly and accurately move our eyes. These skills allow us to move our eyes so we can direct and maintain a steady visual attention on an object (fixation), move our eyes smoothly from point to point as in reading (saccades), and efficiently track a moving object (pursuits).

Peripheral vision: the ability to see or be aware of what is surrounding us (our side vision).

Visual-sensory integration: after visual data is gathered, it is processed and combined in the brain with information from hearing (auditory-visual integration), balance (bilateral integration/gross-motor), posture, and movement (eye hand coordination, visual-motor integration).

Laterality or bilateral integration: The ability to distinguish left and right on ones self. Good bilateral integration skills allow children to use their visual systems to monitor and adjust placement of their body weight against the gravitational forces on both sides of their body’s “midline”, allowing for good balance and coordination.  Children with poor eye-body skills may have difficulty in such areas as sports, learning to ride a bicycle, or general “clumsiness.”

Directionality-visual spatial orientation: The ability to distinguish left and right in space. The most common cause of reversals in older children is a lack of visual spatial development.  Children with poor visual processing have not developed adequate skills in visual perception and spatial orientation.

Visual perceptual skills: the ability to organize and interpret information that is seen and give it meaning. These information-processing skills include figure-ground, form constancy, spatial relations, visual closure, visual discrimination, visual memory, visual sequential memory and visualization. 

Visual Figure-ground: the ability to recognize distinct shapes from their background, such as objects in a picture, or letters on a chalkboard. The ability to perceive and locate a shape within a busy field. Children struggling with this skill, get lost in details. It affects their concentration, attention and they tend to have difficulty scanning text to locate specific information. 

Visual Form Constancy: the ability to recognize two objects that have the same shape but different size or position and to mentally manipulate forms and visualize the out come.  Children that struggle with this skill may frequently reverse letters and numbers.  This ability is needed to tell the difference between “b” and “d”, “p” and “q”, “m” and “w”.

Visual Spatial Relations: the ability to distinguish differences among similar objects or forms. This is needed in reading and math.  Children that struggle with this skill have the challenge in problem-solving and conceptual skills required for higher level science and math.

Visual closure: the ability to identify or recognize a symbol or object when the entire object is not visible and to visualize a complete whole when given incomplete information.   Children struggling with this skill may have difficulty in not remembering or comprehending what has been read.  They might be unable to picture in the minds eye descriptions, directions or instructions.

Visual discrimination: the ability to discriminate between visible likeness and differences in size, shape, pattern, form, position, and color. Such as the ability to distinguish between similar words like “ran” and “run”. Children that struggle with this skill have a hard time distinguishing between similarly spelled words such as was/saw, then/when, etc.

Visual memory:  the ability to remember for immediate recall of a given object or form.  Children with poor visual memory may struggle with comprehension, remembering what words look like or fail to recognize on another page.  Take longer copying assignments because they must frequently review the text.

Visual Sequential Memory: the ability to remember shapes or characters in correct order.  Children struggling with this skill will have trouble with spelling. They tend to whisper or talk to themselves as they write.

Visualization: the ability to create or alter new images in the mind.  It is needed in reading and playing sports.