Handwriting Issues

Kathy Giordano, Tourette Association Education Specialist

Dysgraphia, or written language deficits, is a common issue for students with Tourette Syndrome (TS). This interferes with and sometimes prevents them from being able to transfer thoughts into writing.

Handwriting can be messy, difficult to read, unevenly spaced, and include challenges with proper spelling, punctuation and capitalization. Some students may be obsessed with writing perfectly resulting in taking an excessive amount of time to accomplish a task, while other students rush through written assignments. The student may write very little or refuse to write altogether.

The reasons for written language deficits vary and can be complex. Contributing factors may include cramping of the hands and/or tics involving the upper body (e.g. finger, wrist, arm, neck, shoulder, head and eyes). Some students may lack the necessary coordination skills as well as a consistent ability to organize their thoughts. It may be important to have the students evaluated to better understand the underlying cause of these problems.

The student’s handwriting can fluctuate. Just like all symptoms of TS are inconsistent, wax and wane, and are impacted by stress and other environmental factors, handwriting can be acceptable at times, particularly for a short assignment; other times it may be illegible.

Difficulty taking notes and a resistance to write may indicate that a student is experiencing symptoms of a written language deficit. It is too often assumed that a resistance or refusal to write is purposeful defiant behavior or that the student is lazy. Instead, this should signal a need for an evaluation that includes a lengthy written sample on a non-favored topic to determine if this is part of the student’s complex disorder.

The following are suggestions that may be helpful in addressing issues related to dysgraphia and handwriting:
Use of computer or tablet for taking notes, essays, and long answers

  • Allow printing/cursive (whichever is more manageable for the student)
  • Provide notes (Sometimes, teachers will hand out copies of notes with blanks prior to the lesson so that the student can write in appropriate words for the blanks
  • The student may benefit from writing down and remembering key words so that the student can maintain his or her attention
  • Reduce the amount of handwritten homework assignments
  • Grade on content and not on appearance
  • Provide alternative methods of assessing knowledge, such as oral reports or tests
  • Extend time for tests, quizzes, and projects that require extensive writing
  • Allow for testing in a separate location with scribing support available, if necessary
    A trial period may be helpful in determining whether a particular support is appropriate for the student’s needs.
  • Occupational therapy support can sometimes be helpful for students, but may not address more underlying complex issues. Therefore, practice and specialized pens/pencils will not likely result in better penmanship if the main cause of handwriting problems is tics. Teaching the student keyboarding skills may be a better use of time and energy.

When advocating for writing support, it may be useful to bring samples of the student’s handwriting to the meeting. Providing a sample of a handwritten-essay and a typed-essay may demonstrate the improvement. The contrast can demonstrate how the dysgraphia symptoms are hindering the child’s academic abilities.

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