Handwriting and Tourette Syndrome
I asked alt.support.tourette for advice about my son's handwriting. It's never been very good, and has been an issue with teachers in the past, but they were more accepting after I explained. In the past few months though, it's taken a nosedive, and is now largely illegible. The teachers are less tolerant because they're comparing it to a few months ago. I was concerned that this deterioration was not normal.
This is the link to the initial thread at google.com
My post (May 2001)
My 12 year old son has had some issues with handwriting in
the past, but
having made the school aware of it - they laid off criticising him. It seems
however, that rather than improving, my son's handwriting is getting a lot
worse (bigger, untidier, scrawly, less even etc), and it hasn't gone
unnoticed at school. His teachers are pointing out the difference to him
(very noticeable deterioration since September).
Is this common? I was expecting his handwriting to slowly improve.
It does improve slightly when he writes slowly, but unfortunately, there
isn't often enough time to write slowly.
It doesn't seem to be tic related, just his poor fine motor skills I
suppose - but that's why I expected it to improve as he got older.
I'm beginning to wonder whether to invest in a little Psion-type mini-word
processor (assuming the school are supportive). Yet, I don't want to do that
if it would do more harm than good (thinking the more writing he does, the
better it will get?)
In every other way, things are improving for him. His tics don't bother him
(mostly very mild), any teasing has stopped, he's less anxious, gaining
self-confidence, coping academically (at a school with high expectations), &
happier in himself - I guess it's taken this long (almost 2 school years) to
settle into the new school.
Here are the replies that I received:
My handwriting got immediately worse when I was singled out for
help with it in 3rd grade. And ever since, it just got worse and worse,
unless I take my time, working hard to make it look good in my own way,
and constantly starting over again. It takes forever, but people will
compliment it. No doubt about it, a word processor is MUCH better for
me, and would have made a big difference in my schoolwork had there been
any and I'd had one back then.
I think it would be a mistake to not have him use a word processor just
for the sake of hoping his handwriting will improve with practice.
My penmanship was never pretty and according to teachers was
read. My college notebooks are reasonably legible, at least to me, but it
all fell apart in the four years right after college and can be very
difficult now. I sometimes have trouble when it is cold. I don't know why.
My TS is fairly mild and I wasn't aware of the diagnosis until much later.
I print some and use a word processor a lot. A calligraphy (italic point)
pen can help wuite a bit and experimenting with ballpoint thickness and ink
density is worthwhile. I don't use a pencil.
That's the way it happened here. The good news ... a laptop.
We had two years of OT. I don't think handwriting will improve .. and
focusing on it may just further anxiety and OCs ... in our experience,
this one is worth letting go of, and working on keyboarding.
In our experience, that's the best idea. My son has a Toshiba laptop.
It's called dysgraphia, and I have it also. I HATED writing, and
Most people can't read it, and much of the time, neither can I. My fine
motor skills are excellent, however. The problem is related to
ticcing.......but it's hard to describe. I can't maintain a steady hand,
because I'll tic if I do....my arm and hand become so 'tense' and tired, and
although my writing may start out decent, by the end of a paragraph, if that
long, it deteriorates.
The keyboard liberated me. School may provide one for him, if this is
written into his IEP.
Notice this: can he start out with relatively neat writing, the first couple of lines? Does he
complain that his arm/hand get tired, uncomfortable?
His pattern is much like mine was. I got better at everything,
handwriting. To this day, at 55, if I don't have to write, I don't. If my husband is
with me when notes need to be taken, generally HE takes them.
It makes sense to me that your son's handwriting problems are
rather than better. By 12 yrs old, I would imagine that he is thinking
about "what" he is writing, rather than "how" he is writing -- and rightly
so. It is the content, not the channel that matters. I wouldn't think
twice about having him use a computer for his "work", where the focus is on
substance. But still have him do some handwriting practice, so it doesn't
get worse through neglect.
Hope this helps!
This sounds like my son. I homeschool him so I've tried to
adapt to whatever
he needs, but he used to hold his pencil so tight and press down so hard that
it exhausted him. He had to go very slowly, too. Initially he was doing
Italic handwriting and it was beautiful, but as time went on, it became
sloppier and slower. I finally switched to a more standard handwriting and
it's going more smoothly for him although it's still very sloppy. Most of the
time, I will let him write his essays on the computer. He has excellent typing
skills. Pretty much self taught.
I had read on one of the TS websites that this was something that did happen in
TS people. It really explained things for us.
Among all the claims of things associated with TS, this one is for
The problems with asking the child to continue to practice are:
1) it's not likely to work, and
2) it may further OC concerns and anxiety.
God invented laptops and word processors just for us :-)
I'm so glad I never pushed my son on his handwriting. I've
raised him with the
mindset that he was going to hear yes from me more than he heard no and that he
was going to receive praise more than he received criticism.
The first thing we thought about when our family doctor first alerted us to TS
was that we were so relieved we hadn't given him a hard time over his tics and
odd behaviors. I think God was watching over us and restraining us on this.
My son's didn't get better with practice. I figure most of his
as an adult will be typed so I am not having a problem with him typing most of
his schoolwork. In fact, next year most of his schoolwork is computerized
Some of us with TS have problems with fine motor coordination.
handwriting never improved after the fifth grade, maybe not even after the
third. Poor handwriting might not be something your son can help. In my
case, I ended up working in a bureaucracy. Twenty-six years of signing my
name in triplicate turned my lumpy little letters into an illegible scrawl.
If, and I'm guessing this is the case, practice won't improve it, you might
want to consider getting him a computer to work with.
My Ben has handwriting difficulties, too. Now that the school is aware of the TS and related writing difficulties, they are accepting his handwriting much more. Ben uses mechanical pencils of a certain type and that seems to increase his self-confidence. Maybe you could do as SandyL suggested and experiment with different implements? This can get expensive...it might be cheaper just to get him some sort of word processor in the beginning and have him work with that! (Ben has developed an OCD thing with his pencils...ack!) Good luck!
My daughter's handwriting problem doesn't relate to dysgraphia,
relate to OCD, her writing is neat symmetrical and laborious. I tried
to get the school to give her a laptop, or PDA to accommodate for this
perfectionism, but they refused. She does do most of her written
homework on the computer. For what it's worth, how many of us write
much in longhand or cursive aside from signing our name. I say get all
the kids on keyboards.
Or at least introduce keyboards early on as an alternative for those
the problems our kids have.
I do a lot of handwriting, keeping records, writing in my journal, etc. But I
hate writing with a pen because I've always had to start the whole page over
again if I make a mistake on it.
I could never write both fast and legibly. In the 21st
century, he can just
live with the fact. Let him develop keyboard skills.
> My son has a Toshiba laptop.
I have a Toshiba, too. I'm very happy with Toshiba.
I say get all
> the kids on keyboards.
I say AMEN!
My son's been using a laptop computer since Grade 5.
He's changed over to
a little Palmtop now as the laptop was cumbersome in the science lab and a
few other situations. My daughter has never needed this help and her
writing is beautiful. Mine is too. (Interestingly, looking back at _some_
pages of writing in my son's homework over the years reminds me of a scene
in "Awakenings" where Leonard's writing began to change when he was little.)
I asked a Psychologist who was helping my son at the time to come to school
to explain some things to the staff regarding some minor accommodations.
At first he found it easier to use a soft pencil instead of a biro but that
deteriorated fast also. Pencil grips didn't help. Laptop did.
On the subject of "feeling different"... well that's a big issue really.
My son stopped using his completely for months of one year because he was
trying not to bring attention to himself. In the end it was a real
struggle for him so he went back to using it again. That's the beauty of
this smaller Palmtop.
There's an interesting article on TS and Handwriting on the TS Canada
website.. posted below.
Characteristics of Handwriting in the Child with Tourette Syndrome
By: Robin Jewers, O.T.M.
Tourette Syndrome Clinic St. Boniface General Hospital Winnipeg, Manitoba
> It doesn't seem to help that he's left handed either.
So am I, Tosy!
The school doesn't
> make him use fountain pens because he smudges what he's just written with
> his hand.
I avoided this by writing at a backward slant.....in the Dark Ages, we
didn't have any accommodations...sigh...so we just had to 'make do.'
Writing backhanded, lefthanded, and with TS on those scrooched up little
right handed arm chair desks was NO fun, lemme tell ya
His finger muscles don't seem to move at all when he's writing -
> all the movement seems to be in his whole hand. For some time now, he's
> been using large barrelled pens with rubber grips.
Huh? Doesn't EVERYbody write like that????!!!
> It's certainly not an issue at home, but his teachers are starting to
> home in on it again - and comparing it to how it was in September ("if you
> could do it then"...
The teachers need some educatin' in this matter. They are focused on process
and not result.....the result should be that he understands the work, can
communicate what he knows. There are more ways than one to get around that
block, and for people like your son and I (and the others of us here), the
laptop is the most efficient, effective way.
I can write well two for a few sentences. If I struggle, exhaust my hand and
arm, and take forever, I might even make a whole page. But at what cost???
but I suspect that using one will be a cause of anxiety for him.
> He doesn't like being different ;-)
ALL kids should have this option. And it's a difference that other kids will
want to emulate. Laptops are FUN. What you'll have to do is make him feel
special about it in a fun way. And make sure to keep the games off limits
while in class. HA!
I guess even if we started just
> getting permission for him to do all his homework on the PC. His keyboard
> skills are pretty good already - and I was surprised just the other day by
> how fast he was typing.
I fly across the keyboard. (I took typing in school but hated it....the word
processor is like a Porche after that model T..so different). But I learned
the skill, and it's like the proverbial bicycle ....
I guess that comes of all the time he spends on the
> PC - mostly games though.
That's okay. It's great for teaching, hand=eye coordination. And fun.
My 11 year old has had handwriting issues since he began
writing. For whatever
reason, it is very common among children with TS. Writing "more" doesn't help
if there is a motor problem. After much thought and investigation, I bought my
son an "alpha smart." That's a word processing device that is specifically for
kids to bring to school. almost looks like a little laptop. He's been using it
for a year, and it has changed his life. He's always been an excellant student,
but the effort that goes into the writing process for him is so labor
intensive, that he was stressed much of the time. He would get "lost" as he was
trying to take notes, and ended up in tears when writing an essay. Now, the
content of his writing is so much better, and he is able to enjoy his classes,
and relax! Last summer, he did a self paced keyboarding program designed for
kids ( Power Typing by Edicom.) Someone on this newsgroup actually suggested it
to me. It took about 8 weeks, 15-20 minutes a day. His keyboarding skills are
super now, can type about 50+ words per minute, and actually helps the other
kids by typing things for them (and helps his dad out with typing too!) He went
from feeling less than adequate about writing to being a hot shot! In the
world of computers, your son is NOT at a disadvantage with this
limitation....and my theory is...that the most brilliant people have lousy
handwriting (ok, maybe I'm exagerating, since my handwriting stinks too...but
think of all those DOCTORS with bad hand writing...) I was worried about how the
other kids would respond to his alpha smart, but really, it's kind of high tech
looking, and the biggest problem he's had at school is that a girl has been
writing notes to him on it... Check out the web sites below for information on
the Alpha Smart, and the keyboarding program. Feel free to contact me if you
have any questions about the device, or the keyboarding program. Best of luck!
<< I'm very happy with Toshiba.>>
My son has a Compaq. Perhaps not what we would have purchased, but this was
provided to him by the school system (with Inspiration, Word and Power Point
loaded onto it).
I also wanted to say that I still think he needs to write things out by hand
occasionally. He does write out all his class notes by hand (his choice, he
could use the laptop). I do think that the "use it or lose it" principle is
I know for myself that using the computer for all my writing has weakened my
> Throughout the handwriting question thread, there has been a constant
> reference to handwriting issues as being a well-known TS trait. I certainly
> believe it. Can someone point me in the direction of something in writing
> that might give me some more depth on the subject? And give me some solid
> info for when the teachers take it with a grain of salt!
Also, Chapter 5, Neuropsychological Findings, of
Tourette's Syndrome - Tics, Obsessions, Compulsions, by Leckman and
Cohen, John Wiley & Sons, 2000.
The issue with handwriting in folks with TS is related to tics, as well
as to visual-motor integration, which is proposed to involve four
processes: visual perceptual skill, fine motor coordination, motor
inhibition, and sustained attention.
> I know for myself that using the computer for all my writing
> handwriting skills.
Mine too. Or sometimes I wonder if what has happened is the fact
that now I realize JUST how difficult it was for me all those years.
Sort of like using a word processor vs a typewriter. Why would ANYone want
to go back??
My son said to say that his Palmtop is a Casio - Cassiopeia (2
s's) A -11A
and it uses Windows CE and it has a lead so it can hook up with the home
computer and printer. He says it's probably no longer available unless
it's second-hand. It's got it's own keyboard and apparently some of the
later ones don't have the keyboard like this one. It's been excellent.
I grip very tightly with thumb and 3 fingers (right hand), to the point
of cramping, and do just about ALL the movement with my fingers, which
is very much against the 'proper' technique. Some people have related
handwriting difficulties with fine motor control problems, but I have
excellent fine motor control and hand/eye coordination. It seems OCD to
me, the way I just HAVE to grip tightly and press hard on the paper, AND
my desire to have it look great.
It all adds up to a nightmare. I have written things out that look
great, and have my own style to the look, but took me forever to do and
wore me out. It's NEVER worth it! And if I try to work quickly and not
obsess, it deteriorates line by line and becomes illegible even to
Amazing how so many of our experiences with writing difficulties are SO
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