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Bad handwriting or sensory issues?

By second grade, handwriting can mean the difference between success in school and serious problems. Discover some common issues kids have with handwriting, including problems with fine motor skills and sensory integration.

Boy practicing handwriting

You may be surprised by the number of solutions available to help your child.

When kids reach second grade, writing is a big component of every subject. If your child is struggling with handwriting, almost every aspect of school can become a challenge. Curb your child’s frustration by looking into the root of the problem and what you can do to help.

Many handwriting problems have an underlying cause

Amy Baez is an occupational therapist and the author of two award-winning handwriting workbooks published by Playapy, a website offering resources and toys that support sensory integration and therapy for kids. Baez explains that sensory processing and motor skills can be the issue when kids have problems with handwriting. “If a child is experiencing tactile defensiveness, the child typically avoids touching objects or different textures. This reduces opportunities to develop the proper hand strength and arches needed to adequately grasp a pencil or crayon for writing,” Baez says. Kids with proprioceptive, auditory and visual processing concerns can also experience difficulties, ranging from poor spacing to problems taking dictation.

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Learn the warning signs of a greater handwriting issue

“Bad handwriting” is too broad a term with an unnecessarily negative connotation. There are lots of issues parents should look out for when it comes to handwriting problems. Illegible handwriting is an obvious red flag, but others are more subtle. Baez suggests parents be aware of the following warning signs that a child may need help with handwriting:

  • Very faint handwriting
  • Pencil tips frequently breaking
  • Switching the pencil from one hand to the other
  • Letters that don’t reach the top and bottom lines on lined paper
  • Persistent inappropriate grip on the pencil
  • Avoiding placing the wrist against the writing surface
  • Tiring easily when writing
  • Reversing letters and numbers in second grade and up
  • Frequently skipped letters or words, even when copying

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Get handwriting help for your child

Once you’ve identified potential problems with your child’s handwriting or your child’s school has reached out to you, it’s time to get help. “Parents should raise their concerns with their primary care physician to get a prescription to see a licensed occupational therapist in their area for an evaluation,” says Baez. Once the specific issues are identified, there’s a lot your child’s OT will direct you to do at home, from practice time to using special tools that help kids with handwriting.

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