Written by Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP
The Great Debate occurs every year: “Am I expecting too much of my child, or not enough? Is this groaning and moaning about writing just a discipline problem, or ‘character issue,’ or is there really a problem here?” Common comments I hear from home school moms are:
- “She can tell me the answers orally well, but then it takes her an hour to write it down!”
- “When he writes his spelling words to learn them, he leaves letters out of the words.”
- “If he dictates to me, the story is great, but he cannot write it himself.”
- “His dad says that he is just lazy and unmotivated. He can do his work if he really tries.”
One of the most common and most misdiagnosed processing problems in children is a blocked writing gate. This is the number one processing glitch in gifted children. Many of these children seem to be “allergic” to their pencil. They break out in whining as soon as they get a pencil or pen in their hand.
Let us look at what is happening in the brain of this child when he is asked to write something. God designed our left brain hemisphere to concentrate on learning a new task, such as driving a car or riding a bike. After some concentrated practice, that task is then supposed to transfer over the brain midline into the right brain, which is responsible for the automaticity of the process. If we imagine the left brain hemisphere as the “Concentrating Brain” and the right hemisphere as the “Automatic Brain,” we can see how this transfer allows us to “think and do” at the same time. Generally, when we teach a child how to write, after six months of practice that writing crosses over into the automatic brain hemisphere so the child can “think and write” at the same time. For many children, this transfer does not easily occur. Thus, they have to expend much more battery energy, or level of concentration, to a writing task than other children. In his book One Mind at a Time, Dr. Mel Levine calls these learning blocks “energy leaks.” This particular blocked learning gate, or “energy leak,” can be called a grapho-motor processing problem, a visual/motor integration problem, a fine motor problem, or dysgraphia.
This problem often explains the mystery of why many children learn their spelling words easily by writing them in a workbook or writing them five times each, and another child can write his words hundreds of times and still not store the spelling word in his long-term memory. Now, we realize that this struggling child has to use his “battery energy” just for the writing process, so the spelling words cannot be transferred into the right brain, where our long-term memory is stored. Thus, the method of copying to learn is totally ineffective for this child. Our job is to recognize this problem and to help him open up his writing gate, a process that can easily be done in the home setting.
Let us look at some of the symptoms these children who have a blocked writing gate are presenting to us daily:
- He makes frequent or occasional reversals in letters (after age 7).
- He makes many letters from bottom to top (vertical reversals).
- Writing is very labor intensive.
- Copying is poor, takes a long time, or is like artwork.
- He mixes capital and small letters in writing.
- He tells great stories orally but writes very little.
- He does all math problems mentally to avoid writing them down
- Lining up numbers in multiplication or division is difficult.
No child has all of these characteristics, but if your child has several, you may consider that this is an area in which he or she is struggling.
When a parent recognizes that her child has a blocked learning gate—and is not being sloppy or resistant to writing without a reason—then some steps can be taken to alleviate some of the writing burden on the child until the problem can be corrected:
- Reduce the amount of writing a child must do each day. Do more answers for chapter questions orally. Limit the amount of writing in workbooks.
- Reduce or eliminate copying for three to four months. Save the child’s “battery energy” for writing paragraphs or papers and for doing math.
- Use another method of learning spelling words that does not include writing in a workbook or writing them multiple times. Right-brain spelling, using a child’s photographic memory, is an excellent way to teach spelling without writing. (See www.diannecraft.org.)
- Teach the child keyboarding for some writing projects. However, it is important to remember that most children who have dysgraphia also quickly find keyboarding quite labor intensive also, so it is not a complete answer.
It is important not only to compensate for this writing glitch but to also take steps to eliminate it so the child can experience fluency in the writing process. There are various methods that can be successfully used at home to correct this writing processing problem. The DVD “Smart Kids Who Hate to Write” (See www.diannecraft.org.) explains the method I found to be the least expensive while being the most effective for eliminating dysgraphia or any writing or visual/spatial glitch. It demonstrates a daily home exercise that crosses the midline to open the child’s writing gate, which increases writing fluency and eliminates reversals. This fifteen-minute exercise rehabilitates the visual/spatial system—no more left/right confusion!
In conclusion, a child can have a learning glitch, or a block in a learning gate, that causes him to struggle every day with schoolwork, without a parent’s knowledge. Using some simple checklists, the parent can identify this problem and design the school day to be less frustrating. More importantly, the parent can avail herself of all the wonderful, corrective techniques available so that the child does not need to struggle with the burden of having to work so hard at writing. God has wonderful answers for us. He leads us in so many ways, and we are ever grateful!
Dianne Craft, a former home schooling mother, has a master’s degree in special education and is director of Child Diagnostics, Inc., in Littleton, Colorado. She speaks at home school conventions around the country. For more articles written by Dianne on children and learning, and some teaching videos, visit her website: www.diannecraft.org.