Handwriting deterioration .... solutions?


Here we go again!
difficult child 2 had decent handwriting two years ago in 3rd grade. He did fine with mastering cursive that year, and for the first two months in 4th grade he was also doing well with his handwriting.

Then, when his behavior started to change last November in 4th grade, his handwriting really began to tank. We changed all his medications now that he's got the Mood Disorder not otherwise specified diagnosis along with his ADHD, and although his mood is much improved, and the ADHD part is fairly well controlled (not as good as it was before 4th grade), his handwriting is still really, and I mean REALLY bad.

Is there ANYTHING I can do to help him get back to more legible writing? Do we just go back to lots of practice? Is it a matter of the medications still not being right?

I'm sort of at a loss over how to approach this.


Well-Known Member
Is it bad enough to be an issue at school? He's at a point in school where students are demanded to write a whole lot more than in the younger grades. You may want the school to do a fine motor evaluation on him.


Here we go again!
Yes, it is barely legible now, and he is in 5th grade this year. I'm working on a meeting with the school to update his 504 plan and want to have some suggestions for how to help him with this when I go to the meeting. Of course, the school may also have some ideas on what we can do. When his medications were right, before the mood disorder reared it's ugly head, his fine motor was pretty good. But it was always poor off medications. And it's still pretty bad. I know it has a lot to do with executive functioning -- motor planning, that type of thing. Can't increase the stimulant he's on because it makes him too nervous and twitchy. Although... we just upped the Depakote a few days ago, so maybe that would allow some tweaking of the stims.

Why does life have to be so friggin' complicated? :rolleyes:


Roll With It
He needs an Occupational Therapist (OT) evaluation (occupational therapy). This will show areas his hands are not working, or need help with. This willbe the quickest and most efficient way to get the help he needs for this.

There are lots of exercises that will strengthen his hands. I am not sure what GATE is, gifted and talented education?? I had horrid handwriting and got no help. It made college a real trial.

They do have computers that are used for kids iwth hand problems. If the diagnosis is dysgraphia, or some other problem, a specialized laptop that is for school can be provided. The school should have some, or can order one. You have to get this into his 504 or IEP though. With the advanced classes this may be a necessity. I think it wasw an accusmart? Not sure of the name, someone else here will know.

Good luck,



Here we go again!
Thanks, Susie. I will ask about Occupational Therapist (OT). It doesn't appear to be an issue of hand strength, but more a motor-planning problem, I think? I could be wrong...

Yes, that's what GATE stands for... when I was in school it was called MGM (mentally gifted minors).

He has difficulty typing, too. He struggles with keeping his fingers on the home row and prefers to "hunt & peck". Another example of fine motor issues, I suppose.


Active Member
It really doesn't matter what is causing the problem, whether it's the brain or the hand - he's got a problem. The Occupational Therapist (OT) can help diagnose and depending on what she finds and what she says can be done to alleviate it, he could be in line for use of a keyboard. Because even if it's just clumsiness, or even dyslexia, a keyboard makes it easier.

In this, the US and Australia are almost identical. The train of events - get an Occupational Therapist (OT) to assess. Not only with the Occupational Therapist (OT) look at how his hands function, she will also assess any pain, mobility issues (range of movement), maybe prescribe exercises (although if it's just for assessment she mightn't go so far as such recommendations) and do a timed test of him hand-writing, and typing. Legibility will come into it a bit, but if he is demonstrably faster at typing and the Occupational Therapist (OT) also diagnoses a problem with hands, then the recommendation is made to the school (or board of studies, or whoever) to get him onto a keyboard for writing tasks.

The keyboard generally recommended is Alphasmart Neo. It's a cute little thing, about the size of a computer keyboard alone and rounded a bit at the top to allow for a small screen which displays about two lines of text. It can hold about 9 text files as a maximum. Battery-powered, seems to run on thin air. Fits neatly into a briefcase, is fairly tough.

The best thing about it - you can download the text files into any computer, Mac or easy child. It downloads as a text file, all formatting has to be done on the computer. But since the main task is text, this is OK. You should always do the pretty stuff afterwards anyway.

difficult child 3 has had one since Year 4. Because it was from the Board of Studies, it changed schools when he did. When he left mainstream for state-based correspondence, the Alphasmart came too. It still belongs to the Dept of Ed, but difficult child 3 has the use of it.

Exams - he has to first demonstrate that every file is empty (no saved text anywhere) and then he does the same paper as everyone else, but he types his answers into the Alphasmart in one long text file. After the exam, he goes with the teacher to download his work onto the teacher's computer. We carry a USB cable in the briefcase with the Alphasmart.

When we've gone on holidays during school term, we take the Alphasmart with us. That's because he's a correspondence student and we have it at home with us. For a mainstream kid, the Alphasmart stays in the classroom. But on holidays in the car, difficult child 3 has been able to keep a diary of where we go and what we do, later on he transfers the text file to a computer and adds in photos, formats it all and sends it off to his teachers.

difficult child 3's handwriting is shocking. He also can't draw for peanuts. Neither can difficult child 1. easy child 2/difficult child 2 has neat handwriting, but she shares with the boys problems with sore hands when writing. With our kids, the problem is hypermobile joints.

difficult child 3's handwriting used to be much more legible, but it was never great. We always knew about the loose joints - when you see a kid bend his fingers back as far as he did, and see his fingers bend outwards on the tips when they should be curling in for a pencil grip, you know he has problems. The Alphasmart has made all this so much easier.

Frankly, we live in an era where tidy handwriting is far less necessary than ever before. If all else fails, make sure he becomes a doctor.



I agree with the need for an Occupational Therapist (OT) evaluation. You should request in writing that the SD administer one. In addition, you should consider a private Occupational Therapist (OT) evaluation because the SD is only required to assess how Occupational Therapist (OT) problems are impacting his education. A private Occupational Therapist (OT) will give you a more complete evaluation.

Both bipolar disorder itself and some of the medications (most notably atypical antipsychotics) are known to affect fine motor skills. In addition, stimulants can improve handwriting (I've seen it myself when my son trialed Adderall -- the difference was amazing). Clearly, increasing Daytrana is not an option, but don't expect the increase in Depakote to improve handwriting.

Because your difficult child is already in 5th grade, I think I'd concentrate on teaching him touch typing instead of focusing on improving handwriting (computers are the way of the world, after all). If the SD finds his handwriting is impacting his education, you can request that the SD provide an alphasmart for use at school AND at home (there is also a newer model called the Dana). My difficult child 1's handwriting has always been horrible, and we first put him on a computer to do homework in 2nd grade. He is now in 9th grade, and that decision long ago has stood him in good stead.

Good luck. Let us know how things go.


Active Member
Personally I wouldn't adjust medications that are working otherwise for handwriting. I'd be more inclined to think it's due to the increased demand that comes in higher grades.

Occupational Therapist (OT) can help with many issues beyond hand strength. A good Occupational Therapist (OT) will observe a child in action and see a lot more than you and I can, simply due to their training and experience. I thought I was an observant parent but I was amazing at what the Occupational Therapist (OT) pointed out to me. I agree at this age, computers are the way to go but even for that you'll need an Occupational Therapist (OT) to arrange it at school. Plus handwriting can't be totally abandoned--schools are so heavy into worksheets these days that sometimes it's impractical.
Occupational Therapist (OT)'s are just magical! I work closely with several of them on my job and their observations and solutions for problems are nothing short of awesome... We have been so very pleased with the Occupational Therapist (OT) that works with difficult child. I highly recommend them.

It's funny how things change. We had to fight, fight, fight for keyboard use for difficult child in the early years. Now, when he gets a little lazy about using it his teachers e-mail me and say - Please have difficult child use his keyboard!!!! by the way, with worksheets he scans them as a document and types his answers below the scanned sheet.

He uses a PDA with a little folding portable keyboard in classes. It seems "normal" to him and cool to the other kids, so he likes it. difficult child used a keyboarding instruction program on the computer on his own when was in the first grade. We were shocked when he sat down at the computer one day and just started typing away. It's been the keyboard for him since that time. His handwriting (if you can call it that) is just chicken scratching. I had to chuckle Marg when you suggested becoming a doctor!!! All of our docs at our HMO recently moved to a paperless system and they all must use the computer. It's kind of funny to see some of them struggle with the keyboard :smile:


Here we go again!
Wow -- lots of great advice here and I thank you all VERY much!

Marg, I think your career suggestion is perfect! :rofl: