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'He struggled to form his letters correctly and his handwriting was illegible'

Cécile and Jean-Pierre: experience of dysgraphia
Cécile Watson, from Bromley in Kent, describes her experience of the SEN and school system with her son Jean-Pierre, 11, who has dysgraphia, and shares her tips for other parents.

"We first noticed Jean-Pierre had a problem in Year 1 when his teacher said he was concerned with his speech and that he had trouble expressing himself. We spoke to the GP who referred him on to specialists for range of diagnostic tests including blood tests, an ADHD questionnaire and an ADOS assessment.

"The results suggested he had some signs of mild autism but not enough for a diagnosis and with speech therapy and social skills work to help resolve his communications difficulties, he gradually improved. However, his fine motor skills remained poor as he struggled to form his letters correctly and his handwriting was illegible. The SENCO at the school and his teacher kept trying different approaches but in Year 4 Jean-Pierre was able to use a scribe which showed clearly the difference between what was in his head and what he was able to get down in writing.

"After this I asked the school if he could use a computer and got a notebook for him to use in class, but his handwriting was still not improving, so in 2012 I went back to his occupational therapist. They were concerned that there was still a big discrepancy between Jean-Pierre's writing and his reading/listening skills.

"They suggested a special grip on his pencils, a sit and move cushion and a slanted board to write on to help. They also recommended physiotherapy for his posture and tennis and swimming to strengthen his muscles. At home I was getting him to practise handwriting every evening. At first it was just writing out words, but then I followed programmes like Write from the Start by Lois Addy and Ion Teodorescu.

"Despite this there was no improvement. I found a blog describing a boy like Jean-Pierre but he had been diagnosed with dyspraxia, so I went back to my GP to ask if they could recommend anyone. They suggested looking privately which is how I found Joanna Moore, an expert occupational therapist (OT) specialising in children.

"In December 2012 Joanna assessed Jean-Pierre and her report picked up the cause of his problem. He had very poor core stability and hyper-mobility leading to dysgraphia. She devised an OT programme of exercises and the school SENCO assistant worked with him on this 4/5 times a week. I did the exercises with him at home too, as well as continuing with the Write from the Start programme and another writing programme called Callirobics which works with music and patterns.

"Since working with Joanna, Jean-Pierre's progress has been excellent – in fact, recently the SENCO assistant contacted me and said that his handwriting had improved so much they wanted to gradually reduce his sessions."

Dysgraphia: practical tips for parents

  1. Follow your instincts. If you feel something isn't quite right with your child's development/behaviour, don't leave it – investigate. Search online, speak to your child's teacher, your GP, paediatricians, occupational therapists, etc, and don't be afraid of labels – the sooner the condition is identified, the sooner and the more efficiently your child can be helped.
  2. I am lucky to have an excellent occupational therapist and supportive school and we have worked as a team coordinating my son's help. I believe it is definitely worth considering for your child if his/her school is open to the idea.
  3. Without making a big issue about it, I believe it is important that people be aware of/have some understanding of your child's difficulties. It can save a lot of misunderstanding with your family (particularly siblings), at school and with your child's friends and their parents.

Dysgraphia: advice and information

Find out more about dysgraphia and how you can help your child with handwriting difficulties in our Dysgraphia area, or read the National Handwriting Association's tips for parents.

Contact Joanna Moore at Moore Occupational Therapy.

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