The Hidden Disability – Chapter 2
I suppose it began before he even went to school. I saw how much my son struggled with ideas like coloring or drawing. He had a terrible time trying to control his hand when it came to concepts. So he’d avoid any such activity like the plague and cry if you tried to coax him too much. Yet his fine motor skills were fine. In fact they were excellent. Fine motor skills were the least of his worries.
We sat stunned one day, when at the age of 2.5 our son turned out a complex geometric structure built with his toddler version of tinker toys. John and I stared at each other. Between us flowed a mixture of pride and mortification. It was an obvious engineering feat. However, neither of us are quite wired that way. We’re both musicians at heart, not engineers. A feeling of inadequacy barely describes the sudden turmoil we felt inside. “Dear God, what are we in for? What do we do?”
As I noticed his struggle with crayons and pencils, I thankfully had a frame of reference to operate from to be empathetic to his plight.
I had trouble writing as a child too.
In fact they said I couldn’t write because apparently I never crawled as an infant. Mom and Dad were thrilled when I just pulled up and walked early, without ever doing what babies usually do. I was basically put through occupational therapy and a myriad of exercises, including crawling, just to be able to write. I remember being so angry with my hand. It was downright embarrassing not to be able to write like others. I would squeeze my hand so hard around my pencil. I knew darn well exactly how my letters were supposed to look and my hand would not do what I wanted. It was like it did something slightly different. I was determined to force it to my will and overcome this thing about handwriting that was apparently hard for me and yet not for anyone else around me. Determined to be my best, I couldn’t stand the idea that something simple that everyone else could do effortlessly, was difficult for me. And I worked and worked. “This is stupid,” I’d say to myself. “I have better grades and care more about them than most of these jokers. I should be the one able to write.” I know… I wasn’t your typical kid. I was an early geek. I didn’t like to play as much as I liked to learn.
It wasn’t until college when I realized that if I’d just center and calm myself, that I could write. That language could actually flow from my finger tips continuously. I still to this day cannot rush anything handwritten and expect it to come out “write.”
When I was a child, there was no name for it. Today we know this condition as dysgraphia.
Many people are somewhat familiar with dyslexia, but dysgraphia is a disconnect between the brain and fingers and governs the processing of language through the hands and fingers. There are some misguided ideas out there that dysgraphia means simply bad handwriting, or poor fine motor skills, etc., but this is not the root cause and dysgraphia can be present with or without these symptoms.
Dysgraphia is a language processing disorder, where a break-down happens in the messages somewhere between the brain and fingers. What the brain wants to communicate just cannot seem to flow out the fingers like it should. And somehow the messages are processed differently. There are some theories when it comes to gifted children that this issue becomes complicated by the fact that their brains tend to work so much faster too. So perhaps somewhere the fingers don’t decode messages as completely as they should because they physically can’t keep up with the speed of the brain in order to translate thought into writing.
Approaches to dealing with dysgraphia often incorporate the use of a keyboard, which does seem to simplify and make it easier for kids and adults alike who struggle with this “disability.” However, using a keyboard still requires learning to type. And therapists argue over the methods used to teach typing as well. Some advocate a true “typing according to the rules” kind of training. And others advocate “Let the child find their own way that works better for them.” In either case, it does appear that typing involves more brain balancing and does oddly enough actually help improve handwriting too. It’s a very integrative skill.
And myself? I am living proof that dysgraphia can be overcome. It may take us longer to master the skill, but we can master it just the same. Everyone has something they are not so great at; an area of life that they are weaker at or not naturally gifted at. But few skills affect us more in our modern society and education than the gift of handwriting. Our entire educational existence depends upon it.
As much as I suspected my son suffered from this, children are not typically diagnosed with dysgraphia until between the 2nd and 3rd grades. It’s common for many children to struggle with handwriting and then get through it. It’s a very small percentage who can never quite break through, so they wait to be certain of the diagnosis.
In either case, I saw the same frustration early in my son that I remembered in my childhood. But his situation was obviously worse. And he didn’t have the same determination to overcome it. It was beginning to appear that by age 7 he was giving up.
Read Chapter 3 here…..