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Homeschooling a Child with a Nonverbal Learning Disability | Part 3: Handwriting
by Joyce Blankenship
Editor’s note: This article is the last in a three-part series on homeschooling children with nonverbal learning disabilities. Click here to read Part 1 on math, and here to read Part 2 on reading comprehension.
“Mom, can I please be finished with this handwriting page? I’ve been working on it for hours . . . ”.
You look up and give your son your full attention, tuning into the frustration in his voice. You feel helpless—your other kids never had these struggles. You don’t know what to do to give your son the support he needs.
This scenario may seem all too familiar if you have a child with a nonverbal learning disability (NLD). Kids with NLD struggle greatly with learning to write. Even after they have learned to form letters, their handwriting is often slow and labored, requiring lots of conscious effort out of proportion to the task.
Difficulty with writing, also called dysgraphia, can be caused by several factors: weak fine motor skills, poor visual perception, and deficits in visual motor integration. Visual perception is the ability to see and distinguish between complex shapes. Visual motor integration is the ability to coordinate what is seen with a motor response, and is the foundation of handwriting. Children with poor visual motor integration often struggle to form letters well and experience difficulty in copying drawings. Since children with NLD also have a weakness in spatial relations, they can have trouble spacing words on a page, writing on a line and paying attention to margins.
Start with Learning to Recognize Patterns
The ability to recognize patterns is a weakness in kids with NLD, so before teaching your child how to form a letter, show your child how to analyze patterns.
An excellent program that teaches a child to identify and reproduce patterns is the Visual Perceptual Skills Program created by Jerome Rosner. In this program, the child uses geoboards and rubber bands to copy patterns. By stretching rubber bands over pins, the student creates increasingly difficult shapes.
Use verbal prompts as you guide your child through these activities, at the same time teaching your child the vocabulary of patterns and lines, such as curved, straight, top, bottom, slanted. Ask questions such as: “What shape do these lines make?” “How many sides does this rectangle have?” “Are the sides straight or curved?”
Transitioning from Patterns to Letters to Writing
Once the student can analyze basic patterns, you can begin to teach how to form specific letters. You can do this by helping your student analyze patterns in each letter, modeling and verbalizing how to form the letter. You may want to use a handwriting curriculum that lays out the teaching lessons for you, such as Loops and Other Groups: A Kinesthetic Writing System or Handwriting without Tears.
In her article, “Smart Kids Who Hate to Write,” learning specialist Dianne Craft explains that a child’s writing difficulties may be corrected by performing a daily writing exercise that is designed to give the child a midline for writing and take the stress out of the writing system.
This exercise, created by Dr. Geteman and Dr. Paul Dennison, rehabilitates a child’s visual/motor system and is performed on a large piece of construction paper with a large figure eight drawn on it. The child sits directly in the middle of the eight to encourage the body to recognize the midline. Consistent use of this activity over a set period of time can improve eye/hand coordination and fine motor coordination. Dianne explains that once the child’s midline is established, your child can move into a handwriting curriculum with greater success.
I used this writing-eight exercise with my 10-year-old daughter who experienced difficulty with any activity that involved putting pencil to paper. She enjoyed doing the daily exercise and I found that both her handwriting and her attitude toward writing improved over time. You can learn the details of this activity in Dianne Craft’s Brain Integration Therapy Manual.
In addition to handwriting instruction, kids with NLD can benefit from being taught keyboard skills in the middle school years. Your student may find it easier to learn to type than to handwrite, since typing requires less fine motor control than handwriting. Keyboarding is a crucial skill for students today as it gives them access to word processing and basic computer skills.
Dysgraphia Resources for Children with NLD
A wide variety of tools is available to help your child be successful with writing. We invite you to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your experiences with using these resources and any other activities you have found helpful in making writing easier for your child.
Related Therapy: Just the Boost Your Student Needs?
Many kids with the NLD profile will benefit from outside therapies such as visual therapy, speech/language therapy, occupational therapy for fine motor and sensory processing issues, physical therapy for gross motor/coordination, cognitive therapy, and social skills therapy. If you feel comfortable with working with your child’s issues at home, or in conjunction with a therapist, here are some resources you can use as part of your homeschool program.
Some Final Thoughts: You Can Do This!
Through this three-part series on Homeschooling a Child with a Nonverbal Learning Disability, we hope you have discovered some practical ideas to implement in your homeschooling program. These special kids need an educational setting that includes a highly involved caring teacher, a consistent daily schedule, a structured environment with careful exposure to new situations, and educational tools to fit their individual learning needs. We believe that homeschooling fills all of these needs and is indeed the ideal environment in which your child with NLD can grow and thrive!
Martin, Marilyn. Helping Children with Nonverbal Learning Disabilities to Flourish, London, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2007