Directionality: Why Directionality and Writing Letters Backward is Part of a Greater Problem
This article discusses directionality, spatial awareness, motor planning and visual perception used to improve writing skills. Affiliate links are included for your convenience. Integrated Learning Strategies (ILS) is a learning and academic center. As a reminder, ILS is not a health care provider and none of our materials or services provide a diagnosis or treatment of a specific condition or learning challenge you may see in your child or student. If you seek a diagnosis or treatment for your child or student, please contact a trained professional who can provide an evaluation of the child.
As a child begins to develop their handwriting and writing skills, most parents don’t realize all of the different aspects and mechanics that go into something that seems very simple and automatic. From a young age, we help our children build their fine motor skills with activities that involve their hands, wrists and fingers to prepare them for pencil grip and writing from left to right, however, writing involves so much more than just your child’s hands and fingers. And, when there is a breakdown, it can be tough to know exactly where the gaps are in your child’s writing ability because most parents don’t know that writing can be affected by their child’s hand-eye coordination, motor planning, visual perception, spatial awareness, low muscle tone, posture or even the eyes themselves.
Children who struggle with handwriting or even with Dysgraphia, a written-language disorder that affects a child’s mechanical writing skills and fine motor control, tend to have difficulty in many of the following areas:
- Writes their letters backward
- Doesn’t know how to space their letters appropriately on the page
- Can’t write in a straight line
- Has difficulty copying notes from the chalkboard
- Inconsistent letter formations and slant
- Cramped fingers while holding a pencil, odd wrists, low muscle tone in fingers
- Mixes upper case and lower case letters
- Poor organization on their paper
- Writing is often illegible
Kenneth A. Lane, Optometrist and member of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (FCOVD) said, “It is not surprising that many dyslexic children have poor visual motor perceptual skills. It appears that dyslexics have problems in spatial orientation and lack proper planning of the actions required of the drawing task. The writing performance of dyslexic individuals most often reflects disturbances in graphomotor and spatial coordination.”
Lane goes on to say that not all children with Dyslexia have poor handwriting, however, children with Dysgraphia and other learning challenges do show signs of weak visual and spatial development used for developing writing skills.
One the biggest challenges children have with writing skills at our center is directionality and how they write their letters. It’s not uncommon to see kids writing their “bs,” “ds,” “fs,” “gs,” “zs,” and other letters backward. In addition, they may put the tails too high on their “ns” so they look like “hs,” or kids write their letters from bottom to top instead of top to bottom.
Because motor planning plays such an active and essential role in your child’s ability to write, children who struggle with writing may also have difficulties completing tasks and activities that involve coordinated movements using the hands and eyes together. This could be the reason a child has difficulty copying notes from the chalkboard or they stop tracking their hand movements across the page as their eyes can’t maintain their focus on the hand’s movement. Deficiencies in hand-eye coordination could be one of the primary reasons for poor tracking and decoding abilities.
When looking at your child’s handwriting, if you notice their letters are often spaced too far part or are too close together and the sizes and shapes often vary in one sentence, it could mean they have trouble with spatial awareness. Children who have difficulty with spatial awareness sometimes appear to be clumsy, often run into furniture or even become “close talkers” in social situations. Many times children with spatial awareness issues don’t understand the relationship between their body, the objects around them and what’s in their environment. This is why you may notice your child starts out writing in a straight line, but eventually their writing curves downward in a diagonal direction.
Visual perception is the process where the brain organizes information we see and gives meaning to what we see. As discussed in “Visual Perceptual Skills for Handwriting,” written by an Occupational Therapist at Your Kids OT, there are many components of visual processing, which work together to form and develop your child’s writing skills. Some of these include visual discrimination, visual memory and visual-sequential memory.
All of these unique aspects make a difference when your child forms their letters, writes their letters (size), retains words and letters, places the right letters in the correct sequence, and recognizes the letters and words when shown to them repeatedly.
Many of us already know how important it is to strengthen our child’s fine motor skills in the hands, wrists and fingers for writing development, but what about the eyes? The muscles in the eyes also play a key role in how our child writes, reads and comprehends. Many of our students who have not yet strengthened their eye muscles show signs of a lazy eye or their eyes may shift or jitter as we have them track a pencil in the air.
In Lane’s book Developing Ocular Motor and Visual Perceptual Skills he says, “A cause of deficiencies in children’s handwriting may be the inadequate control of the various muscles involved in movement execution. Handwriting is carried out with a variety of coordinated movements, and the child must be able to control spatial, temporal, and force requirements of the task.”
To strengthen your child’s eye muscles for reading and writing a series of visual exercises may be needed to improve eye muscle tone as well as visual-motor skills.
If you have a child or student struggling with any number of these visual or spatial issues when it comes to their writing skills, there are a number of activities you can try to help them establish a better writing foundation. To help your child with handwriting exercises, the Rewiring the Brain Handbook was created to help improve your child’s directionality, fine motor, tracking, emotional grounding and impulse control. Exercises in the pictures below are similar to those within the handbook. To get your copy, click here.
To help directionality and spatial awareness, students can complete a series of exercises by drawing different types of lines across a page. Many of these lines consist of using both diagonal shapes and circles, which are both needed for writing specific letters and words. You can find all of these exercises in the Retrain the Brain Handbook.
The purpose for using these activities and exercises is to re-wire the brain for better writing skills and cognitive development. Farmer calls handwriting a sensory-motor process that requires these activities for higher learning concepts. When talking about the importance of these exercises she says, “Because it involves the hand, nothing else done in the classroom can begin to compare with the impact on the young brain created by the rhythmic, repetitive manipulation of the thumb and fingers over time.”
For your own copy that includes similar exercises, click here.
It’s no mistake that schools use lined paper and grids when children are first learning to write. Lined paper can help your child write their letters in a straight line (spatial awareness), practice their upper and lower case letters, and it helps them understand the ratio of different shapes and sizes for letter formation. Children who struggle with handwriting may need to continue practicing with these sheets of lined paper after the age of seven.
Use a series of tracing exercises with different shapes to also help your child refine their writing skills. Because some children have difficulty with spatial and visual issues, they may not know how to begin writing their letters. In fact, I wouldn’t begin practicing with letters at all. Try them with tracing activities using diagonal lines, sharp lines and curves. The more they practice drawing lines and circles, the more prepared they will be to write letters and words.
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs
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