Mark is an eight-year-old third grader. He enjoys school and makes good grades, especially in math. He says math is his favorite subject. “Math is pretty easy, and I don’t have to write very much,” he told his teacher, “but sometimes it is hard to use those little pieces that help us learn.” Mark’s teacher noticed this problem when Mark would try to manipulate concrete objects such as geometric shapes or counters. When working on problem solving, Mark often is able to come up with a new way to solve problems. This problem solving ability is also evident in his relationships with classmates. Mark generally gets along well with everyone and is known as the peacemaker in the class.
Mark had no trouble learning to read. His first and second grade teachers often commented on his extensive vocabulary and his level of comprehension. One of his reading strengths includes the ability to sequence the events of a story. Mark is very imaginative and creative. The stories he creates are always full of adventure and include fantastic elaboration. His teacher has observed a dramatic difference between the stories Mark tells and the stories he writes down. The ideas and details Mark uses are excellent, but it takes Mark an exceptionally long time to get his story on paper. His writing is slow and laborious, and he often complains of his hand getting tired. Mark’s teacher has noticed that he has an unusual pencil grip. She wonders if this is why his hand gets so tired. Even after the final draft of a story is written, Mark’s handwriting is still difficult to read. When the class learned cursive writing, Mark’s teacher hoped his handwriting would improve. It did somewhat, but writing is still a difficult task for this young man.
Mark’s favorite pastime is playing baseball. He currently plays on a little league team and hopes to be a professional baseball player when he grows up. His favorite team is the St. Louis Cardinals. He also enjoys swimming and has recently begun playing golf with his father. Mark loves to practice and performs quite well at both of these sports.
- Gets along well with peers and is known as “the peacemaker” of the class.
- Creative when developing ideas for stories and for identifying new ways to solve problems.
- Has an extensive vocabulary and is highly elaborative in his storytelling and writing. He also comprehends what he reads.
- Good at baseball, swimming, and golf.
Areas in Need of Improvement:
- Has difficulty getting his ideas on paper. Even final drafts are difficult to read due to his handwriting. Mark’s handwriting is slow and laborious resulting in poor letter formation, both in print and cursive
- Has an unusual pencil grip and complains of his hand feeling tired when he writes.
- Has trouble manipulating small objects such as geometric shapes in math.
Possible Management Plan:
It is important to speak with Mark about his difficulties with graphomotor and fine motor abilities. He needs to experience some success in writing and to understand that he has great ideas and you are going to work on ways together to get those ideas on paper more easily. When talking to Mark, emphasizing his strengths, such as his great vocabulary and ideas, is just as important, if not more important than discussing areas he needs to improve.
Leveraging Strengths and Affinities:
- Have Mark dictate his stories into a tape recorder, just like a baseball sports announcer would do. Mark can then take his time transcribing what he has dictated or practice typing his stories into the computer.
- Mark could also practice using a more comfortable grip while writing something enjoyable to him such as a letter to his favorite baseball player or golfer.
Accommodations and Interventions:
- When assigning a handwritten project, give Mark the choice of printing or using cursive writing, whichever is more comfortable. Many adults naturally use a combination of manuscript and cursive writing.
- Provide keyboards and word processing programs, teach keyboarding skills, utilize writing software. But be aware that some students with graphomotor difficulties may also have difficulty learning to type on a keyboard or typewriter. Guide Mark through computer mastery gradually and without undue pressure. As he is acquiring keyboarding skills, have him continue to practice handwriting.
- Discuss ways Mark might improve his writing when his hand gets tired (e.g., by flexing and relaxing her fingers, by taking a break, etc.).
- Let Mark choose what writing utensil is the most comfortable for him. Let Mark try a pre-shaped pencil grip to use. (Pencil grips are available in various shapes and sizes so you can choose one that fits him.)
- Introduce activities where Mark can combine fine motor practice with visual discrimination, for example, stringing beads in various patterns, fitting puzzle pieces together, etc.
- Help Mark strengthen hand muscles by having him manipulate materials with a thick consistency, such as cookie dough or clay, or having them do rubbings or drawings over templates or other textured materials.
- Encourage Mark to strengthen finger muscles by creating rubber band designs on geoboards, doing papier-mâché activities, using precise tools such as tweezers and clothespins for pinching objects, and even trying squirt gun target practice (outside of course).