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Poor Handwriting Due to Motor Skill Problems
Q: My 10-year-old, who has ADHD, has problems with writing. He also has problems with other motor skills, such as tying his shoelaces and handling a knife and fork. The teachers punish my son by making him write very long essays. He has to write the essays four times. For someone with his problems, I feel that the punishments make matters worse. Due to his slowness, it takes him forever to complete them -- a lot longer than someone else his age without motor skills or ADD problems. He must feel extremely frustrated by this! I have told the teachers how I feel about the punishments. We asked my son's psychiatrist for help with the motor skills problems and she said the school would do the testing. However, despite several requests for this evaluation, nothing has been done. What can we do?
A: The school is wrong not to respond to a very reasonable request. If your child is in an American public school, laws that guarantee him the right to a free and "appropriate" education protect him. Write a letter requesting an evaluation by an occupational therapist. Contact the Department of Education, Division of Special Education, in your state and ask for a handout on parents' and kids' rights. You'll find that the school has to respond to your request in a certain number of days. If they don't, call the principal, the director of special education, and then the superintendent (in that order) and complain. If that gets no response (in days), then call the Department of Education and lodge a complaint.
In the meantime, you can have your son privately evaluated by an occupational therapist (keep the bill, the school will most likely end up paying for this evaluation). The OT may want to do an observation of your child in the classroom. Later on, it sounds like the teachers should have a consultation about what to do (and not do) with kids who have motor difficulties. You bet your son must be feeling frustrated by this. Write a note to the teachers, and tell them not to make him write as a punishment until you have gotten the results from the OT evaluation. Send a copy of your letter to the principal.
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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.