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Fast Thinking, Bad Handwriting

Gifted and Talented Expert Advice from Noreen H. Joslyn, LISW, ACSW

Q: My gifted nine-year-old writes with little or no spaces between words, and combines cursive and printing together. His work looks like that of a child who doesn't understand English or who thinks faster than he can write. Some of his work the teacher won't grade because she can't read it. I don't want his next teacher to not give him grades. What can I do to help him with his writing?

A: Writing legibility -- or the lack of it! -- is a common problem for young, gifted boys. You described it perfectly when you said he thinks faster than he can write.

The first thing I would suggest is to take your son for a thorough vision exam. This is about the age when many young kids first develop vision changes that can lead to learning problems.

That aside, here is a trick to improve writing: Have him pick out an excerpt from a book he likes, about four sentences of descriptive writing with not a lot of punctuation. Have him write it as fast as he can while you accurately time him. Write the same thing once or twice a day for three or four days. The goal is to improve his speed, and in his situation, his spacing between words. If it improves, he gets a reward -- something inexpensive like an ice cream cone. Then, he picks a new passage and starts the process over.

I would also have your son use the summer to get a lot of practice at computer keyboarding. There are some good children's computer programs to help improve this skill. In the future, teachers may then permit him to type long homework assignments.

By the way, it's not unusual for young guys like this to become more legible once they get accomplished in cursive. I have seen this happen many times. Good luck.

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Noreen Joslyn is a licensed independent social worker in the state of Ohio and is a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers. She has a master's degree in Social Work, specializing in family and children, from the University of Pittsburgh. She is a psychiatric social worker in private practice with Ken DeLuca, Ph.D. & Associates, where she counsels parents and children.

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