Sunday, February 7, 2010

Break it Down! or How to Slay the Horrors of Handwriting

Nathan, like most kids, struggles with homework. He's very "neurotypical" in that sense. The big thing he stresses about his handwriting. It's not handwriting for handwriting sake. He's made great strides in overcoming his anxiety over perfect handwriting, but he's now facing a more cunning foe...


This has been a weekly struggle. Monday and Thursday nights our stress levels go up 10 fold as Nathan panics at having to do this task. He would loathe Monday mornings, as he knew he would have writing homework that afternoon. His whole day would come crashing to the ground like the Hindenburg, all aflame, taking the rest of us down with him. I was determined to figure out why he was having such a hard time. 

We're going to talk about our brains. Yep, that gelatinous tangled web which inhabits our cranial cavity. First, I'm going to talk about the right and left sides of the brain. The left side of the brain is known as the rational side, dealing with time, numbers, words,  connects to the right side of the body.  You use your left brain to express yourself verbally, do logically think through a problem and can process many inputs at the same time.
Think of the left as the
solid brain

The right brain is known as the creative, inspired side. This controls the left hand side of the body,  deals with space, recognizing facial expressions and body language,  does creative thinking and creation and can control only one input at a time.

Think of this as the liquid brain.
So, if we take our solid brain and our liquid brain and we squish them together, what do we get? If we're lucky, we can use both sides of our brain together and we're able to function as "neurotypical". When we're talking about aspies, and we put the two sides together, what we get is mush.

Pure chaotic mush.

On top of this, there's the amygdala, which processes our emotions and emotional responses to situations, referring to the classic "flight or fight" scenario. It also helps us with facial recognition and and interpreting social information. There has been some studies done with the link of overstimulation or "damage" to the amygdala and the symptoms of Autism and Asperger's.

So, imagine you have this child

Consider all the information I gave you about the brain and how it functions. Take in the fact that he's left brain dominant, is a whiz at math, has sensory issues and panics when he feels he's not perfect. Imagine what his brain has to do to sit down and write something creatively?

Think of Picasso trying to be Bill Gates. And vice versa. We're all wired differently. Now that I know how Nathan is wired, I worked with his "circuitry" and devised a plan.

Instead of having Nathan try to think creatively, write and spell at the same time (alot of liquid thought), I had him do it in smaller pieces. We did the think part first (more solid). In creative writing or "free flow"  (thank you, Natalie Goldberg), we put pen to paper and just go. Not so easy for Nate. The primary chunk of his anxiety comes from using his right side brain and coming up with things on the fly.  We talked about it, spoke out loud on the subject and wrote down key words or phrases he could use in his sentences. Then, we did the write part, which was a little easier since we knew what was going to be written.  As he's writing, I gently reminded him of grammar, letter size and punctuation.

We have managed to get through it a little slower, but with much better results and fewer appearances by the Drama Llama. Here is a video of his latest creation. He talks about his pet, Sweetie, who is a round shaped cat stuffed animal.

So, remember folks, how do we begin to eat an elephant? 
One bite at a time.

Bookmark and Share


  1. Thanks for the help. I think I need to read the 'how the brain worx' stuff a few times. Mine is having trouble uploading this morning.
    Nathan is adorable!

  2. Thanks so much for this, I'm having exactly the same problem with my 8 year old son and can hardly bare to watch the anxiety he goes through at the mention of the words "literacy homework".

  3. @bluedenim Ink: I forget how my brain works, too!

  4. @anonymous: I feel the same way. I hate to put him through any sort of trauma, but sometimes, to make progress, we must go through fire.

  5. What a wonderful mother you are.

  6. I'm loving your blog. It both entertains and informs - a seemingly simple but practically very difficult task.

    The "elephant" line at the end hit home - that was one of my grampy's favorite sayings :)