Common drawing and handwriting difficulties

Children with poor drawing and handwriting (dysgraphia) often have difficulties with several aspects of  motor control.

Below I have described some of the difficulties I commonly encounter  as a physical therapist with a special interest in drawing and handwriting. 

I have also provided links to information as well as a list of resources available to Handwriting Gym On-line Manual subscribers . Subscribe now

Child finds sitting  tiring and uncomfortable 

Some children find sitting upright  for long periods of time tiring and uncomfortable.  They may complain of discomfort in the neck, back or legs. 

To deal with the discomfort the child may rest the head on the arm, fidget, leave the table or get distracted. 

Why some children have difficulty sitting erect.  
Training sitting for drawing and handwriting.  Exercises and activities for training flexibility, strength for and endurance for sitting and working at a table.A PDF download  Buy now

Child finds drawing tiring and complains that the arm gets sore.

Children complain of tiredness and soreness in the upper arm, the forearm and sometimes the fingers. 

  • Discomfort in the shoulder region is usually associated with weakness and poor flexibility in the shoulder.
  • Discomfort in the forearm occurs when the child has a very tight grip or tends to flex the wrist when drawing and writing.  
  • Discomfort in the hand is often associated with joint hypermobility, over extension of the finger joints and a tight grip. 

Difficulties children have with shoulder control for drawing and handwriting   
Pencil grip and finger movement: what is really important?  

Child adopts a grip that does not allow effective finger movements 

The pencil tip should be moved using small finger movements.  Some grip positions do not allow finger movements, and instead the child uses wrist movements for writing letters. 

The Handwriting Gym On-line manual provides more information   Subscribe here 

  • Thumb position for an effective grip  How thumb position needs to be adapted for hypermobile hands
  • How to assess your child's pencil grip and finger movements 
  • Training finger movements

My child does not like drawing 

Kindergarten children who draw  a lot develop the basic graphic skills, including motor planning for making a sequence of strokes, needed for handwriting. Children who avoid drawing do not develop these graphic skills and as a result have difficulties learning to print letters. 


My child writes very neatly, but is very slow

Some children who write very neatly are still using visual monitoring of the movement of the pencil on the paper, making small strokes to complete the letter.  This allows the child to write neatly between the lines, but means that they are not pre-planning letters which is important for speed and fluency.  The child may also use a lot of pencil pressure when writing.  

Handwriting Gym On-line Manual Resources   Subscribe here 

  • Why tracing letters is a very bad idea
  • Using sound feedback for improving fluency

My child's handwriting is slow, untidy and hesitant 

Some children never learn the motor plans for the letters - this makes writing is slow as the child has to think about how to form the letter. 
Other children have not developed effective control of the different strokes needed for forming letters - this may be because the child avoided drawing when younger.
Children with coordination difficulties (DCD and autism) may just need extra guidance and practice to learn the motor plans, and then learn to control the size of the letters.  

Handwriting Gym On-line Manual Resources   Subscribe here 

  • Why tracing is a bad idea
  • Using sound feedback for improving fluency
  • How to use repeated demonstration, sound feedback, and repetition for effective teaching of motor plans for letters  
  • Why only smart practice makes perfect:
    How to use self-evaluation and feedback to enhance learning 

My child does not use the correct sequence of strokes when printing letters 

Children need to be taught the correct sequence of the strokes that form each letter.  If they are not specifically taught the sequence they get into bad habits and it takes time to unlearn a habit. 

You will need to spend time training the correct stroke sequence, first with individual letters and then  several letters together to write words. 

Handwriting Gym Online Manual Resources  Subscribe here 

  • Teaching handwriting - different activities for teaching letter strokes and motor plans for printing 
  • Teaching handwriting - a stroke based approach 
  • How to use repeated demonstration, sound feedback, and repetition for effective teaching of motor plans for letters
  • Why only smart practice makes perfect: How to use self-evaluation and feedback to enhance learning.

Child reverses letters, especially b's and d's 

Children reverse letters when they have not been explicitly taught to use the correct stroke sequence, or have not yet mastered the motor plan for each letter. 

A stroke based approach to teaching and practicing letters will get around this problem. 

Handwriting Gym On-line Manual Resources  Subscribe here 

  • Teaching letters - a stroke based approach 
  • Letter reversals: b's and d's 
  • How to use repeated demonstration, sound feedback, and repetition for effective teaching of motor plans for letters

Your questions and suggestions 

Please use the HWG FORUM to make suggestions, ask questions, or request information about any difficulties you child is experiencing.