What Your Child’s Handwriting Could Reveal About Struggles With Reading

Many children struggle to read because of an undiagnosed vision problem. These children are often bright and may have passed a vision screening with 20/20 eyesight; so it is not always readily apparent that a vision deficiency is to blame for difficulty reading. Most parents and educators are simply unaware that vision is so critical to learning and that healthy vision is comprised of so much more than being able to pass a typical eye exam.

Sometimes parents and teachers attribute reading and learning difficulties to laziness, behavior problems, or attention deficits. You may notice that your child is skipping words or lines or seeming to bounce around the text; so you might assume that he or she is distracted, being careless, or not trying hard enough.

The truth is, a child with learning-related vision problems often becomes frustrated. Every effort to complete tasks, such as reading and writing that comes more naturally and easily to their classmates with healthy normal vision systems requires extra effort and strain. Because they are young and unaware that a problem exists, they are unable to articulate what they are experience and their self-esteem often suffers.

More often than not, your child will not be able to tell you that he’s experiencing a vision problem, because he has no way of knowing his experience isn’t normal. Your family eye doctor doesn’t usually detect a problem, because he is only trained to test for specific eye conditions. Teachers, occupational therapists, and other professionals are all-too-often simply uninformed about learning-related vision deficiencies.

So how can you know if a vision problem could be to blame for your child’s reading and learning difficulties and trouble in school?

Click here for 9 Signs Your Child May Have an Undiagnosed Vision Problem

Poor handwriting skills could be a sign that your child is struggling with a functional vision problem.

Exceptionally messy handwriting with crooked or poorly-spaced letters or words could indicate an undetected functional vision deficiency that is interfering with your child’s ability to read and learn.

Misaligned words or letters in your child’s handwriting could be a clue that your child is struggling with poor eye teaming or eye tracking — functions crucial to following text on a page without strain.

If your child’s letters are big and sloppy, this might be due to avoiding using the visual system as much as possible while writing. They may avoid looking directly at the paper and scribble words on the page while barely looking.

Conversely, a child with vision problem may have tiny handwriting. If they struggle with visual-motor function, they may make an extra-concentrated effort to control their hand using minimal movement, and the result is unusually small handwriting.

Another indication way handwriting may indicate a learning-related vision problem is that your child’s handwriting may become increasingly messy over time. She may start off her homework with relatively neat writing, but 15 minutes later, you can barely make out what she’s written. This is because a child with a functional vision deficiency is constantly struggling to keep the eyes turned, focused, and moving smoothly from left to right. So the strain quickly leads to fatigue that becomes apparent in declining handwriting.

You may also notice that your child reverses letters, such as ‘p’ and ‘q’ or ‘b’ and ‘d’ when writing. Often confused with dyslexia, a learning-related vision problem may be interfering with the visual processing system and cause affected children to reverse letters.

To be clear, messy handwriting or writing errors are not always a sign that a child has a vision problem. But if your bright child is struggling with reading and you’re not sure why, it’s time to start looking for some answers. If you’re aware and you look carefully enough, you may start to see some of the telltale signs, such as the handwriting clues we’ve outlined here.

Handwriting problems may arise if a child has a problem with visual dominance due to amblyopia (lazy eye), deficient eye movement skills, or poor visualization skills, among other possible problems — all of which affect reading and learning as well.

The good news is, vision therapy can help, and your child can experience a significant improvement in a relatively short period of time. A child can learn to strengthen eye movement skills, look ahead to where the pencil is going, point and focus eyes in the right place, incorporate peripheral vision, and more.  Vision therapy that improves handwriting will also improve learning. 

If you suspect your child has a learning-related vision problem, schedule a comprehensive vision exam with a developmental optometrist who specializes in functional vision care.

To learn more about how vision affects learning, download our free guide here, and watch our webinar for parents here.

If you live in Olney or Silver Spring, Maryland, contact Dr. Philip Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center to schedule a comprehensive vision exam today.

Click here to learn more about why your child loses his place while reading. To learn more about how vision problems interfere with reading comprehension, click here. To find more information about how vision therapy will help your child with reading, go here.

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