Dysgraphia – Diagnosis and treatment

I was informed by my son’s school that he has dysgraphia. He is in class I. I think this is too early a stage to make this diagnosis. He does experience some difficulty holding a pencil but I’m wondering if the school is jumping to conclusions too soon. Should I consult a child psychologist or do you recommend some other expert who can help with the diagnosis? My Internet research tells me this is a learning disorder, so are there any other symptoms I need to watch out for? And what is the treatment?— Anxious mother, Bangalore

Unless the school has verified the diagnosis from a qualified clinical psychologist, it’s an arbitrary conclusion. Children may experience difficulties in writing for a wide variety of reasons including lack of play, inadequate stimulation, tech/gadget addiction, poor motor development, sensory processing problems and sometimes, just boredom. Since he is experiencing difficulty holding a pencil and writing, please consult a qualified occupational therapist for assessment and treatment. With therapy and parental support, most children cope well. As a parent, please refrain from reading usually ill-considered articles online. Medication is not an option, and correct diagnosis followed by consistent therapy works well. Please consider changing your son’s school if the management/teachers refuse to see beyond the label and are hesitant to support and enable him to acquire motor skills in a stress-free environment.

My son (9) doesn’t behave like a nine-year-old, more like a seven-year old… fighting with other children, talking in an immature way, etc. I assume he will grow up. But does this indicate any other behavioural problem?— Anonymous, Pune

This question reflects your worry that your son is unable to meet your social behaviour expectations. However, there are no hard and fast rules for social skills development which is dependent on the opportunities children get to interact with peers and people of other age groups. As a parent, please ensure that he participates in free, spontaneous play every day with friends. Moreover when your son discusses his problems with you, don’t provide adult wisdom and solutions. Instead, encourage him to brainstorm solutions with family and peers. You also need to model extroverted behaviour as children learn from observation.

If his parents are introverted or constantly arguing and quarelling, he is likely to model this behaviour. Ensure that you don’t over-protect him and remember lectures don’t help as much as providing exposure and opportunities for social interaction.

My son (13) is in class VIII and like most teens is easily distracted and playful. His teachers complain that he doesn’t pay sufficient attention to academics. He plays sports — at least an hour a day — but is distracted by his cell phone. When I try to restrict his mobile phone usage, he goes through various stages — first of defiance and refusal to part with the phone, and then he becomes violent, followed by bargaining and finally sulking. Please help. — Seetha Varalaxmi, Chennai

This problem is indicative of poor and inconsistent parental communication and discipline. Parents need to set some ground rules and boundaries about gadget use. This involves setting a daily routine and maintaining a healthy balance of activities. Earmark a time for gadget use and ensure that everyone follows the agreed rules. Imposing arbitrary rules without explanation rarely works with adolescents. About his academic performance, you need to discuss it with him with the intention of being supportive and not focusing on flaws. Work on ways to help develop his study skills. This will impact learning outcomes positively. Be supportive yet firm in imposing disciplinary rules, regulations and boundaries.

(Aarti Rajaratnam is director of the Child Guidance Centre and Counseling Clinic, Salem/Chennai)

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