It was a post on Facebook that caught my eye. Fellow blogger and fellow mum-of-teen-son-facing-GCSEs-in-the-not-too-distant-future, Kate of Striking Mum, wrote that she was worried that her son wouldn’t get the GCSE results he was capable of due to his handwriting.

She could have been writing about my son.

I have battled those same concerns for nearly 10 years now.

My son’s handwriting was first highlighted as a problem by his year 1 teacher. She was concerned he wouldn’t do well in his SATs. He was 5 years old, for flip’s sake! I thought she was worrying unnecessarily.

But things didn’t improve.

His year 2 teacher tried extra handwriting practise. We tried extra handwriting practise.

Unfortunately the material for handwriting practise are aimed, at best, at year 3s. When your child is in year 6 or year 7, he doesn’t want to be writing that stuff.

His teachers raised it as a concern with me. I raised it as a concern with them.

I thought it would improve with time.

I blamed it on his left-handedness. Nobody in my family is left-handed. I don’t understand it, but I understand it makes things that little bit harder.

And still it didn’t improve.

Sometimes his teachers were more concerned than me. Sometimes I was more concerned than them.

I blamed it on his laziness or carelessness.

And it wasn’t just his handwriting. It was his spelling and his grammar. It was the amount of words he got down on the page (not many at all).

My son is a bright boy, yet his work wasn’t reflecting that at all.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I think he will get two grades lower in his GCSEs than he is capable of, purely down to his handwriting. That is a sad and worrying prospect. He’s going to be starting out at a lower level than he should be. Everything will be an uphill battle – A Levels, degree (if he chooses to do one), getting a job…

We got him a tutor for an hour a week.

He didn’t want to go, yet he did very well. Handwriting that wasn’t immaculate, but was in a different ball park to any we’d ever seen before. He could do it! He could really do it!

But he only did it with his tutor. At school and in his homework, his handwriting was as appalling as ever.

So I knew exactly where Kate was coming from and she reminded me that it was time to do something about it. It’s gone on for too long, with me believing it will improve or change. With me nagging and encouraging, willing it to improve or change.

It is 16 months until his GCSEs.

My boy is a boy of few words. Sometimes he says things out of the blue that take me by surprise.

One day, just before Christmas, he said in passing, as though it was no big deal: ‘She’s the one who’s going to be scribing for my GCSEs’. WHAAAT? Scribing? That was the answer to all of our prayers. That way, he could actually fulfil his potential and get the grades he deserved.

But why? Nothing had been mentioned at the last parents’ evening, when I, once more, raised the issue of his writing.

Having a scribe seemed to be a pretty big deal. Had he been assessed for something? Had they actually found something wrong? And, if so, why hadn’t they informed me?

Back on Facebook, a blogger called Claire from Six Degrees of Harmony asked me had he been tested for dysgraphia?

He hadn’t. I’d never even heard of it. But I looked it up straight away.

It was my son! It was my son all over. It even said that children with dysgraphia have trouble tying their shoelaces. My son has never been able to tie his shoelaces (although of course he will claim he can).

Now I know why he can’t write. It’s not being left-handed. Or lazy. Or careless.

Yes, he needs testing, but I know that’s the reason.

I’m cross with myself for not doing more earlier, but I’ve tried. I always thought it would right itself in time. I guess the school should have picked it up too, but maybe they have?

I emailed the school to ask what the situation is with the scribe. Is that really happening, or has my son got confused? They will double-check and also look into getting him an assessment if he needs it.

It’s a bit late, but it’s not TOO late.

There’s 16 months until his GCSEs.

Author: Sarah Mummy

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  1. Better late than never at all but I am surprised you were not consulted about the scribe. I hope you get this sorted in time..My son struggles with handwriting – he finds it physically difficult to write as still uses the palm grasp despite being 7 this year. He’s allowed to do most of his work on the computer at school. Don’t be cross with yourself, Sarah, I didn’t know my son was autistic until it was pointed out to me. You are aware of it now and you will act on it – that’s the most important thing. X

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    • Thanks very much, that’s a lovely thing to say! I always trusted it would right itself in the end, but I guess it never will now. It does surprise me that the school could take decisions like a scribe without letting us know. x

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  2. I really hope he is tested and something is sorted out for you. My cousin has dyslexia and he had extra time in his exams to allow him to write, you could always enquire about that too if they don’t come up trumps.

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    • Thanks very much! It made me wonder if he could actually be dyslexic too as the two often go hand in hand, but I’m pretty sure he isn’t. I certainly hope that would have been picked up a lot earlier if he was!

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  3. I really hope it’s true and that he does get the scribe as I’m sure it will make a huge difference to his GCSEs. It’s interesting to hear that you have actually done this. I will definitely look into the extra 25% time, thanks very much! x

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  4. Wow Sarah, how interesting. I’ve never heard of it but I’m sure he isn’t alone. How odd that the school have mentioned nothing to you. I’m glad they are taking your concerns seriously though. Best of luck to him. x

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    • Thanks very much! I hope they can confirm the situation with the scribe, it will be a huge weight off my mind! x

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  5. My niece has this and my sister struggled to get her tested at primary school age. She now has special allowance for writing and she has special lenses in her glasses too. Your son will be just fine – shame parents have to ‘fight’ to get children tested I think.

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    • That’s really good to hear about your niece. I feel secondary schools don’t really know kids well enough to know what they’re capable of – so I feel like his school accepted him on face-value and weren’t overly concerned about the writing, whereas I know he’s capable of so much more.

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  6. This is a really interesting post Sarah as my son also struggles with his writing and spelling. He also had many handwriting packs, especially in year 6 coming up to his SATS. His writing would improve for a little, and then would go back to how it was. I remember when he started at High School I was looking through some of his school books (when he was out). I got really upset that I couldn’t even read his writing. When he was in year 8 they mentioned about scribes for GCSE, as I said at parents evening I was worried about his exams. Like your son he is also a bright child. Next parents evening I am going to see how his writing is as he has started studying for his GCSEs now. And its definitely not too late Sarah. I am sure everything will be fine. Hugs xx

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    • Thanks very much! I’m so pleased that I’ve started looking into this now rather than this time next year! It’s great to hear your son’s school is on the ball with the scribe. Now I just need to get to the bottom of exactly what is going on with my son’s school! x

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  7. My son is younger but has similar issues – he’s having extra handwriting lessons in the lead up to SATS because his writing, both letters and numbers, can be difficult to decipher unless he’s making a real effort to write neatly. I’ve often blamed it on his left handedness too but I know it’s not really the cause – I’m left handed and don’t have the same issues. I hope things work out well for your son, I look forward to reading your updates.

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    • Thanks very much! I know nothing of being left-handed, because nobody else in our family is, so I think I was too quick to dismiss this as a left-handed issue. I’m glad I’ve looked further into it now.

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  8. I have heard of this before but I didn’t actually know what it was. I’m pleased the school are putting in a plan to help but surprised they didn’t inform you about the scribe. Presumably they assumed your son would tell you properly rather than just let it slip out. 😉

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    • They probably did! They obviously over-estimated exactly what information a 14 year old boy will see is important enough to share with his parents! 😉

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  9. Oh gosh I had no idea this even existed but the test and scribe seem like very good ideas. I hope the scribe is really a thing. You’d think its something that the school will have seen before too and would have caught it earlier. But you’re right, it’s not too late dx

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    • I don’t know why the school didn’t catch it earlier, but I’m really hoping the scribe is for real and not something he has just got confused about! x

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  10. OMG Sarah – you could be describing my life and I did not want to say before how very guilty and useless I have felt during this journey with my 15 year old. Like you, an issue was first raised when he was 5 but the tests he had then showed he was off the scale bright but maybe mildly dyslexic (so almost as if nothing to worry about). I have always believed my son to be left-handed but schools force right-handed writing which can’t help. A Mum knows her son right? I have probably bullied him to be honest on occasion out of sheer frustration and then laid off and relaxed too much. I have found schools pretty useless to be honest – they make the right noises sometimes but no co-ordinated plan. Let’s keep talking and let’s support our boys together

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    • Defintely! We need to keep talking! I feel really guilty now. Like you, I have pushed him too hard at times, then eased off completely at others. I’ve been too quick to blame him being left-handed and careless. He was assessed by the SENCO at primary school, but she wasn’t concerned – she just saw a bright boy! I really wish something had been done sooner, but I should probably have pushed for it.

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  11. I don’t know if it’s any help or not (probably not) but I used to mark GCSE exam papers and as hard as some of them were to read we never marked people down for having bad handwriting, some of it was pretty illegible but as an examiner you get your eye in and do your best, because you know that this might be the good grade the kid needs to progress to the next level. Hope he cracks the nut in the next 16 months though 🙂

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    • Thanks very much! That is reassuring to know. One of his problems is the way he spaces his writing – so the space between the letters is as big as the space between the words, plus it runs below the line and collides with the writing below. It makes it very difficult to read!

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  12. I really think that with things like this it is down to the school to make sure that you have all the information you need. I am so pleased to hear that you have found the condition in time and that you will be able to do something about it. I really think your post will help someone else x

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    • Thanks very much! From the comments I’ve received I think it has already alerted other parents, which is great. x

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  13. As you say, better late than never and I can’t imagine the relief you feel just knowing that there is a reason behind his struggles. I do hope he gets a ‘proper’ diagnosis soon so that he gets the help he needs to achieve his GCSE’s.

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  14. You must feel like a weight has lifted off your shoulders that he’s going to get a scribe and other help that he needs.

    Don’t feel bad – it’s hard being a parent sometimes x

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  15. It’s never too late. My youngest now in his first year of A levels was diagnosed with dyslexia, dyscalculus and dysgraphia when he was 11, we’d know he was dyslexic but assumed the issues with poor writing and spelling along with maths were due to the dyslexia, he had a reader and a scribe for his GCSE’s along with additional time. He also has additional support, 1:1 for his A level coursework. As he’s in boarding school we have to pay extra for this but needed official reports from the Ed psych for the exam boards. Good luck and hope you get to the bottom of this soon

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  16. I hope you get it sorted soon, it much be such a worry for you. How fantastic that there is help available though!!

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  17. A scribe sounds very positive. Or is there an electronic version of the exams? I remember someone with a broken arm taking their GCSE’s on a laptop. Good luck with the test if you get it done.

    I wouldn’t worry about A-levels or Degrees… that’s all typed and zero handwriting nowadays! And just think… Doctors are some of the most highly qualified people there are and they have a reputation for terrible handwriting!

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  18. I’m so grateful to you for this post, I won’t write another big long comment because I left me initial thoughts on Facebook but Ethan is currently being assessed and working on a school laptop which they already feel is improving the content and quality of work he’s producing.

    Thank you! xx

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  19. Hi Sarah. I’m in exactly the same position so I know totally how you feel. My son does his GCSE’s next summer too and I’m so worried. At first his high school said they though he was dyslexic but he was whizzing through fiction books at the time and clearly had no problems with reading. (I feel that it wasn’t at all picked up on at primary school. Surely the teachers should flag it up?!?). I had to bring up the subject of dysgraphia at High school and they’re totally in agreement that this is his problem. We bought him a very light weight notepad/laptop for school (£150 ish) but he feels self conscious using it in class. However, he will be doing his exams on a laptop so we encourage him to type whenever possible. The new SENCO leader at his school (much more clued up than the previous one!!!) said that she wanted a solution that he can move on with throughout his life – computers and keyboards are inherent to everything now. He’s also likely to get extra time too. This aside, I’m worried. His maths is so messy too – numbers and calculations all over the place, he makes silly basic mistakes. It’s exhausting to try to decipher. Then there’s the guilt. I remember yelling at him once when he was younger because I thought he was messing around – not holding his pencil property and stopping writing all the time. I feel so bad and that I must have made it worse. It’s not easy getting help from school, as I have to constantly remind them of things they’ve said they’d do to help but have clearly forgotten about (eg trying him with overlays and coloured paper in maths as sometimes graphs and charts jump around. Yes, dysgraphia, dyslexia and dyspraxia are all very closely linked and they do overlap). Anyway, the good thing is, we’re on it! Not every child with this will have it picked so I guess we can be grateful for that. Sorry for the ramble.

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    • Thanks very much for taking the time to comment! It’s interesting to read about someone in a similar position. I heard not long after I wrote this that was allowed to use a laptop for all his exams, but when he had his year 10 exams, the laptop didn’t work and then he chose not to use it as he felt self-conscious being singled out and working in a different room! I really want him to use the laptop for his mocks and GCSEs though and, like your son, he needs to get used to typing.
      I’ve definitely shouted at my son over the years too! I really had no idea dysgraphia even existed. I really just thought he was being lazy and awkward.

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      • Yes, my son felt self conscious too but he’s just done some exams I the laptop in a seperate room so I think he’s ok with that part now. It turns out there were quite a few kids in with him! He just won’t get his laptop out in a normal class. If you do manage to get him the extra time, it’s worth bearing in mind that he’d have to be in a separate room anyway whether hand writing or typing. Anyway, deep breaths for the next 10 months and fingers crossed they get the results they need, even if it’s not the 9 A*’s that everyone seems to expect nowadays. 5 x grade c’s or above including maths and English Language would see me cracking open a bottle of champagne quite frankly!

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  20. Just wondered how you’re getting on…

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    • Well the GCSEs are done and he hand wrote most of them (not sure if that was a good idea), but he was in a small room with access to a laptop if he wanted it. The next challenge is he is most likely going to a new school for 6th form, so we should probably let them know about it in advance!

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  21. My son has dyspraxia with disgraphia. He was formally diagnosed in 6th grade (US school system). We tried everything. Extra tutoring. Verbally, he is amazing and super smart. However, you would never know by what he was writing. Now we are able to have allowances at school. One thing you may want to consider is asking if he can type his tests/answers. It is part of my son’s directive (IEP in the US). He is a whiz at typing. His writing has improved greatly. He will never be able to take notes unless he types it. He can’t tie his shoes either. He is now 11. Knowing what is wrong has enabled us to advocate for him, and his life has improved. I would recommend any parent with children with these issues get them tested by a mental health professional. Then let them learn to type using free typing games on the internet. They will be miles ahead of their peers. It will get better!!!!

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    • My son is nearly 17 now and he hasn’t improved. He was allowed to use a laptop for his GCSEs, but didn’t use it for many of them. He’s at a different school now and typing most of his homework, but still handwriting in class. One of his teachers has spoken to the special needs co-ordinator about him using a laptop for his A Levels, so hopefully that will happen. He’s not that quick at typing! But he’s not that quick at writing by hand either.

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