Dear Doctor,

The school year is about to begin. Our oldest child, our soon-to-be seventh-grade daughter, is always being singled out for bad handwriting. She really does have an almost unreadable penmanship. When we were in school, cursive writing was taught, but this does not seem to be happening anymore. We are willing to get her some help. Are there tutors who know how to help her improve her writing?


Dear Asking,

Let me begin by confessing to having awful handwriting. Like your daughter, I was scolded for my oversized and misshapen script. In about the sixth grade, I recall getting tired of the criticism, so I wrote so small that no one could read it. Then the teacher begged me to return to my old writing. It has remained so ever since.

Cursive writing, though convenient, does not necessarily result in any improvement. The neurology of handwriting is complex. Not only are complex muscular coordination involved, but, more importantly, the visual/spatial offices of the brain are more at issue. If one could no longer write with the hand and, for example, used a foot, handwriting would closely resemble what had been produced by hand. The visual patterning and complex organization that is involved is brain centered.

Most young people I test these days print. The production varies. Speed makes a difference. Some scripts are amazingly well done. Others remind me of my own.

Naturally, there has to be a name for really bad handwriting. “Dysgraphia” is an old term and is classed as a “learning disorder.” I have never bought into it as such a big deal.

In this day and age, why not simply go around the issue. I’d recommend that she learn to use the keyboard and writing software on the computer. That is what life and the jobs of tomorrow will require. Trying to fix the problem has seldom, in my opinion, been successful. Schools will often recommend physical therapy, but I am not sanguine as to its effectiveness.

Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. If you would like to ask a question, or respond to one, email him at

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