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Handwriting problems and exams - any advice? (Long, sorry)

(15 Posts)
streakybacon Sat 13-Aug-11 10:54:07

Can anyone advise me on this handwriting problem? Background first ...

Ds, AS/ADHD, was deregistered from school early in Y5 (he’s now 12, would be starting Y8 in Sept if still at school) because his needs were barely recognised and he received very little support for the countless problems he presented. He was an emotional wreck when we eventually pulled him out, and we felt we had no choice but to withdraw him as both school and LEA were uncooperative and obstructive. CAMHS were dreadful so no help there. Since deregistration he has made excellent progress at home, both academically and in his personal development, and we’re keen to continue home ed as we know he won’t get adequate support in schools in this area.

He’s had longstanding handwriting problems throughout his life, though this was not acknowledged in either of the two schools he attended. His hands hurt after a short time and his work is hard to read, even at times for people who are familiar with it. In March last year he had an OT assessment and he was found to be hypermobile, which was noted to affect his physical ability to write and his endurance. I didn’t receive a report at the time but I’ve just found out that what she wrote doesn’t include any reference to hypermobility and she’s claimed that he has no significant issues with handwriting. I don’t think he is dyslexic (others have disagreed) though it’s possible he may have an atypical form. Since then (and before the assessment) he has done daily handwriting and strengthening exercises, and while there has been some improvement his writing ability is still nowhere near sufficient to enable him to hand-write routinely.

Ds is a clever lad and is starting on the path to IGCSE courses – he took Maths this summer and has started with sciences and ICT and we’re looking towards starting English Language later this year. He had no problem with the written Maths exam but I’m anticipating major problems with other subjects as he simply can’t write for longer than 20 minutes before his hand aches and his writing becomes illegible. There are also additional problems related to his AS/ADHD in that he has considerable difficulty organising work, planning essays – even his spelling and punctuation (usually high standard) fail him when he writes. He uses a computer/laptop for everyday work and has shown he can work well this way. He can manage exercises on the laptop that he wouldn’t even attempt if he had to hand-write because handwriting is just too hard for him and gives him more things to think about than he can cope with. I’ve discussed this with various professionals and they all suggest that using the laptop is his best option.

But now I need to make provision for him in exams and I have nobody in a professional capacity who can vouch for his need to use a laptop in this setting. Those professionals I’ve spoken to have given advice ‘off record’, as my local authority has deemed my choice to home educate as indicative of my ability to manage ALL of his needs, thus we shouldn’t require local authority support at all. Normally, it would be a school SENCo who would request access arrangements for exams but we don’t have one. He was never assessed by an Education Psychologist in school and had no assessment of special needs. The only person aware of his current needs is me, and apparently that’s not sufficient evidence.

The Joint Council for Qualifications website states that candidates can use a laptop/word processor if this is their ‘normal way of working’, which applies in ds’s case, and we have opted for that method since we cannot get any significant output from him if we make him hand write (and we’re also following professional advice). I’m in no doubt that he does need this provision but have no idea how to gather the necessary evidence to convince the exam centre to allow it. Ideally I’d prefer to avoid a full-scale ed psych assessment as we’d have to get it done privately at considerable expense.

Are there any MNers who have experience of this who can give some ideas on what I should do next? I’ve been gathering evidence for a few months but I suspect it won’t be enough.

Sorry this is so long. thanks for reading if you've made it this far smile.

Kladdkaka Sat 13-Aug-11 11:19:21

I would contact the examining body directly, explain the situation and ask them what they need from you to secure the adjustments you need. I'm sure you won't be the first case they've dealt with.

Don't forget, using a computer is not the only adjustment available. My daughter gets extra time, rest breaks, simplified language papers, a room on her own without distractions and use of her ipod (silence can be just as distracting as noise).

As an aside regarding handwriting, I have always had problems with pain in my hands with writing like you describe. My occupational therapist recommended pen grippers. The thicker the better. Basically, the thicker the pen, the less strength it takes to grip it and therefore the longer you can write without pain.

streakybacon Sat 13-Aug-11 11:29:46

Thanks for your reply Kladdkada.

I was intending to speak with the SENCo at the exam centre next week to ask what requirements they'd need, but your suggestion to talk with the exam board sounds sensible as well.

I was aware of other adjustments but I can't see ds coping with any other options than a word processor. Someone suggested a scribe but he struggles to express his thoughts verbally - he becomes much more fluent when he can type at the speed he's thinking, if that makes sense.

We've tried so many pen types over the years and none has made any difference, and quite a few have even added to his difficulties as they've just felt 'wrong' to him.

I'm really quite concerned that none of the verbal/conversational evidence over the years has ever made it onto paper, and that affects the opinion some professionals have of his ability or lack of it. The OT report has left me furious sad.

Thanks for your input.

Kladdkaka Sat 13-Aug-11 12:35:32

I can understand your frustration. I spent years trying to get help for my daughter but got nowhere. I saw all the professionals you've used and the message was always the same, there's nothing really wrong with her and I just need to try harder and here is another parenting course for me to attend. She got no additional support in school, I had to do it all myself. Then we moved to Sweden and within weeks they were talking about AS and getting her assessed, diagnosed and then properly supported. I too feel so angry at all those who failed her, I want to go back and slap them all with her diagnosis report. blush

EllenJaneisnotmyname Sat 13-Aug-11 18:59:53

Streaky, my DS has poor handwriting, fine motor skills are mentioned in his Statement. We have an advisory teaching service for autism who suggested using a WP, so we bought one and DS has used it since Y3 or 4. He used it in his Y6 SATs without the school asking for permission as it was 'used normally.' It probably helps that he uses it at school, so it's not just our 'word for it,' but it was as simple as that. I know nothing about home ed but do you get any sort of assessment by someone who could vouch that the laptop is being used?

Does he have a statement? Again my DS gets extra time (25% I believe) just by having a statement.

streakybacon Sun 14-Aug-11 07:37:18

Thanks for replying EllenJane. Ds doesn't have a statement - neither of his schools would support an application for assessment and by the time I made a personal request the situation had reached crisis point and we withdrew him. The process ground to a halt then.

As I mentioned earlier, none of the concerns raised in discussion with teachers and other professionals (mostly by school staff themselves) ever made it onto paper, so the overall LEA opinion is that ds had no significant problems that required additional support, though he was at SA+ for most of his time in school.

You're absolutely right that 'normal way of working' qualifies for a word processor being made available for exams, but as in your case the child's need has to be vouched for by a professional - in school this would be the SENCo and we have no such access as home educators. All those I've approached so far have agreed that he should have access to a laptop but none will write the supporting letter. I think it's about the overall attitude in this LEA about home education - they don't know how to support us so they pretend we aren't there sad. That's essentially what I'm trying to do now, find someone who has the authority to confirm his laptop use is essential and who is willing to do so, without my having to spend £400 or so on a private ed psych report if I can get away with it.

Kladdkaka, I'm glad you eventually got the right support and recognition for your daughter. The system in the UK is appalling and it shocks me that so many professionals working within it are blind to how ineffective it is in many cases. Unfortunately moving to Sweden is a bit too drastic for us grin.

EllenJaneisnotmyname Sun 14-Aug-11 10:14:04

Streaky, would the home ed board have any better advice? I expect they've recommended trying here? blush

IndigoBell Sun 14-Aug-11 10:17:46

Could a private EP report recommend it?

I'm fairly sure they can say extra time is needed due to dyselxia.

I guess maybe a private OT could say he needs a laptop?

Of course it would be better if you didn't have to pay for a private report - so do read the exam board first smile

streakybacon Sun 14-Aug-11 10:36:13

I've asked for advice at HE Special and had some good ideas there.

Indigo, I reckon a private EP report would do the trick but I'm trying to avoid that degree of expense if I can. Several people have advised verbally that he should have a laptop but none is prepared to put it in writing (so far). He doesn't have dyslexia that I know of (certainly never been assessed for it) so I don't expect he'd be allowed extra time without a dx. That's not what he needs, anyway - he still can't order his thoughts if he has to write so he needs another method.

I'm posting to individual lists/forums at the moment as I can't get on the computer much today (ds using it for Maths smile) and I get confused easily.

Thanks for suggestions, all are welcome.

Tinuviel Sun 14-Aug-11 12:57:37

We home ed and have similar problems with our eldest, so I went to our GP. He referred us on and we have seen a Paediatrician, an SLT, an OT and now have an appointment with a Clinical Psychologist. The OT wrote a report which included that he needed to either use a scribe or a computer in exams (we actually only wanted extra time). So maybe your GP could be your first port of call. There is no reason why you should have to pay for these assessments - I was pleasantly surprised at how helpful everyone has been, particularly the paediatrician. In some areas I believe you can self refer to OT.

streakybacon Sun 14-Aug-11 14:14:58

Thanks Tinuviel, I may well go that route too and cover as many bases as possible. My main concern though is that in this area there seems to be a tendency to assess according to what support is available, not what the individual actually needs, iykwim, and I worry that ds's difficulties might be downplayed. I think this may have partly explain the dodgy OT report (though it's equally possible that the report might have been written some time after the assessment and ds's notes got mixed up with those of another child).

Worth a punt, though grin. Thanks.

flyingmum Sun 14-Aug-11 14:21:51

I assess for access arrangements for my school. However, I don't know how you go about this at home and would quite like to know because I want to put in my DS for GCSE maths privately at some point if his school don't play ball. Presumably your son goes to a school somewhere to take his exams???
that school/exam centre is responsible for carrying out his access arrangements and will have someone like me there qualified to do these assessments.
For a WP, the student must complete a handwriting test (I use the DASH 10 minute assessment). Then they do the same thing again with the WP and the same thing again (not all at the same time) using a scribe. Then I make a decision. If the student qualifies for a scribe then they can access their exams either using a scribe OR a WP with the spell check still on - BUT THEY LOSE THEIR SPELLING MARKS and for English HAVE to verbally give all the punctuation to the scribe or else they don't write it in. If they are WP obviously it is up to the student to put their own in. If, they just qualify for a WP then the spell checker gets turned off.

Then the results have to be sent via the Exams Officer on line to JCQ and 'computer says yes or no'. To cover ourselves additionally we fill in a Form 8 (look on JCQ website) and keep all evidence as an outside inspector comes in to verify anything and will pick up on any little thing! The child needs to have a supported 'history of need', - you would be amazed at how many parents come out of the woodwork in February of their child's year 11 year claiming that they need some form of access arrangement - have they ever been on the SEN register - No! But apparantaly they have 'really bad dyslexia' hmmmmm.

25% extra time is really difficult to prove and is a sticky wicket for us all in the business. It is the norm for statemented children. It is only valuable for those who will actually lose the time. A prompter is often very good for ASD kids and also to be in a quiet room - usually just with those others who are WP their exams.

I think it best if you talk to your exam centre. I think you might have to cough up for an ed psych report otherwise how is an exams assessor and officer going to know that there is 'a history of need' and an established working practice. Remember, however, that centres are now no longer obliged to accept outside LEA professional reports which is a bit of a bugger. Perhaps you could go to a local private school as your exam centre and they might advise you on who they use for their kids. However, please be aware that assessments only last for 18 months from when they are completed so if he is assessed in year 8 this is not going to last him until year 11. The Ed psych report also needs to be a recent one - I think though one done in year 9 should see him through secondary - they did this to avoid people producing ones that were done when their kids were in year 5 or younger.

Hope this helps.

streakybacon Sun 14-Aug-11 16:00:26

Oh, that's excellent flyingmum, thank you!

It's useful to have an idea of how he will be tested so I know what to expect. I've printed off that form from JCQ for reference. Thanks for advising about 'history of need' too - gives me a chance to go through years of correspondence and the many ignored pleas for support!

Jamillalliamilli Mon 15-Aug-11 16:49:01

Our position’s different (statemented) but all snippets of info helped me so:
in this area there seems to be a tendency to assess according to what support is available, not what the individual actually needs, iykwim, Same game’s played here, but if you can show them it doesn’t cost them and why it will help your child, you may just get one who can see the interests of the chiild over the rule book, to stick out their neck.

When people keep saying your child needs xyz verbally, the trick’s to write to them afterwards thanking them for their suggestion that your child needs xyz in order to progress, and keep copies of your letter. It’s better than nothing, and sometimes results in useful replies. Good luck.

streakybacon Mon 15-Aug-11 17:57:19

I think it seems to be a common approach in a lot of LEAs, Just. The budgets just don't stretch to what they should be providing so they aim lower, failing a lot of children in the process sad. I've felt for a long time that the education system isn't about supporting children, but giving the impression of supporting them for the sake of appearances, Ofsted and tables. Shocking really that they can get away with it.

Good tip to write a confirmation letter afterward meetings/discussions. Wish I'd done that with the OT and several others I can think of.

I've spent today photocopying evidence from old school workbooks, reports, letters etc and I now have a rather bulky file to present in support of any assessment. It's a start smile.

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