I had one of those Eureka! moments this week about myself. Someone posted an article in one of the many special needs groups that I’m a part of, and my brain made a connection and went “DING! duh!” I’m hypermobile. But somehow I never connected that to my persistent handwriting issues.
I distinctly remember learning to write as a kid, and being so frustrated because my mom had to keep correcting my pencil grip. I held the pencil wrong every single time because I just couldn’t seem to do it the correct way. The correct way hurt too much. Handwriting in general hurt too much, but the “proper” grasp was even worse.
Fast forward to now, and I’m a grown adult with handwriting worse than a doctor’s prescription. I cannot write much or easily without hurting my hands and getting frustrated because I can either write legibly or at normal speed. Not both. Not at the same time. I rely on typing to get everything done, and I’m quite good at typing quickly and accurately now.
For reference, this photo is me – my hand in its normal handwriting grip. Looks painful and cramped, right? It’s what I have to do to keep the pen stable. According to Skills For Action, this grip hyperextends the distal IP joint, and can be commonly seen in handwriting.
What, exactly, is hyperextension? It’s when the joint goes beyond the normal range and flexes in abnormal ways. Sounds cool and contortionist, right? Try painful, aching joints that constantly subluxate (start to dislocate but not completely) and you have a recipe for a painful life. At its worst, Ehler’s Danlos Syndrome is life-altering and difficult because basically, the connective tissues that hold your body together aren’t stable.
For what it’s worth, my hypermobility is a low-level variety. I have multiple hypermobile joints, including 1 elbow, my knees, multiple finger joints, and my hips and shoulders. I can clasp my hands behind my back diagonally, (try it! It’s impossible for my husband) I can do a reverse Namaste pose behind my back, I can place my hands flat on the floor without bending my knees, and my elbows and knees bend OUT instead of flat/inward. My score on the Beighton Scale is at least 6, verified by my Rheumatologist (so you know I’m not making this up or being a hypochondriac!)
So what does that all mean? It’s not about being flexible. When your ligaments are loose, that’s completely different. Worse. Because that means I’m basically hurting my joints just by standing up (knees) or trying to write. Living with hypermobility means knowing my limits, strengthening the muscles around the joints, and not doing things I simply cannot handle.
For my son, who also struggles with writing, it means that I’m keeping a close eye on his pencil grip. He can also reach his hands behind his back like I can. He could just be young and flexible, but I am paranoid that I passed down this genetic flaw to my kids and that it will affect their life in a very negative way.
If your child tells you that handwriting hurts, that’s a huge red flag. You need to figure out why. They may need Occupational or Physical Therapy to help them work around their limitations and strengthen the muscles, and they will need accommodations for things like taking tests. It may sound simple and basic, but it’s life-altering.
Of course, there could be many things causing handwriting difficulties and they all need a specialist to diagnose, but hypermobility is often overlooked. If you ask your child’s teacher if they know what the signs of hypermobility are, they’ll probably look at you like you’ve grown an extra ear. If you think your child might be hypermobile, check the Skills for Action website for suggestions on working around hypermobility.
If you’re trying to teach a child with joint hypermobility to write, the Skills for Action website advocates a stroke-based approach instead of the letter tracing approach. They offer a step-by-step guide to teaching stroke-based handwriting for an additional charge. (I get nothing from linking this.) Skills for Action is a website run by Physiotherapist Pam Versfeld, and is a helpful resource for parents and teachers.
I’m off to work on Christmas cards, but this year I’m going to adapt my grip and make it easier. In this case, a label helped me learn more about myself and how to help overcome my issues – which is why I’m a huge advocate for (the right) labels. Know thyself, right?