Out Of My Hands

The other day I was sitting in the car with my youngest while we waited for the high school to let out. I glanced over at Luke who, per usual, was already busy scribbling responses in a vocabulary notebook. As he worked diligently to get ahead on his homework for the evening, my eyes were drawn to his hand. I don’t normally notice the boys while they are ensconced in their school work. But, sitting in the car without much to amuse myself, I got curious to see what he was working on. As I looked over, this is what caught my eye.

How does he even do that?

Luke has one of the most unique ways of holding a writing implement I have ever seen. This visual sent me tripping down memory lane, thinking of all the teachers and aides and tutors who were flummoxed by it. It was labeled maladaptive. When he was young and spent hours drawing and coloring, his grip constantly broke crayons. Beginning in preschool, teachers pointed it out as if it made him a freak, the Hunchback of Handwriting. I was told he’d never be able to get through school with that grip. His hand would tire. His writing would be illegible. Quelle horreur! Occupational therapists spent hours working with him to redirect it, to bring it in line with what is considered “normal.” For my part, I consistently deferred to their assessment that the situation was untenable and needed to be corrected because, well, what did I know? I was no expert. So Luke continued to do therapy and classroom work and tutor time in an effort to fix it, even though he didn’t see it as broken. In the end, no matter the effort that went into ameliorating it, he reverted back to what was natural for him.

Eventually, I found a reason to stop thinking about his odd pencil grip. When his third grade teacher mentioned it in our first conference with her, I told her we really could not care less. It was a non-issue. She looked at me like I had three heads and rattled off the reasons I’d heard myriad times as to why this was, in fact, a huge deal. I slid his psychoeducational evaluation across the desk and told her improving our dyslexic son’s reading skills was our only focus. Nothing like a bigger problem to make a smaller problem diminish. His pencil grip and handwriting blipped off the radar screen. It became nothing more than an extension of Luke’s character: creative, unbridled, and charmingly quirky. Nothing wrong with that.

Years later, I one day noticed my own pencil grip. It also would be considered maladaptive. It too would make preschool teachers cringe. Maybe if I’d considered it sooner, I could have saved Luke all the hassle of hours in occupational therapy, knowing I’d survived school and life with my own weird grip. Like mother, like son? Sorry, buddy.

Apparently I owe Luke an apology

The little things aren’t always the big things we imagine them to be. Our fruitless attempts to remediate Luke’s pencil grasp taught me to choose my parenting battles more wisely in the future, to listen to experts but to weigh their advice against the bigger picture and my own gut feelings. With time and practice with my Little-Miss-Rule-Follower self, I’ve started to recognize I don’t always have to follow common procedure. Some things will improve with time and some things aren’t worth the trouble. My son who, despite his dyslexia, struggled his way from two years behind reading level in third grade to become the kind of kid who at 12 was reading adult, historical non-fiction books like Band of Brothers for fun, never needed help getting a grip. He needed help teaching the adults to let go of one.

People ponder the question of nature versus nurture. I posit it’s a bit of both. Sometimes one wins out, sometimes the other. We would like to be in control, to manage, to create order from perceived chaos, but the universe seeks to teach us otherwise. Maybe it would be better if we accepted that sometimes things are simply out of our hands.


  1. Great post! My youngest son also had a “maladaptive” (ha- love it) pencil grip. This soon didn’t talk until he was four. He still holds his pencil oddly and he’s 25 now. Teachers used to point it out to me quite often but I didn’t pay much attention. Maybe because I’m a left hander but do many things right handed. It messed with my brain when teachers would tell me I needed to be using “the other hand.” I feel strongly our brains control these things- even how we grip a pencil. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to change? What’s even funnier, is that my youngest (who still has an odd pencil grip that would make a teacher shudder) has some of the most beautiful handwriting I’ve seen from the male species. Go figure!

    1. I know they have done brain studies that show that cursive handwriting is awesome for brain development but neither of my learning disabled sons excelled at it. I prefer to believe that is because their brains decided they were already just fine. 😉

      1. I was told by a teacher a few years ago that they were no longer even teaching cursive handwriting these days. I have a nephew (he’s 33 now) who never learned to write in cursive. His dad never learned either (which is surprising because he grew up when writing in cursive was mandatory in school- he’s my age). It got me wondering if my nephew inherited some gene from his dad?

        I find all this stuff fascinating.

      2. Me too. Fortunately for my sons, we’re in an age when many assistive technologies are allowed at school. I am grateful!

  2. Great post and thsee few sentences sums it up nicely “slid his psychoeducational evaluation across the desk and told her improving our dyslexic son’s reading skills was our only focus. Nothing like a bigger problem to make a smaller problem diminish.” 🤓

  3. Love this post! I’m a nursing student with LD’s and my teachers keep getting all hung up on the fact that I listen to some of my books….I finally asked what the problems was and they said I can’t listen to patient charts….Yeah it takes me longer to read in my head than to listen to something, but I’m not going to be reading 50 pages a day (lol)….It was such a non-issue for me that I forgot how it might look to others. And for the sake of my pencil grip and handwriting, I’m just glad charting is done on computers!

    1. I get you on the audiobook challenge. Our sons attend a private school for kids with learning disabilities now, so the audiobooks are a non-issue. But when I tell other people that they “read” with Learning Ally or Audible, some people really get bent about it…like it’s unfair. I try to explain it’s not an advantage but a necessity. My youngest reads a full page in more than double the time it takes the average student, not because he’s less intelligent but because he has dyslexia. He’s not taking a break by listening to an audiobook, he’s simply trying to keep up. Good luck with your studies. I am sure you will rock it!

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