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Attention | Listening | Sensory Processing | Balance & Coordination | Postural Skills | Motor Planning | Fine Motor Skills | Handwriting

My Child Has Difficulties With.....

Problems with Attention

Attention is the process of noticing and focusing on small, but significant elements in order to make use of those elements to support engagement with others and the environment.

Below is a table illustrating the development of attention skills in children birth to 6 years of age.

Follows moving objects with eyes.
Has very limited attention span, looks at story books with adult.
Has limited attention span, learning is through exploration and adult direction.
Has short attention span, learns through observing and imitating adults and by adult instruction. Very easily distracted.
Has more extended attention span, learns through observing and listening to adults as well as through exploration. Is easily distracted.
Attention span increases noticeably; learns through adult instruction when interested, can ignore distractions.

Children who have difficulties in this area may:

  • be easily distracted.
  • find it difficult to refocus once distracted.
  • difficulty shifting focus.
  • be a ‘Daydreamer’ or ‘overly active’.
  • have difficulty settling after break time.
  • appear tired or lethargic.
  • have ‘poor listening’ skills

Important Components for Attention

Also referred to as ‘arousal’, can be considered a state of the nervous system, describing how ‘alert’ one feels. It is the physiological process of coming to attention.

To attend, concentrate and perform tasks in a manner suitable to the situational demands, one’s nervous system must be in an optimal (just right) state of alertness for that particular task.

     e.g. A slightly higher level of alertness is needed when playing sport compared to reading.

Adequate Alertness
People with efficient sensory processing can more readily regulate their alertness levels.
      e.g. Have a shower and eat in the morning which raises your alertness.
They can be described as: calms down easily when upset, maintains concentration amongst distractions, responds quickly to others when spoken to, sees through activities from beginning to end.

Inadequate Alertness
People with inefficient sensory processing cannot consistently regulate their alertness levels, or do so in undesirable ways.
     e.g. Raising alertness by wriggling and fidgeting however this distracts you from your work.

They can be described as: difficult to calm down when upset, easily distracted, is slow or does not respond to others when spoken to, jumps from one activity to another.

Too high a level of alertness and we notice too much about our body and things in the environment.

Too low a level of alertness and we do not notice enough detail about our body (body awareness) and things in the environment.

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Sound from the environment is selected for direct attention and focus. Active listening is dynamic and continually adapting. Listening requires the desire to communicate and the ability to focus the ear on certain sounds selected for discrimination and interpretation. Hearing is passive. It is an involuntary act. Sound is received through the structures of the ear that pass it along like a microphone. The passive act of hearing does not involve the direction of attention to sound.

Adequate Listening
Can be described as: understands speech in noisy situations, is relaxed and calm when required to listen, works well amongst distractions, remembers and follows directions.

Inadequate Listening
Can be described as: has difficulty understanding speech in noisy situations, has trouble hearing in groups, becomes anxious or stressed when required to listen, is easily distracted, has difficulty following directions, seems to hear but not understand what people say, has trouble remembering what people say, may have poor speech or language skills, may have poor reading or phonics skills, may have poor spelling skills.

Problems with Sensory Processing

Information from our body and the environment is received through the senses and organised to help us make sense of our self and the world around us. There are seven senses, not five as commonly believed, which include: visual (seeing), auditory (hearing), olfactory (smelling), tactile (touching), gustatory (tasting) and the two lesser known vestibular (movement) and proprioception (body position). When all the senses are processing and integrating information effectively we feel relaxed and calm which promotes attention and successful participation.

There are two types of undesirable reactions to sensory input.
1. Over reactions: Some children experience sensations too intensely, and may be described as overly sensitive. These children may become irritated, annoyed, or even feel threatened by certain sensations.

Children who have difficulties in this area may:

  • Avoid getting messy (eg. mud, sand, finger paint, glue)
  • Use too little force and pressure with items.
  • Become anxious or fearful when faced with activities where feet leave the ground (e.g. swing, seesaw, bikes, heights).
  • Respond negatively to unexpected or loud noises (eg vacuum cleaner, barking dog, cries/screams).
  • Blink excessively when trying to catch balls or balloons
  • Avoid certain textured foods (eg. yoghurt, custard)
  • Complain of odours that other children don’t seem to notice.

2. Under reactions: Some children experience sensations less intensely, and may be described as under sensitive. These children may seem oblivious to things around them or conversely seek out additional sensory experiences.

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Children who have difficulties in this area may:

  • Frequently look intensely at objects/people.
  • Constantly seek all kinds of movement (can’t sit still).
  • Appear not to hear verbal instructions.
  • Frequently sniff objects, food and people.
  • Display an unusual need for touching certain textures or fidgets.
  • Frequently bump into objects and people without intention
  • Chew and lick non-food items (e.g. self, clothing, toys).

Problems with Ball skills, Balance and Coordination

Ball skills, balance and coordination are gross motor skills. This means the large muscles of the body such as arms, legs and trunk are developed and coordinated so that a child can throw, bounce, kick, catch, jump, hop, leap, run, skip, balance and climb.

A child with poor gross motor skills may:

  • Appear clumsy and slow when compared to children of the same age.
  • Have difficulty playing team sports such as T-Ball and soccer.
  • Have difficulty running and hitting or kicking a ball during those sports.
  • Shy away from individual sports such as tennis or swimming because the movements needed to participate in those sports are difficult.
  • Have difficulty learning to ride a bike or skateboard.

Important Components for Ball skills, Balance and Coordination

Body Awareness
Is the perception one has about their own body. i.e. how the brain integrates and interprets the senses of touch, body position and movement.

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Children who have difficulties in this area may:

  • Appear to move clumsily in the playground.
  • Tend not to move properly if they cannot see where their legs and arms are.
  • Not be confident with playground equipment.
  • Frequently bump into objects and others.
  • Not be able to sit in their chair properly.
  • Have difficulty standing in lines.
  • Have difficulty dressing themselves.

Motor Planning

Is the ability to figure out what you are going to do and how you are going to do it. It is problem solving that is needed each time you try a new and unfamiliar motor task. Familiar tasks tend to rely on memory, as it has been done before. Habitual tasks are done without thinking, they are well entrenched.

Example: Changing gears in a car
Habitual; change gears without even thinking.
Familiar; when you hear that extreme revving sound, it reminds you that you must change gears.
Planning; each step is needed to be mastered in order.

  • Step 1. Put clutch in and hold
  • Step 2. Move gear stick into 1st
  • Step 3. Release clutch slowly
  • Step 4. Press on accelerator

Steps needed are different compared to level of knowledge and experience of the driver. We need to achieve habitual level of performance in most skills otherwise we exert much unneeded effort and take too long.

This is the same for kids doing activities.

Children with difficulties may:

  • Have no goal for a task or goal is unclear or unrealistic.
  • Not identify obstacles or potential problems to task performance.
  • Appear disorganised or messy.
  • Executes movements in the wrong order or at the wrong time with the wrong amount of force.
  • Not know they have made an error.

Postural Skills

Is the ability to control posture when still or moving. Body parts involved include the trunk, head, neck, knees, ankles and hips. During seated tasks, postural control allows us to maintain our balance in the chair so that we can use our hands for writing, cutting or eating.

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Children who have difficulties in this area may:

  • Sit slumped in chair or props hand under chin to support head at the table.
  • Fatigue or tire easily in PE or whilst standing in a line.
  • Move in a stiff manner.
  • Move in a floppy and laboured manner.
  • Have drooling problems.
  • Frequently lean on people and objects.
  • Weak compared to other children of the same age.

Problems with Fine Motor Skills

Fine Motor refers to the small muscles of the body. The muscles in the eyes, mouth and hand are all considered fine motor muscles. It is important that all of these muscles are developed and coordinated so that a child can draw, cut, paste, glue, do fasteners and write.

A child with poor fine motor skills may have difficulty :

  • doing up buttons and tying shoelaces.
  • using an eraser to rub out mistakes in writing.
  • tracking items or following a line of print.
  • with eating, drinking, speaking or breathing.

Important Components for Fine Motor Skills – in relation to development of hand skills

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Joint Stability
Stability of the shoulder, elbow and wrist provides a stable base of support for the hands and fingers. In turn stability of the finger and thumb joints promote optimal positioning of the digits for correct grasping of tools such as pencils, scissors and cutlery.

This is the ability to grasp and move objects within the hands for optimal positioning, often associated with moving objects to the tips of the fingers and thumb. Subtle changes in object position require a variety of movements within the hand such as shifting, translation and rotation.

Eye Hand Coordination

This is the ability to coordinate the eyes with the finely graded actions of the shoulders, elbows, forearms, wrists and fingers. It is more integral for fine motor rather than gross motor performance.

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Children who have difficulties in this area may:

  • Have difficulty with bat and ball games
  • Have difficulty with handwriting
  • Have difficulty using classroom tools such as scissors, rulers and erasers.
  • Be messy eaters and/or spill drinks when pouring.

Bilateral Coordination

This is the ability to organise two sides of the body together for action.

E.g. when jumping, the organisation of arms and legs are required to time the jump and achieve appropriate height and propulsion.

E.g. when using pencils, the organisation of one hand to hold the pencil and the other to hold the page is required to achieve a steady surface to draw upon as well as a specialist hand for mastering the use of a pencil.

Children who have difficulties in this area may:

  • Have difficulty using both sides of the body for movement e.g. arms and legs for jumping, skipping and swimming.
  • Have difficulties with self-care tasks such as fastening buttons and using cutlery.
  • Swap hand use in tasks.
  • Lack a preferred or dominant hand.

Problems with Handwriting

Handwriting is the physical process of recording information i.e. using a pencil and writing letters, words and sentences.
Writing is the ability to come up with ideas and organise them to express one's thoughts.

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Important Components for Handwriting

Pencil Grasp: The way which the pencil is held when handwriting, drawing or colouring.

An effective pencil grasp promotes a relaxed hand and use of the tips of the digits to control the pencil movements. When this occurs then handwriting can be performed more quickly, neatly and effortlessly without fatigue or pain. Ineffective grasps may be held with too many or too few fingers, too tightly or too loosely and too close or too far away from the pencil tip.

Effective Grasps

Ineffective Grasps

Letter Formation: The way in which letters are formed.

Correct letter formation promotes accurate execution of the letter forms that facilitate letter legibility. It also assists with fluency and speed of handwriting as well as for the entry and exit strokes of a linked handwriting script.

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Correct Letter Formation

Magic ‘c’ Letters
The letters c a d g o q s can be formed by starting
to draw the ‘c’ part first.

‘Bouncing’ Letters
The letters h m n r p b can be formed by bouncing from the top and returning back up the descender.

‘Down’ Letters
The letters f i j l t can be formed by starting at the top and going straight down.
Note that f & j has hooks.
A pencil lift is needed to add extra strokes for f i j t.

‘Zig-Zag’ Letters
The letters k v w x y z can be formed by diagonal lines. A pencil lift is needed to add extra strokes for k x y.

‘Other’ Letters
The letters u e y do not fit into any of the other letter groups.
Note the two different styles of ‘y’.

Incorrect Formation

Written Presentation: How neat and readable the handwriting is when set out on the page.

There are a number of aspects of handwriting presentation:

  • Legibility – how neat and readable is the writing?
  • Size – is it consistent? Are letters the correct size in relation to one another?
  • Spacing – has the child left adequate spaces between letters and words?
  • Line use – has the child adhered to the lines?

Inadequate Presentation

Adequate Presentation

Handwriting Speed: How quickly the child can write
The table below illustrates a range of letters per minute when copying writing for a variety of year levels.

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