As he grew older, the adults in his life became more and more impatient with his handwriting. It was true that he could produce legible work if he used a special rubber grip and was very, very careful. It was also true that writing so carefully made him the last kid to turn in the work, often holding up his group. Teachers sighed. Kids teased. Writing assignments made Jake anxious. Jake wanted to write less and less. Writing made him feel dumb. Writing made him the butt of jokes. Writing made him scared. His oral work showed him to be bright and capable, but he always did the bare minimum on papers and written tests.

By fifth grade, he was diagnosed as having a language-based learning disability; this let both his teachers and Jake off the hook a bit. Well-meaning teachers let him tape his work or answer test questions orally. They didn’t know they were helping Jake avoid a task that made him afraid. They didn’t understand that every day they let him “leave” the task of writing, they were contributing to his handicap.

How a Phobia Is Mastered

Fast-forward a few years for our friend Jake, described above. He is now 16, a sophomore in high school, and convinced that he can’t achieve in school. Any writing assignment makes him so upset and anxious that he can’t sit still for it. He horses around, sharpens his pencil, or teases the kids next to him. He has also started using marijuana regularly and often comes to school with a glazed look. Pot helps him to “mellow out,” he says. Of course it does. This kid is a nervous wreck. He is phobic about writing and he has to write every single day. For him, the physical act of handwriting has teeth, claws, and scales. For him, having to take up a pen and write something is as frightening as having to face a grizzly bear.