Is your child:
Pictured below is a self-portrait that was drawn by a three-year-old in preschool. As shown, the child is able to make a recognizable figure. If indeed the child has big eyes and brown hair, he is beginning to show some resemblance of the subject he is drawing here. He is showing the ability to draw straight lines (both horizontal and vertical lines); they are not feathered, too light, or trailing off into being unrecognizable.
Further, he made an attempt at a circle, which is meant to be the subject of the picture. He stops once and has to re-start on the circle, as shown by that jagged edge below the left arm. For a child his age, this drawing is developmentally on track.
However, as the child progresses to kindergarten and certainly by first grade, this figure would need to include more complexity. The child would need to include a neck and body on the figure. The face should be in proportion to the body. The child should be able to include hands and feet.
Now, of course, some of us just aren’t great artists, and nothing is terribly concerning about that. However, if your child is really struggling to make straight lines and recognizable shapes and figures, he may have a relevant problem that requires some support.
2 years: vertical line
2.5 years: horizontal line
3 years: circle
3.5-4 years: cross
4 years: square
4.5 years: diagonal line in both directions
4 years, 11 months: X shape
5 years, 3 months: triangle 
Clinically, kids who have trouble drawing may have a few primary problems.
Fine motor: First, the child may have poor fine motor coordination. That is, they may have trouble controlling or manipulating their pencil, or they may have poor pencil grasp. Fine motor control can be defined as,
“use of the small muscles of the hands to make smooth, coordinated, or fine motions.” 
Visual Spatial: The second major area that may be worth considering is visual-spatial processing. If the child does not understand how objects are supposed to look or how they are supposed to relate to each other on the page, visual-spatial processing could be the issue. Children with poor visual spatial skills have trouble remembering shapes. They may get lost in familiar places. They may bump their heads getting into the tunnel slide.
Dysgraphia: Finally, if your child struggles with drawing, it is important to consider issues like Dysgraphia. Dysgraphia is a true writing disability that often does not get a lot of attention in school. This disability comes from poor fine motor coordination and visual-spatial processing that makes it very hard for a child to write. In this case, often the child has great ideas but fails to get them on paper.
When children learn to draw, several different skills come into play. They need to be able to see how things are supposed to look (visual perception) and to make their muscles move to produce the shapes and lines (motor skills).
Visual motor integration: The combination and coordination of both visual perception skills and motor skills is called visual motor integration. These skills are all required to make shapes and drawings that are clear and concise enough to convey the meaning. Children with poor visual motor integration will generally struggle with handwriting, art, and other tasks that require precision and focus with a pen, pencil, or paintbrush.
If your child can’t seem to draw to save his life, there are a few things you can do.
If the difficulties go beyond drawing and into handwriting, more issues may be worthy of consideration. If your child cries or has a tantrum when attempting to learn to write his name or to form simple letters to write a sentence, general fine motor concerns may be present. In that case, it will be necessary to consult with the school and to request supports either from the school psychologist, occupational therapist, or both.
If the concerns are significant, a 504 plan or IEP may be necessary. An excellent program for improving handwriting is Handwriting Without Tears . Children with these challenges often benefit from an opportunity to use a dictation software for writing assignments. Children who type well should be able to type all assignments. If your child’s school does not utilize a program of this nature, perhaps a tutor in your community could offer this support to your child.
If your child is struggling with a similar problem, not directly addressed in this section, see the list below for links to information about other related symptom areas.
Children who have significant problems in this area may have any of the following potential disabilities. *Note, this does not serve as a diagnosis in any way. See ‘Where to Go for Help’ section for professionals who can diagnose or provide a referral.
If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his learning, relationships, or happiness, the following professionals could help; they may offer diagnosis, treatment, or both.
These professionals may recommend or administer the following tests for this symptom:
 Kroncke, Willard, & Huckabee (2016). Assessment of autism spectrum disorder: Critical issues in clinical forensic and school settings. Springer, San Francisco.
 Lewis, PhD, Jeanne, Calvery, Ph.D., Margaret, & Lewis, Ph.D., Hal (2002). Brainstars. Brain Injury: Strategies for Teams and Re-education for Students. US Department of Education: Office of Special Programs.
 Liz’s Early Learning Spot (2017): http://www.lizs-early-learning-spot.com/category/research/
 Handwriting without tears: www.hwtears.com
Description: Back view Of Little Girl And Boy Writing On Blackboard
Image ID: #598713214 (iStock)
Previously Licensed on: May 13, 2017
Stylized by Katie Harwood exclusively for Clear Child Psychology